Trapped by 'innocent' job offer
The job offer: Management staff in a respectable restaurant, with a guaranteed minimum salary of $3,000 a month.
The requirement? "You must be willing to work hard and be nice to customers."
It sounded like a job she thought she could do well, says the Filipina who wants to be known only as Ms Ruth in a telephone interview with The New Paper on Sunday.
She agreed to share her story because she wanted to highlight that "not every woman who comes to Singapore knows what she is in for".
Ms Ruth, who is in her late 20s, says: "It may sound stupid, but the truth is, sometimes we are so caught in poverty in our hometown that when there's a golden chance like this, we'll jump at it.
"It's only when we are here that we realise that there is a darker side to our job."
That was the case for her in 2012.
A fellow Filipina who had returned home told her that she was making good money in Singapore. She also told her about the job at the restaurant.
At that time, Ms Ruth was struggling as a sales assistant in a mall in Manila, earning 10,000 pesos (S$285) a month.
Her husband, who was working in a car workshop, was making "just slightly more" - about 12,000 pesos a month. They have two children aged three and four.
She says: "It was really tough to make ends meet. I was also worried about the children's future."
While the job offer was good news, Ms Ruth says her husband asked her to find out more details before making any decision.
It was advice that she now regrets not heeding.
"I was more excited at the prospect of making good money... I lied and said that a cousin who was working in Singapore had vouched for the authenticity of the offer," she says.
To prepare for their "new future", she and her husband borrowed $5,000 from friends and relatives.
The loan went into paying the $3,000 cost of bringing her to Singapore (which included a budget airline ticket) and $1,800 for a work permit application fee."
Ms Ruth says: "So I arrived in Singapore with only $200 to my name."
At the airport, a stern-looking man picked her up, along with two other Filipinas.
At the cramped private apartment she shared with other women, Ms Ruth was told that the original position she applied for had been filled.
Instead, she was now required to entertain customers, who would buy premium-priced "ladies' drinks".
She says: "I was told, 'you dance, you talk to them, you drink with them' and most importantly, 'you must make them happy'."
Making the customers happy meant providing extra services once he has bought 10 "ladies' drinks", each priced between $22 and $55.
Ms Ruth says: "What other choice do I have? I thought of the loan my husband and I had to pay, and the $100 a week in rent I had to pay for accommodation.
"I could not return home empty-handed."
She did not dare to tell her husband the truth, admits Ms Ruth. "I had to pretend to sound really happy when I called home, while the tears rolled down my face as we chatted."
She managed to pay off the loan four months into the job.
She says: "Our employer set a target that we had to meet. We had to get clients to spend about $1,500 a fortnight, failing which we would be lectured and have our salary deducted. I just decided to bear it."
"Sex just became a workout for me."
But her career was short-lived. She was sent back home after her employer was arrested last year.
She says: "If there is any consolation, I did not spend lavishly and sent home money regularly."
She and her husband are now running a small business in Cebu City.
Ms Ruth says: "Until today, my husband does not know what happened during my time in Singapore. I just tell myself that if not for the sacrifice, our family will not be able to live together."
Bill to fight human trafficking
Earlier this month, Mr Christopher de Souza, an MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, introduced a Private Member's Bill (Prevention of Human Trafficking Bill) in Parliament which seeks to fight human trafficking.
A second reading of the Act in Parliament is expected on Nov 3.
In an interview with The Straits Times last week, Mr de Souza said that he had started raising questions in Parliament about prostitution: "The figures, raids, what we were doing to curb the vice. At that time, I was concerned that prostitution was moving into the heartland.
"But that initial, clinical inquiry matured into something more. I figured there must be a story behind every person who sells her body for profit. How many are doing this voluntarily? How many are forced to do so?...That got me thinking about what we were doing to assist those who are truly exploited."
The penalties for first-time offenders convicted of Trafficking In Persons offence are up to 10 years' jail and a fine of up to $100,000, and discretionary caning of up to six strokes.
Subsequent offenders face up to 15 years in jail, a fine up to $150,000 and mandatory caning of up to nine strokes.