Cracking down on vice parlours

While unlicensed massage establishments here tend to be a front for vice, the current penalty for running one is low - just a $1,000 fine with no jail term.

This slap on the wrist means operators can easily open another one. In fact, current laws do not stop them from continuing their profitable operations even amid criminal proceedings against them.

Consequently, the number of such establishments has been growing, with the authorities detecting a 40 per cent rise in the figure from 2013 to last year.

Only in April, raids on two traditional Chinese medicine and two spa outlets ended in the arrest of six women suspected of providing sexual services.

It is timely, then, that the Ministry of Home Affairs tabled the Massage Establishments Bill on Monday to introduce stiffer penalties.

The new Bill proposes that those caught operating unlicensed massage establishments have their $1,000 penalty rise to $10,000 - with a possible jail term of up to two years.

Operators will also have to close their premises while criminal proceedings are ongoing or face a maximum fine of $15,000 with the possibility of three years' jail.

It is reassuring to see that this Bill will tackle the issue on all fronts by also targeting landlords. Once a tenant is charged with operating an unlicensed massage establishment, the landlord must evict the tenant within a month or face a fine of up to $10,000 or imprisonment of up to two years, or both.

The higher deterrents will, hopefully, lead to a drop in the number of unlicensed massage establishments.

The current $1,000 fine is painless - if the women working at such places can charge up to $200 for sexual services, imagine how much operators earn.

As Ms Gloria Tan, senior vice-president of the Spa and Wellness Association, said: "Some of them just go and open a massage parlour, get raided by police for committing vice, then pay the $1,000 fine and open another one tomorrow."

If Singapore wants to see a reduction in such vice, these stiffer penalties are indeed the right way to go.

Kok Xing Hui

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 06, 2017, with the headline 'Cracking down on vice parlours'. Print Edition | Subscribe