In Yogya, sex workers say
crackdown won’t save

Prostitutes and activists in Yogyakarta are calling on the government not to prosecute men who pay for sex to protect the rights of women.

The chairwoman of Yogyakarta Women’s Sex Workers Association (P3SY), Sarmi, said on Tuesday at a conference in Yogyakarta that the criminalization of the clients of prostitutes would decrease the bargaining power and income of sex workers.

Criminalization would also drive prostitution further underground, which would hinder HIV/AIDS education and mitigation programs, as men would be reluctant to visit prostitutes in red-light districts, where, however unpleasant, the centralization of the sex trade makes it easier to such initiatives, Sarmi said.

“We demand that the state give us protection in our workplaces,” Sarmi told the audience. “If we are the victims of violence, the police must investigate it thoroughly, and not just let it go. We have the same rights to live comfortably as any other citizen,” Sarmi said.

Other sex workers at the conference, some of whom came from as far as East Java, agreed, saying that arresting customers would lead to the closure of brothels, to which authorities turn a blind eye, and force sex workers to seek customers on the streets.

“We are already seen as a community disease. Don’t make us add more diseases to the community,” a sex worker from Semarang, Central Java, who declined to be named said.

Also at the conference, the executive director of the Indonesian Family Planning Association (PKBI), Inang Winarso, said that existing law and custom already criminalized and sanctioned men who hired women for sex.

Articles 281 through 298 of the Criminal Code Procedures (KUHAP) covered crimes against morality, Inang said. These articles stipulate provide for sentences of up to nine years’ imprisonment for prostitution, pandering (providing prostitutes) or solicitation (offering to pay for sex).

Researcher Ignatius Praptoharjono of the Atma Jaya Catholic University’s HIV/AIDS Research Center in Jakarta said that prosecuting men who paid for sex would not stop the sex trade, as prostitutes would always find a way to ply their trade, perhaps by working for pimps.

He cited the cases of Sweden, Canada and other Asia-Pacific nations, where a crackdown on men who paid for sex led to the decline of red-light districts and reduced fees for prostitutes, forcing sex workers to charge less and work more.

“Such a regulation will not protect women, but instead expose them to even higher risk,” Ignatius said, adding that Indonesia is home to some 3.1 million men who paid for sex and 230,000 women sex workers.

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