THE CHANGING FACE OF VICE IN GEYLANG

'Internet posting is like a job ad'

Sex workers used to be a common sight in Geylang (left) as they worked in brothels or plied the streets under the watchful eye of pimps (right). But the rise of the Internet has led to a new group of Geylang prostitutes - freelancers, who rent apartm
Sex workers used to be a common sight in Geylang (above) as they worked in brothels or plied the streets under the watchful eye of pimps. But the rise of the Internet has led to a new group of Geylang prostitutes - freelancers, who rent apartments both within and outside the traditional red-light districts and use the Internet to look for customers.ST PHOTOS
Sex workers used to be a common sight in Geylang (left) as they worked in brothels or plied the streets under the watchful eye of pimps (right). But the rise of the Internet has led to a new group of Geylang prostitutes - freelancers, who rent apartm
Sex workers used to be a common sight in Geylang as they worked in brothels or plied the streets under the watchful eye of pimps (above). But the rise of the Internet has led to a new group of Geylang prostitutes - freelancers, who rent apartments both within and outside the traditional red-light districts and use the Internet to look for customers.ST PHOTOS

Like most 19-year-old Singaporeans, Samantha (not her real name) is smartphone- and Internet-savvy.

During the day, she uses the Internet to do research for her school work - she is pursuing a business diploma in a private institution.

But at night, she turns to the Internet to meet clients.

Samantha is a freelance social escort. She advertises her services on various local online websites and charges $500 an hour for sex.

"The Internet posting is like a job advertisement. I am a service provider," said the petite woman with shoulder-length hair. "I am doing this to support myself."

Samantha started working as an online social escort in July last year after graduating from the Institute of Technical Education (ITE). She could not get into a polytechnic but wanted to continue her studies.

"I have only ITE education and needed money quickly for the private diploma," she said.

"The private diploma course fee is $10,000 a year; and I want to go to a private university eventually, which will cost much more."

Asked why her parents did not pay for her education, she would only say: " Family problems."

She was introduced to an escort agency owner who then recruited her. The agency closed down at the end of last year, after a series of police raids, and she decided to strike out on her own.

"With the Internet, I am free to choose my clients and my working hours," she said. "In an agency, I have to take clients assigned to me."

Agencies also take a 40 per cent cut from her earnings. She charges around $500 to $600 an hour.

While the Internet postings are free, she pays the websites to ensure that her listing appears at the top of searches.

She gets about one to two clients a week through the Internet, and meets them in hotels.

"Most are locals. Some are regulars from my agency days."

The job is not without risks. Top of her worries are clients who are violent. "I am petite and I cannot fight them," she said.

Before meeting new clients, she screens them by asking them questions via e-mail. She also turns to a small network of friends, who are in the same trade, for support.

"I ask them if they know the client. I also message them before I go into the hotel room to meet him and after I come out, so that they know that I am safe," she said. "I also turn to them to complain about clients."

She spoke of one experience in which a client demanded a service she was not comfortable with. "I just closed my eyes and got on with it."

She also recounted an incident involving another social escort, who agreed to be tied up, but the client took advantage of her immobile state. The escort did not report the incident, said Samantha, because she was worried about getting into trouble with the law.

From this month, it is an offence to operate or maintain a remote communication service that offers or facilitates the provision of sexual services.

Samantha said the Internet is her lifeline of sorts. "It is not as if I can print and distribute fliers."

She wants to stop working as a social escort in a few years. "I will get a normal, office-based job," she said.

But her experience as a social escort has scarred how she views relationships with men.

"After meeting these men - who cheated on their wives and partners - I can never have a normal, romantic relationship in the future," she said. "I have trust issues."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 10, 2016, with the headline ''Internet posting is like a job ad''. Print Edition | Subscribe