Sex offered in bars? Not unless you are a big spender

A pub owner was recently put behind bars for recruiting women to work in a chain of pubs as prostitutes. So what really goes on in such bars? The New Paper on Sunday finds out

Unless you are a big spender or a regular face on the premises, chances are you won't be offered any "extra" or "special" services.

In other words, you have to be a VIP guest if you are expecting some action inside the bars, better known as "clubs" and "pubs" to those familiar with the premises.

Those who spoke to The New Paper on Sunday agreed to do so only on condition that we do not name them.

These include a former mamasan who was convicted in 2008 and patrons, some with girls, that we cornered at popular supper spots in Geylang and Havelock Road.

We also spoke to a bouncer who retired in 2012 after working in the industry for nearly 40 years.

All of them refused to name the bars. Instead, they offered only road names and generic areas such as Jalan Besar, Geylang and Orchard.

There are basically three categories of clubs, says the ex-bouncer, who has worked in more than 15 clubs.

He says in a mix of Mandarin and Hokkien: "You got the lup sup (Hokkien for dirty) bars in the lowest class, where the girls charge less for their services. At these bars, the patrons are mostly the blue-collar workers.

"The middle-class ones are frequented by the man-on-the-street, while the high-class ones are, of course, your KTV lounges."

He adds that some pubs have cubicles that allow their patrons some form of privacy. Women will activate a smoke machine when they get intimate with clients.

Some operators also install security cameras, which allow them to monitor the activities inside the club.

He says: "Other than watching out for the cops, the feeds also allow the operators to ensure that the girls are not being harassed or engaging in sexual activities without informing the management and pocketing the money."

But many pub operators prefer not to allow sexual activities inside their establishments as they don't want to risk being busted, he points out.

"So any action is negotiated outside the clubs.

The former mamasan, who was fined for helping to manage a brothel, agrees.

She says: "Tip-offs to the authorities are typically made by disgruntled customers or those who are jealous of the business.

"So you can't tell when the police is going to walk in."

In the case where she was charged, the hostesses in the KTV lounge were told to perform topless dances and sexual services for their customers inside the toilet cubicles.

She says: "The women were told specifically that they must not have sex, even inside the private KTV rooms.

"We were discreet and yet we got caught."

Being discreet and allowing only "bookings", or charging a "bar fine" is a common practice adopted by most operators.

A bar fine refers to the amount a customer pays to take a woman out for activities that usually includes sexual intercourse.

Says Madam Former Mamasan: "This way, you can claim that the transaction took place without your knowledge."

A patron who regularly visits pubs says that he picks the place according to the occasion.

"You definitely won't bring your business associates to anything that is less classy, right?"

But he says that he prefers those which "offer sex on the ground" (at the premises).

The night TNPS spoke to him at the supper spot, he and two friends had just had "some special on-the-spot services", before deciding to pay "bar fines" for four women.

He did not want to name the pub nor give us his contact details, but claims that he and his friends spent a total of about $4,500 there.

He says: "It was worth the money, of course."

A sales director, who wants to be known only as Lim, used to be a regular customer too, but stopped going to them after he got married.

He says: "Big bucks must change hands first - how soon you get offered the services depends on how generous you are with your money."

TNPS understands that prices for services like oral sex, manual stimulation and sexual intercourse vary from pub to pub.

Prices can range from a low of $20 to $300 for one oral sex session.

One "ladies' drink" can cost between $20 and $60. Overnight "bookings" or "bar fines" range between $250 and $1,000, depending on the "standard" of the pubs.

The women usually get a 30 per cent cut of the fee.

But with the constant crackdowns on the joints, many pubs have closed down or been forced out of business, says Mr Ex-bouncer.

"Which is why I decided to retire, because I was tired of being out of a job each time one of the pubs I worked for was raided," he says.

"Tip-offs to the authorities are typically made by disgruntled customers or those who are jealous of the business."

- Madam Former Mamasan, who managed a brothel

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.