Three pimps and the law

A news report caught my eye last month. It told of two guys fined for running a prostitution business involving Thai women.

A man and his accomplice collected nearly $12,600 in less than two months from the small stable of prostitutes they managed until they were busted.

Alan Heng Wei Kuang, 26, was arrested in his Yishun flat on Feb 8 following a tip-off.

He was fined $17,000 yesterday.

He pleaded guilty to managing a brothel, living off the earnings of prostitutes and abetting Low Yinn Loong, 23, in receiving a Thai prostitute at Changi Airport on Jan 1.

The court heard that in late 2009, Heng, then jobless, got a Thai contact to arrange for prostitutes to come here.

To attract customers, the Singaporean uploaded pictures of the women and advertised their services online.

By last December, business was brisk enough for him to need an accomplice. He hired Low for $50 a day.

On his instructions, Low would pick the prostitutes up at the airport, check them into hotels and collect payment for their services.

Between Jan 1 and Feb 8, the duo had three Thai women aged between 26 and 29 operating in rooms in Hotel Grand Chancellor in Little India.

Investigations showed that Low collected $12,590 from them during this period. After paying himself, he gave the rest to Heng, who spent it on his personal expenses.

Defence counsel Mervyn Tan told the court his client would not run foul of the law again. Heng, who now runs a cellphone business, married a Thai in March and the couple are expecting a child.

The judge took into consideration another three charges against Heng – one for abetment in receiving a prostitute at the airport on Jan 19, and two for living off the earnings of a prostitute.

He could have been jailed up to five years on each of the three charges to which he pleaded guilty.

The maximum fine for receiving a woman for the purposes of prostitution and living off immoral earnings is $10,000; for managing a brothel, the maximum fine is $3,000.

Low was fined $16,000 last month.

— Straits Times, 27 July 2011, Jul 27, 2011, Man fined $17k for running vice ring, by Khushwant Singh

In complete contrast to the fate of these two, an old report from the Straits Times told of another pimp, Tan Keng Soon, jailed four years:

A 46-year-old man who ran a vice den for male prostitutes was jailed four years yesterday for abetting four Malaysians to commit acts of gross indecency.

This is the third time Tan Keng Soon had committed such offenses.

Yesterday, he pleaded guilty to eight counts of abetting the four, aged between 16 and 23, to provide sexual services such as oral sex and masturbation to male clients.

He charged the clients $100 each between April 24 and 29.

Anti-Vice officers raided Century Hotel in Geylang on April 30 and arrested eight Malaysians along with Tan, also known as S-B-K or Alvin, and a 46-year-old customer.

Between April 24 and 30, Tan gave free food and lodging to the Malaysian prostitutes, who provided services at either an unknown apartment or at two Geylang hotels: Century Hotel and Happy Star Hotel. He collected $50 from the prostitutes for each introduction.

Tan had been jailed two months in September 1996 and 16 months in July 1997 for similar offenses. Pleading for leniency, the father of two said he was a bankrupt and a divorcee.

He was sentenced to 12 months’ jail on each of the eight counts, with four sentences running consecutively.

— Straits Times, 8 May 1999, Jail for man who ran den for male whores

There are key differences between the two cases. Tan Keng Soon was appearing before the a court for the third time whereas Heng and Low were likely committing their first offences. Even so, you would have noticed that Tan got two months’ imprisonment for his first office, in 1996.

Would a fine of $17,000 (as in Alan Heng’s case) be equivalent to two months’ jail? I don’t think so. For example, if you recall the article by Alan Shadrake, when he could not pay his fine of S$20,000, he was given two weeks’ additional jail time in lieu. So, clearly, comparing first first offence with first offence, Tan got the significantly heavier sentence.

This leads us to the other key difference. Tan managed a stable of male sex workers, while Heng and Low had female sex workers. As a result, despite operating similar businesses, they were charged under different laws. In Tan’s case, he was charged under Section 377A of the Penal Code for abetting gross indecency between men. Section 377A mandates a prison term; there is no option for imposing a fine.

It is not entirely clear from the Straits Times’ report which laws Heng and Low were charged under. In Heng’s case, there were apparently two charges: The first, from the phrase “pleaded guilty to managing a brothel”, appears to be Section 148 (1) of the Women’s Charter, which says:

148. —(1) Any person who keeps, manages or assists in the management of a brothel shall be guilty of an offence under this section.

This is followed by Section 148 (5):

(5) Any person who is guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $3,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 years or to both and, in the case of a second or subsequent conviction, to a fine not exceeding $10,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years or to both. (Emphasis mine)

The second charge, going by the press report, seems to be for “receiving a woman for the purposes of prostitution and living off immoral earnings”. While it is not entirely clear which part of the Women’s Charter this might be, it is probably either:

140 (1) Any person who —

(d) brings into Singapore, receives or harbours any woman or girl knowing or having reason to believe that she has been procured for the purpose of having carnal connection except by way of marriage with any male person or for the purpose of prostitution either within or without Singapore and with intent to aid such purpose;

or:

146 (1) Any person who knowingly lives wholly or in part on the earnings of the prostitution of another person shall be guilty of an offence . . .

Yet, here’s the strange thing: With respect to sentences, both 140 (1) and 146 (1) say:

. . . shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years and shall also be liable to a fine not exceeding $10,000. (Emphasis mine)

A plain reading of the law indicates that imprisonment is not optional. Like in Section 377A, jail time is mandatory, in which case, how did the court impose only a fine without imprisonment? Why didn’t the prosecutor object?

* * * * *

In the article Ego hurt more grievous than grievous hurt, I raised the issue of parity in sentencing, pointing out the practice of only narrowly comparing sentences for similar offences under the same law. We seem never to undertake an exercise in moral comparability across different kinds of offences. This led to the absurdity, as discussed in that earlier article, of a more lenient sentence for someone attacking another with a broken beer bottle and a heavier sentence for another person mounting a peaceful one-man protest.

We see a similar problem in these pimping cases, except that here we have persons accused of running very similar businesses, albeit that one had female sex workers and the other male sex workers. Yet they were charged under different laws, with different scales of penalties. Each relied on precedents specific to itself; each case becomes precedential to future cases, again specific to itself. Continuing like this, penalties for running male brothels will never be compared against penalties for running female brothels.

Once again, moral comparability is ignored.

Is this the best justice system we can think of?

* * * * *

On a technical level, the problem originates from the fact that our laws are gender-specific. Section 377A refers only to men; it is not applicable to any situation where females come into the equation. Sections 140, 146 and 148 of the Women’s Charter refer only to females as direct providers of sexual services; they do not provide for the possibility that males too can provide prostitution services — in fact, a point I often make is that it is perfectly legal for pimps to provide male prostitutes to women.

Solving the problem is simple: Make all laws gender-neutral. But that apparently is a bridge too far for Singapore. Our government and society is deeply wedded to old-fashioned social ideas. Male superiority and homophobia remain very current, as do racial bias and archaic expectations of deference to authority.

It’s time to make changes to laws, and I don’t mean just making them gender-neutral. I think these offences should be swept away. To start with why should pimping be illegal? So long as the sex worker is adult, trading out of choice and willingly wanting a brothel as a safe space and/or a pimp to market his or her services — the same way we engage property agents, employment agencies or insurance brokers to make deals for us — what’s the big deal?

18 Responses to “Three pimps and the law”


  1. 1 Dennis 11 August 2011 at 19:51

    How come these two men were charged with pimping and imposed sentence, while those men “managing” those “legalized” whore houses in Geylang seemed to get away with the law? Are they not pimp too, living off the immoral earnings of women? What is it that made these Geylang chicken coop legalized while these two poor men got punished?
    Am I missing something here? I am puzzled. Or is it because the Geylang folks pay some “license fee”, that’s why they are “legal”?

    • 2 Anonymous 12 August 2011 at 00:20

      You got the answer.
      Anything is legal as long as you pay the government taxes.
      Take a look at MBS and you will know what I mean.

      • 3 Dennis 12 August 2011 at 22:49

        “Anything is legal as long as you pay the government taxes”.

        Does it then follows that loansharks can be legalized as long as they pay taxes to govt?
        Does it then also follows that “Adult movie” industry can set up shop here as long as they pay taxes, and if I may add, “create jobs” for Singaporeans just like what they claimed when they decided to bring in casinos?

      • 4 yawningbread 12 August 2011 at 23:16

        I think an adult movie industry is the kind of high value-added service industry Singapore should attract.

  2. 5 Sam 12 August 2011 at 00:18

    The danger in pimping is that, while it’s ostensibly a contract entered into by two consenting adults, often, the result closer resembles indentured servitude. The girls get the very short end of the stick in the deal, with the pimp getting the lion’s share of the takings. I am more for following in Holland’s footsteps and having the prostitutes rent a unit from which to work, with no middleman to take a cut. The way I saw it, it almost seemed entrepreneurial (but definitely NOT the kind of entrepreneurship our govt would like!). But your opinions are never without due consideration. I’m curious. Why do you not frown upon pimping?

    • 6 yawningbread 12 August 2011 at 00:57

      Most male sex workers sell themselves without pimps, esp in the internet age. So you are right in that pimps, like travel agents, are not truly necessary. One can even say they are an endangered species. But like travel agents, there are people (buyers as well as sellers) who like the extra services provided by a middleman, for example, a seller may not want his/her face or contact number on the internet for all to see, prefering to sell more discretely via a broker.

      What you may have noticed is that I speak of the pimp as hired by the sex workers not the other around. I totally agree that when the power (imbalance) is on the pimps side, there is a risk of servitude. It is for this reason that I feel it is important to bring prostitution out of the shadows, legally and socially, in order to empower the sex worker.

      • 7 Sam 16 August 2011 at 01:47

        As always, your argument is most persuasive. Sadly I don’t foresee any such empowerment happening soon, given the fact that this issue is so far down the government’s to-do list at the moment.

  3. 8 Wy 12 August 2011 at 00:51

    Do the age of the prostituted matter?

    “Between Jan 1 and Feb 8, the duo had three Thai women aged between 26 and 29 operating in rooms in Hotel Grand Chancellor in Little India.”

    vs

    “Yesterday, he pleaded guilty to eight counts of abetting the four, aged between 16 and 23, to provide sexual services such as oral sex and masturbation to male clients.”.

  4. 9 Rabbit 12 August 2011 at 02:06

    People look at prostitute as something dirty because they have no union, no employment act to protect them and when raw sex is involved, any trade is deemed dirty. Or rather, people look at casual sex as disease that need to be rid. Prostitution image can be changed if the governement set rules that such profession must abide by the following conditions to operate as prostitute:

    1. Do not engage with married man/students/minor.
    2. No advertisement is allowed
    3. Open Solicitation & Harrassment is not allowed.
    4. Prostitute must be health screened and certified by appointed doctors to
    operate their trade.
    5. They can only operate their business in selected area in Singapore.
    6. Health and safety measure still regulated by MOM or any agent appointed
    by MOM to carry routine check.
    7. Written legal consent from the prostitute to operate their trade and witnessed
    by reliable party.
    8. As in any other trade, prostitute must file their annual earnings for tax
    purposes.
    9. Set up association to protect this workers from customer/employer abuse
    10. Workers must have valid working pass.
    11. Prostitute must not engage in other trade other than prostitution, like selling drugs, massage, alcohol or adult toys……

    and the list goes on…..

    Who say such trade can’t be professional?

    Back to 377A, it is like tonsil in the throat of our legal systems. Very painful, unncessary, uncomfortable and if stayed for too long can make our whole legal. systems smell like shit. Better have it taken out soonest possible.

    • 10 Poker Player 12 August 2011 at 12:38

      Wow! More regulations than for timeshare and casinos…financial products even…

    • 11 Acher 12 August 2011 at 19:44

      You forgot ‘married women’.

      • 12 yawningbread 12 August 2011 at 21:58

        I assume you’re saying this to point out a gender bias in Rabbit’s comment. But in case anyone thinks this is a good idea, let me just point out it should be none of anybody’s business to police anyone else’s marital fidelity. Stay out of other people’s sex lives.

  5. 13 Rabbit 12 August 2011 at 02:30

    I may also like to add a mandatory requirements that prostitute (like housemaid) should undergo test or take class to understand various sex diseases and proper use of condoms. Once they passed the test, the relevant authority will issue them licence subjected to renewal if they comply with all the terms set.

    Licenced prostitute – sounds more professtional than street prostitutes. The guilt and uncomfortable element between the taker and giver will be greatly sooth.

    This is another tourist dollars the govt can tap on “to grow at all cost” and can also set quota to avoid the influx of such trade. Why not give it a try along with our gambling den…..

    Who don’t need sex in this stressful society?

  6. 14 Leong 12 August 2011 at 10:07

    “148. —(1) Any person who keeps, manages or assists in the management of a brothel shall be guilty of an offence under this section.”

    Isn’t it funny that we have a law that says it is illegal and yet we have so many of these ‘brothels’ mushrooming under the disguise of spas, massage parlours, nite clubs, disco & karaoke joints, etc., providing sexual services all over Singapore as it the police couldn’t care less ?

    Just observe Hotel 81’s clientelle and one wonders why it has never caught up with the law ?

  7. 15 wikigam 12 August 2011 at 12:06

    To : Rabbit

    Do check with MOM , Is it true that “Female Prostitution ” at Gaylang are work in such condition (s/n 1 to 11) !

  8. 16 wikigam 12 August 2011 at 13:30

    You are welcome to visit them, take a look on their work permit issue by MOM ! what is the Job title printed on the work permit.

    What is the mean of term ” Equality” in our Judicial System ?


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