Fotografi Jurnalistik Sex For Sale, Potret Faktual Prostitusi 27 Kota di Indonesia

Life in the Red-Light Districts Chronicles: Surabaya, East Java

     Yuyung Abdi, a photographer for Jawa Posdaily, launched early this week a book chronicling life in the brothels of Indonesia, Singapore and Las Vegas, the U.S. Sex For Sale: A Factual Portrait of Prostitutes in 37 Cities in Indonesia was conceived with the aim of heightening the government’s interest in sex workers’ problems. Scattered throughout the 248-page book, published by Jawa Pos Books, are short descriptions about the subjects and their experiences, providing a unique perspective on the examination of sex workers’ lives.
    A selection of Yuyung’s photographs are also on display at Royal Plaza Surabaya until Sept. 7.
On the sidelines of the exhibition early this week, Yuyung described the atmosphere in the town of Geylang in Singapore. It was late afternoon, and several pimps were advertising to men the availability of female sex workers. “Thai girl, Thai girl, do you want?” said a pimp in one of Geylang’s alleys.
    The sex workers found in Geylang generally come from the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, India, Indonesia and mainland China. They charge between US$30 and $40 an hour. Depending on the client’s negotiating skills, the rate could be inclusive of a room charge of $10.
Although their rate is in U.S. dollars, many of the sex workers in Geylang cannot speak English and resort to gestures in communicating with clients.
    Sex workers, Yuyung said, had various ways of getting more money from their clients than the agreed sum. For example, they might get a friend to call their cell phone late at night but tell their client it was their mother ringing with bad news — sickness, an injury or the death of a family member — and beg for “understanding”. “Don’t be surprised if you end up paying $250 — much more than you settled on. Sex workers use the same tricks the world over,” Yuyung said.
Just like in Singapore and the U.S., prostitution is illegal in Indonesia. Still, sex work remains a significant industry here.
    The economic contribution of Dolly — a 500-meter-long alley in Girilaya, Surabaya, that is one of Southeast Asia’s most famous red-light districts — is estimated to be Rp 500 million a day.
The money allegedly circulates not only among the sex workers and their pimps, but also among members of the District Leadership Assembly (Muspika), which comprises neighborhood and subdistrict units as well as district police units and military commands. Although not all members of Muspika have agreed to accept the money, some Rp 504 million goes to Muspika every year.
More money is generated from parking, beauty parlors and laundry services.
    In the Tretes red-light district in East Java, many locals have stopped farming, becoming guides instead. They get a commission of 20 percent of the rate set by a sex worker for finding her a client. Their average income is reportedly about Rp 6 million (US$667). Ojek drivers in the area often ferry sex workers back and forward between the red-light area and villas and hotels. Sometimes the money goes to people’s heads. Once, a father “sold” his underaged daughter to a pimp in Dolly for Rp 5 million.
    Many women and children doing sex work in the country come from its poorest regions. There are three main routes of women trafficking: First, the Western route, mostly from West Java, particularly Indramayu. Women and girls from these places are often taken to Batam, Jakarta, Lampung, Palembang, Bengkulu, Riau, Jambi and Medan. Second, the middle route, mostly from Central Java. Women and girls from these places are usually flown to Pontianak, Sampit, Palangkaraya, Samarinda or Balikpapan.
    The last route is the Eastern route, where Surabaya plays a pivotal role as a transit city for women from South Malang, Banyuwangi, Blitar and Jember. They will be sent to work in Makassar, Ambon, Tual (Aru Islands) and Papua. “In my experience, it is easy to obtain pictures of commercial sex workers from West Java than those from East Java. This is rather strange since West Java people are more religious than East Java people who are known as abangan,” Yuyung said. (Abangan is an Indonesian term used for people who are nominally Muslims but still adhere to pre-Muslim beliefs.)
To take his photos, Yuyung employed the help of more than 150 people. They played a variety of roles, including introducing him to the sex workers.

Indra Harsaputra

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