Abuse of sex workers on the rise
The number of abuse cases among sex workers has been rising over the past three years. FOO JIE YING (firstname.lastname@example.org) reports
Sherry Sherqueshaa, 25, was once pushed to the ground while soliciting on the street after some disagreement with a potential client.
It may sound minor, but to her, it brought back memories of abuse stories she had heard from fellow sex workers.
"Friends told me that clients had choked them, punched them or pinned them down to the ground... I felt so vulnerable.
"When (he pushed me down) I felt that was the first step of what he could do to me," she said.
Figures from sex workers rights' group Project X revealed that the number of abused sex workers has increased over the years.
Sherry, who is now a researcher and writer with Project X, said: "Every day at about 4am or 5am, when I went back home, I would wash myself thoroughly just to cleanse myself of whatever was said to me or done to me, then sleep it off.
"Then, the next day, I would brace myself and go through this all over again just to earn a living."
Project X classifies abuse into a few categories, but Pearlyn (we are not revealing her real name to protect her identity), a sex worker of six months, said there is one consistent theme among all types of abuse - disrespect for sex workers.
"I think (clients) don't respect that sex work is essentially work. That's why they actually have that audacity to (abuse) us because they know that we are not going to report it to the police...
"Not as if we will be taken seriously, because no one respects us anyway," the petite 20-year-old student said with a resigned smile.
Although Sherry and Pearlyn have not had to suffer severe physical abuse, the emotional abuse can leave deep scars too, they said.
"Emotional abuse - you carry it in your subconscious," Pearlyn said.
"Clients will just disrespect you - pull your hair, call you names and degrade you, view you as an object rather than a person.
"After calling you names, they would then slap you... and then they will put up post-sex pictures online (with derogatory comments). It's very degrading. You become nothing more than a sex toy," she said.
Sherry, who is transgender, recalled how a client once called her "dirty" for her gender orientation.
"It made me wonder if I was so dirty that people couldn't accept me any more... It made me feel less worthy," she said.
There was also a fear that plagued Sherry every night as she worked the streets - something common among sex workers who conceal their identities with several names and phone numbers.
"I worried that I would get beaten up."
Sherry eventually moved on from the sex trade to work for Project X.
She hopes to help sex workers learn how to protect themselves from being abused.
But for Pearlyn, the "relatively good money" she earns from the trade as compared to a part-time F&B job outweighs the emotional toll that sex work has taken on her.
The student said that she does what she does "to resolve my financial problems".
She said: "It's tough for people to understand my motives for doing so and I hope (this job) will just be a passing phase."
Clients will just disrespect you - pull your hair, call you names and degrade you, view you as an object rather than a person. After calling you names, they would then slap you... and then they will put up post-sex pictures online (with derogatory comments). It's very degrading. You become nothing more than a sex toy.
- Pearlyn (not her real name), who has been a sex worker for six months
'Lots of abuse goes unreported'
The number of reports of abuse among sex workers has gone up over the years, figures from non-governmental organisation (NGO) Project X show.
Last year, 72 cases were reported to the organisation, which works with about 200 sex workers here.
In comparison, there were 40 cases in 2014 and 10 in 2013.
However, only 17 of the 72 cases last year were reported to the police.
The figures were gathered from their website that allows workers to report abuse online.
The trend echoes a recent report by NGO Amnesty International that sex workers globally lack protection, even in countries with strong human rights laws.
Amnesty's senior director for law and policy Tawanda Mutasah said: "In too many places around the world, sex workers are without protection of the law, and suffering awful human rights abuses. This situation can never be justified."
Project X's programme coordinator Vanessa Ho, 28, said that one reason the numbers rose here could be that there is more awareness about reporting the abuse.
She told The New Paper: "What it does mean is that we are more proactive in getting people to report to us and spreading the message that we are here to listen and to support you if you are intending to seek justice."
Ms Ho conceded the NGO only reaches out to a "sliver" of the estimated 15,000 sex workers here. Last year, she saw about 200 of them, mostly locals and Malaysians, and she fears that a lot of abuse goes unnoticed and unreported.
Former sex worker Sherry Sherqueshaa said that verbal assaults were almost a daily affair for her.
On a WhatsApp chat group with fellow sex workers, she also read about others who were abused, or details of potential clients to stay away from.
"Commonly, what I've heard from my friends is that clients will choke them, pin them down, slap them, have rough sex and stuff like that," Sherry told The New Paper.
Part of the problem lies in the tendency for sex workers to ignore the abuse and move on so that things don't escalate, said Ms Ho.
"This is what's quite heartbreaking, in that people will say 'No lah, this is part and parcel of my life, I need to accept it'.
"No, you do not deserve any form of violence, stigma or discrimination. You deserve what everyone else deserves - dignity and respect as a human being."
On June 28, Project X will be launching an e-store to raise funds for its cause.
BY THE NUMBERS
Types of abuse among sex workers last year
Number of abuse cases
Source: Project X