Yawning Bread. March 2006

Topless Vietnamese woman falls to her death




Photo of Joo Chiat area,
from The New Paper


Early Friday (17 March 2006) at about 1.30 a.m., a young Vietnamese woman fell to her death from the 10th floor of a block of flats in Toa Payoh. She was barefoot and topless, but had a blue skirt on.

Pham Thi Truc Linh worked at a nightclub called Jazzy 51 in Joo Chiat, according to the Straits Times, 18 March 2006.

The New Paper tracked down a friend of the deceased for their Sunday story. The friend, Gao An [1], told the newspaper that, 

The dead woman is believed to be a call girl operating out of pubs at Joo Chiat Road.

Ms Gao had met her at a pub in Orchard Road last Wednesday night, two days before she died.

She had arrived in Singapore that day on a social visit pass.

'She told me that she came here to look for her Singaporean boyfriend and also to make some money,' recalled Ms Gao.

'It wasn't her first time here. She had been to Singapore many times.'

-- The New Paper, Sunday, 19 March 2006

Photo from Straits Times

It didn't take long for the police to trace the owner of the flat and arrest him at his brother's place to which he had fled. The Sunday Times reported that he has since been placed under arrest for "wrongful confinement".

The 39-year-old had apparently been trying to prevent the 24-year-old woman from leaving his 10th-storey flat when she climbed out of the kitchen window, slipped and fell.


Under the Penal Code, anyone who wrongfully prevents a person from leaving a place can be punished with a jail term of up to a year and a maximum $1,000 fine.

The two had met in a Joo Chiat pub on Thursday night and left together around midnight.

The woman apparently wanted to go to a nearby transit hotel [2], but he insisted on taking her home, saying it would save him money.

They took a taxi back to his two-room flat.

On the way there, the Vietnamese woman sent an SMS message to her friend, informing her of her plans.

-- Sunday Times, 19 March 2006


Photo from The New Paper

The Sunday Times revealed that the man had thrown the items down the rubbish chute in a fit of anger to prevent her from leaving. Neighbours had also heard raised voices, loud banging, then a piercing scream followed by a sickening thud.

Soon after discovering the body, the police found her lacy brassiere, boots and a black blouse in a rubbish bin. Her handbag, containing her passport, was found in the 10th floor flat. That's how they identified her. She was 24 years old.

* * * * *

Why must it take the loss of a young life before we start to think about something as commonplace as the sex trade?

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that she was on a 2-week tourist visa to Singapore, and that she had agreed to provide sexual services for payment.

While prostitution itself is not illegal, a lot of activity surrounding it is. Section 140 (1) of the Women's Charter says that anyone who "lets for hire" any woman or girl "with intent that she shall be employed or used for the purpose of prostitution" may be jailed up to 5 years.

Likewise, anyone who "procures any woman or girl .... for the purpose of prostitution" is guilty of a similar offence. This, like the above, seems to be aimed at the madam, but conceivably, a prosecutor can use it against the client too.

Section 146 (1) also makes it an offence for anyone who "knowingly lives wholly or in part on the earnings of the prostitution of another person". Here again, he may be imprisoned for up to 5 years. While this is clearly meant to apply to pimps, what if a bar always welcomes freelancers, but on condition that customers wishing to chat them up have to buy drinks for the girls as well? Is the business not indirectly dependent on the trade?

The Joo Chiat area is well known for bars with Vietnamese girls in attendance. It is naive to think that the bar owners didn't know what was going on even if they did not have a hand in arranging the business.

Brothel operators are in violation of Sections 147 and 148 of the Women's Charter for keeping and managing a brothel or "place of assignation".

The Hotel Act requires all hotels to be licenced, and as I understand it, one of the licence conditions is that rooms cannot be let out for less than 1 night. So hotels that have short-time rooms are risking their licences doing so.

The Vietnamese and foreign girls themselves are violating the law, not for prostitution, but for working while on tourist visas.

When everybody is operating in the shadows, then the one who least fears the police has the upper hand. Very often, it is the john, for while we see reports regularly in the newspapers of authorities rounding up foreign girls on suspicion of prostitution, and also of the police prosecuting bar-owners for various "immoral" activities, no one can remember johns being prosecuted.

The result is behaviour like this, as recounted by another Vietnamese girl who called herself Mary:

'Once, my friend serviced a Singaporean in his 40s.

'He took her back to his flat and locked the gate with three padlocks. He tied her to his bed and had sex with her.

'After that, he used his leather belt to whip her.

'There wasn't anything that she could do,' recalled Mary.

'How would she break the padlocks? If she wanted to get out of the flat, the only way would be to jump out of his kitchen window.

'The next morning, the man took her to a coffeeshop and told her to wait there while he gets money from an ATM for her.

'But he did not return to the coffeeshop.

'What could my friend do? She couldn't call the police and the man got away scot-free.'

-- The New Paper, 19 March 2006

As you can see, the girls have no realistic recourse when they're cheated and physically assaulted.

We need to own up to the fact that our misguided laws create the conditions for such abuses to happen. Our priorities are all wrong when we focus on so-called morality rather than safety.

We need to recognise that paid sex is never going to go away, and given our relatively low level of domestic unemployment, the suppliers will to a large extent be foreign girls (and boys).

* * * * *

What is the safest way to organise the business?

This is not rocket science. As in any other business that has to match buyers and sellers who do not know how much to trust each other, there are two simple rules

  • Use a middleman who can vouch for the other party, usually the seller. The middleman should have a reputation that is as reliable as the business permits, and who is contactable after the transaction in case something goes wrong. A complaint can be lodged with him, and he is expected to know the seller, in order to resolve the matter.
    An alternative to the middleman is a reputable brand name (that is why consumers pay more for a branded item the brand is an assurance of quality). The brand could be that of a brothel or an escort agency, again contactable after the fact.
  • If one party, usually the buyer, is still solo and relatively anonymous, then get him to place a deposit. This simple tactic increases the odds that he will abide by his side of the contract.

Applying the above rules, it means that the sex workers should be working out of bars, brothels ("places of assignation" in our legalese) or escort agencies, not freelancing. That way, there should at least be mamasans or papasans looking out for them.

The john should be required to make a deposit or advance partial payment before taking the girl out, with the understanding that an additional tip would be forthcoming depending on "service quality". The advance payment is really crucial because it strengthens the negotiating position of the sex worker. Better yet if it is deposited with the mamasan, so that the john cannot seize it back from the girl later. If the girl finds herself in a risky position, she must feel she can walk out of the situation without too severe a financial loss.

The contract should be that the sex takes place either at the brothel, massage parlour or at a short-time hotel. This is to ensure that help is near at hand if necessary. The story above shows how dangerous it can be for a girl to be taken to a home in some part of Singapore she's not familiar with. The reverse is also true. Recently a client was robbed and murdered in Pattaya by 2 male sex workers he had hired off the streets and brought back to his home.

A hotel is much safer, especially if all parties have to register their names at the front desk. There is traceability.

If the john, after leaving the bar with the girl, insists on taking her back to his home, she should have the right to walk away from him, and he should forfeit his advance payment.






Yet all of the above requires a major overhaul of our laws. To begin with, we have to stop seeing sex as sin, and see abuse by one person of another as the primary evil. Secondly, we have to stop seeing the supervisory structure (the pimp and the madam) as necessarily exploitative. Instead, they can be turned to advantage, as middlemen and guarantors of a fair deal for both sides [3].

Granted, pimps and madams can sometimes be worse than the johns in the way they treat their girls. To combat this, we have to create mechanisms for the girls to report such abuses and to leave their charge whenever they want.

Clearly, what is required is for every aspect of the business to be legal. The tourist should not fear being caught for prostituting - perhaps a special sex worker permit can be issued. The bars, brothel owners and supervisors and short-time hotels should not be operating in fear of the law either.

Instead there should be a new-found respect for fair-trading and fair employment, and every party should have equal and easy access to the law and police for assistance. The last thing we need is to push already marginalised people into helplessness, while we remain smug in our bourgeois morality.

Yawning Bread 


Morality laws corrupt

In Mumbai (Bombay) there are regular reports of police scams. Some places in the city, particularly public toilets in train stations, are well known as hangouts for homosexual cruising.

Police officers out to make a fast buck tend to target these same areas. One of them would loiter in the area, acting as bait. When an unsuspecting homosexual man approaches him, typically a signal would be sent and a few other police officers would suddenly appear. A large sum of money would be extorted from the victim who would be anxious to avoid prosecution under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.

See what happens? Morality laws corrupt.



  1. The Straits Times also interviewed her, but spelled her name as Khao An
    Return to where you left off

  2. A "transit hotel" is Singapore-speak for a short-time hotel. Our morality laws even distort our language.
    Return to where you left off

  3. As well as give some backbone to the safe sex message.
    Return to where you left off