Rendi A. Witular, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
Prostitution has always been a problem in big cities, including Jakarta. Numerous measures taken by the city to curb the activity have done little to comprehensively resolve the prostitution issue and the problems that often accompany it. A new prostitution center crops up as soon as an old one is closed down.
For example, after the Kramat Tunggak brothel complex in Tugu Utara subdistrict, North Jakarta, was closed down in December 1999, many prostitutes simply moved to different areas of the city.
One such area is the new brothel complex in Rawa Malang in Cilincing subdistrict, North Jakarta.
About 300 prostitutes moved to Rawa Malang following the closure of Kramat Tunggak, and that number has increased since the Jakarta administration began demolishing the Kalijodo brothel complex in Pejagalan subdistrict, North Jakarta, earlier this week.
Mami Iyang, a madam who has been operating in the area for eight years, said the Kalijodo exodus could reach hundreds of prostitutes.
""The arrival of new prostitutes has increased the competition among them and us, the madams. Since 1999, many madams from Kramat Tunggak have started businesses here,"" she said, adding that on average she earned Rp 2.5 million (US$245) per night.
Despite the increase in the number of prostitutes, Rawa Malang is profitable for the sex workers.
""Here I only have to pay my madam Rp 35,000 per customer and my fee is Rp 100,000 for a short time. It's very cheap compared to when I worked as a stripper,"" one of the prostitutes, Susan, told The Jakarta Post on Thursday night.
Susan claimed she had worked for four months at a discotheque on Jl. Hayam Wuruk, Central Jakarta, which provides illicit strip shows.
""(As a stripper) I only received Rp 50,000 of my Rp 235,000 service fee per customer,"" said the 22-year-old, who has been working as a prostitute for eight years.
Susan began working in Rawa Malang three months ago.
""A friend brought me here. She sold me to Mami Iyang for Rp 2 million,"" said Susan.
The 18-year-old red-light complex is home to 120 brothels and around 1,200 sex workers. It is located in the middle of ""nowhere"", with the nearest residential area one kilometer away.
The complex is surrounded by swamps and a public cemetery.
A four-meter-wide bridge is the only way into and out of the complex. Two-story brothels line the narrow alleys of the complex.
Rawa Malang has not experience the kind of violence that regularly occurred in Kalijodo.
""Here, community unit 9 chief M. Muin organizes the security system. All the madams must pay a Rp 25,000 security fee per week to the civilian guards and the police,"" Iyang said.
The brothels are only allowed to open from 12 p.m. to 12 a.m., and these hours are strictly enforced. They are also obliged to ban music on Thursday nights when Muslims commonly gather to recite the Koran.
The brothels are not allowed to sell alcohol, and selling drugs is also frowned upon in the area.
The presence of the complex, which has been relatively free of trouble, apparently also helps many in the area earn money.
Rokhim, an ojek (motorcycle taxi) driver at the complex, said there were no gangsters operating in the complex.
""It is a safe place to earn a living. No hoodlums, mostly just locals, have ever extorted money from us,"" said Rokhim, who can earn about Rp 50,000 a night.
With the administration intent on cleaning out Kalijodo, it is likely that more prostitutes will arrive in Rawa Malang.
However if no comprehensive response is found to deal with the question of prostitution, the violence that has beset places like Kalijodo will also eventually find its way to Rawa Malang or any other venue where the world's ""oldest profession"" is found.