Mary Ann Lim peels aways a widely believed myth shrouding prostitution in Malaysia – and comes face-to-face with the grim reality of human trafficking.
The glamour, the attention, the praises, the popularity, and the ridiculously expensive items – all the good things that come with money as a girl thinks about the benefits of her job while she strolls the streets of Kuala Lumpur with her brand spanking new Hermès handbag.
Regardless of how much it cost her, it will be easy to earn it back. She sighs as she pulls out a Louis Vuitton purse to pay for her Starbucks Frappuccino; it will be another long night at work though.
What’s the catch? She sells sex in the back streets of Jalan Chow Kit for a living.
The scenario above is a huge misconception the common person has about prostitutes. For one, someone working in Chow Kit Road won’t be able to afford a Hermes handbag.
This would be especially for a sex worker who works in Malaysia after having been cheated by an agent who promised her a good life here. A better life for a woman and the occasional man she may have here in our homeland – when compared to the rural life they were plucked out from.
The subject of prostitution caught my interest when I read about high-class Japanese courtesans in the 17th Century who were sold to brothels when they were as young as five.
This then prompted me to look into what our country has to offer in the world’s oldest profession. I admit I was under the impression that prostitutes earned tremendous amounts of easy money, seeing as I lived quite a sheltered lifestyle for the past 21 years. That lifestyle didn’t require me to venture out into dark alleys which housed dodgy hotels.
Imagine my utter shock and horror when I was walking with my mother to KFC one afternoon not long ago in my hometown. At the entrance of an old run-down hotel next to this popular fast food joint sat a couple of saggy old ladies.
“Ma, why’re there aunties sitting there? Do people even book hotels like these anymore?” I innocently asked as I whispered into my mother’s ear.
She snorted. “Girl, those are prostitutes that do their business in there.”
“Oh,” I mouthed.
Just last week in KL, my family and I were heading from a carpark back to our tiny boutique hotel after a wedding dinner. We walked past a transgender sex worker, who was scantily dressed in clothes that barely covered her/his nipples and a short skirt that exposed more than I should’ve seen.
Upon further research, however, I’ve come to the conclusion that the said women, men and the in-betweens are probably the luckier ones who are allowed slightly more freedom.
Sex workers have been around since time immemorial; some glorify the profession, while others just don’t talk about it. Even if it is illegal in Malaysia, life goes on for these women and the odd male gigolo.
Our country, apart from the tragic and unfortunate air-plane incidents that have made us famous in sad ways, is also infamously known as a hub for human trafficking.
As a young woman myself, I feel it is so scary how these girls are lured and sometimes kidnapped into this predicament when all they want is to genuinely contribute to their (often starving) households.
Their desperation is taken advantage of and they are shipped in the dark of the night, not knowing that they are about to be violently shocked by the reality of this ‘deal’. The lies of earning fast cash in a reputable job are what cause many of these women to give in to the ‘promises’ made to them.
For the ‘elite’ few who have higher social connections, yes, the money can be good. Or maybe for those in the famous red-light district of Amsterdam, where it is regulated by the government, safety is often guaranteed and sometimes the pay-out is big.
But for rest who lurk the streets of Jalan Sultan Ismail in Malaysia? Not so much.
Many of these girls ‘service’ their clientele in a variety of spas, karaoke lounges and hotels scattered across Malaysia, and some even do house calls. Our country has become infamously known for human trafficking. The bulk of the victims are brought here as a result of an increasing demand for prostitutes.
Despite all the cries for help, many of the local authorities and the locals themselves usually ignore the pleas. Maybe it is because they do not see these girls as victims and think they deserve such treatment because they brought this on to themselves.
We are condemning them to the claws of Aids, STD and the occasional murder. Our citizens are even contributing to this ‘industry’.
I’m scared that such debauchery is taking place at my door step, and yet people are hardly doing anything. They even say these girls deserve to be treated this way. I get even more terrified just thinking if it was me getting raped repeatedly night after night, I might never be rescued because our people don’t really care.
Even though these heinous acts of human trafficking are still prevalent today, hope is not entirely lost. When found, many of these girls are at least sent home and if lucky, their ‘agent’ is caught as well.
Sadly, many of them flee the scene before anything can be done.
Until these human trafficking criminals are caught, it looks as if the world’s oldest profession will carry on with its night life in the seedy dark alleys ways of Malaysia.
Mary Ann Lim, a student, is a proud Malaysian who immediately feels homesick when removed from her hometown despite having an outgoing personality and an odd sense of humour. Thus, she understands the feelings of unfortunate sex workers who are stolen from their homes.
Mary Ann enjoys being indoors and often writes creative fiction when not bogged down with assignments and exams. She signed up for Aliran’s Young Writers Workshop on Good Governance, Gender and Vulnerable Groups held in Ipoh with the support of the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives.
“Apart from my circle of friends, I was very pleased to meet other people with such different opinions, evident from the articles they have written,” she says. “Aliran has opened up my naïve world by allowing me to meet people of various thoughts and backgrounds. I’d like to thank Aliran so much for bringing me out of my shell in such a gentle way.”