Indonesia. Although prostitution is technically illegal in Jakarta, it is common knowledge that it can easily be found throughout the capital. Some government officials and sex workers say the best way to keep prostitutes safe is to have them work in centralized areas where health guidelines can be enforced and monitored.
Officials from the National AIDS Prevention Commission (KPA) spent time on Saturday educating sex workers at a karaoke bar in West Jakarta’s Taman Sari subdistrict about the proper and necessary use of condoms.
Ajianto Dwi Nugroho, from the KPA, said that as the sex trade became more spread out, it grew much more difficult to monitor the health of sex workers and provide education about the risks of their profession.
“Local politicians have been known to order the shutdown of red-light areas during election campaigns. And they do get shut down,” Ajianto said on Sunday.
“But this is no solution to the problem of prostitution. What happens is that the sex workers simply move further underground.”
“They end up walking the streets, going to bus stands or food stalls to try to sell their bodies. Then they have no access to information on how to protect themselves. They receive no regular health checks, no sex education from NGOs or the government and, in the worst-case scenario, they become slaves to terrible pimps,” Ajianto said.
“Take Rawa Malang [a red-light district in North Jakarta]. The pimps there will ask their prostitutes to drink five bottles of beer a day, or even demand their girls pay them if they fail to secure a customer.”
But this is not always the case. Sex workers at the karaoke bar the KPA visited had good things to say about working conditions.
Weni, a 40-year-old prostitute, said all the sex workers at the bar were required to have a health check every three months, particularly to spot STDs.
“I feel lucky to work as a prostitute in such an organized and clean place as this. The club owners show us how to maintain our health. They even allow us to say no to customers if they do not want to use a condom,” she said.
“I cannot imagine how bad my health would be if I worked on the streets. I would not know about all the risks of prostitution.
“Everybody working here is like family. The prostitutes, the boss, the cleaning service guys, the waiters and even the regular customers are family. We respect each other and treat each other properly. It is because we understand completely what kinds of lives we actually live.”
Weni said the prostitutes working at the club did not see themselves as criminals.
“We do not steal, we do not rob. We sell our bodies voluntarily because we want to have better lives. We also do not harm others. We always play safe by staying healthy.”
Tari, an 18-year-old sex worker at the bar, said one of her initial customers had been violent, particularly after she refused to have sex without a condom.
“I was slapped and hit hard by my customer. It was crazy. But, I think Rp 100,000 [$11] is not worth taking such a dangerous health risk,” she said.
The club charges as much as Rp 225,000 per client, which covers an hour of “massage services” in a room. Of this, the woman earns Rp 100,000, not including tips, said Leha, a 32-year-old prostitute.