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Singapore

Empowering Singapore's sex workers: Transitioning to new careers

Image Credits: UnsplashImage Credits: Unsplash
  • Project X provides career coaching, financial literacy, and job placement support to help sex workers transition to mainstream employment.
  • The program addresses the significant stigma and legal barriers that sex workers face when seeking alternative careers.
  • Beyond professional support, Project X offers emotional and social services to help participants integrate into their new lifestyles.

Sex work in Singapore, while legal, is surrounded by a myriad of stigmas and legal complexities that make it challenging for individuals to transition to other careers. Project X, a non-profit organization, has been at the forefront of providing support to sex workers, helping them navigate these challenges and find alternative career pathways.

The Next Step Program

In October 2023, Project X launched The Next Step, a program designed to assist sex workers in transitioning to mainstream employment. Supported by funding from the National Council of Social Service (NCSS), the program aims to break the cycle of vulnerability that many sex workers face. As of now, 17 participants, ranging in age from their 20s to 50s, are enrolled in the program.

Vanessa Ho, the executive director of Project X, emphasizes the importance of such initiatives: “There has always been demand from sex workers for job support.” The program includes career coaching, financial literacy training, and resume writing workshops. Participants also receive small loans to start home-based businesses and are connected with potential employers.

Overcoming Stigma and Legal Barriers

One of the significant challenges sex workers face when transitioning to other careers is the stigma associated with their previous work. This stigma is often compounded by criminal records related to peripheral activities like soliciting or pimping, which are illegal in Singapore. “While sex work is legal, many peripheral activities such as pimping and soliciting are criminalized,” explains Vanessa Ho. This legal complexity makes it difficult for sex workers to find mainstream jobs, as employers are often hesitant to hire individuals with such backgrounds.

Personal Stories of Transition

Nina, a single mother in her mid-40s, is one of the beneficiaries of The Next Step program. After two decades in the sex industry, she transitioned to a customer service role with the help of Project X. Although she had to leave the job due to chronic back pain, Nina is grateful for the support she received. “When I started my new job, I was cooking for my son after work,” she recalls. “I missed all those normal daily-living lifestyle.”

Another participant, who completed a barista course through the program, highlights the diverse opportunities available to those willing to make a change. The program aims to reach 30 participants in its second year and is working to get more inclusive employers on board to provide job tasters and part-time job opportunities.

The Role of Community and Support

Project X’s approach is holistic, addressing not only the professional but also the emotional and social needs of sex workers. The organization provides counseling, practical advice, and befriender services. They also organize social gatherings and activities to help participants integrate into their new lifestyles.

Ms. Tok Kheng Leng, a social worker at Project X, notes the importance of understanding the unique challenges faced by sex workers: “Seeking help is not the most natural thing because they are fearful of, for example, contravening the law.” The program’s success lies in its ability to create a safe and supportive environment where participants can openly discuss their past and future aspirations.

Looking Forward

The journey from sex work to mainstream employment is fraught with challenges, but initiatives like The Next Step offer a beacon of hope. By providing comprehensive support and addressing the root causes of vulnerability, Project X is helping sex workers build better futures for themselves and their families.

As Nina poignantly puts it, “In prison, I saw 70-year-olds still working as sex workers. It’s very depressing, you know. I don’t want to be like that.” Her story, and those of others like her, underscore the importance of programs that offer tangible pathways out of the sex industry.

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