Foreign ‘masseurs’ muscle in on escort trade

Source: The Straits Times  20 Nov 2011

They advertise their services online and enter Singapore as tourists

Dane (not his real name), 30, has been an escort serving male clients for five years. He used to face competition only from other Singaporeans in the industry.

But for about a year now, he has been coming up against foreigners in this discreet trade.

Their job is to provide a massage, and then “extra services” or a “happy ending”, if required.

The foreigners come here for two weeks to a month, promote themselves on Internet websites and via mobile applications, and then leave for a nearby country.

Many of them advertise their services by establishing profiles on websites designed for gay men to meet one another. These sites are international, but have thriving Singapore sections.

Some peddle their services more directly on general classified sites such as Craigslist.

A glance through these profiles and ads shows the majority of these foreign escorts and masseurs are from countries like China, Indonesia and the Philippines. There are also Caucasian escorts, while those from China are so popular there is even a website dedicated to them.

Mr Tan Kok Kee, a gender and sexuality scholar from the University of Illinois, who has done research on gay men and gay culture in Singapore for eight years, said the influx of foreign escorts could be due to a general importation of foreigners and the attraction of easy money.

Foreigners contacted said they entered the country on the normal tourist “social visit” pass, and claimed to be unaware that it is illegal for them to work while here.

Nearly all of the escorts advertise themselves as trained masseurs.

One Indonesian masseur, who advertised himself on an iPhone app called Grindr, said his massage company is based in Jakarta, and that he is in Singapore for only two weeks.

He declined to say how much he has earned, but said it is his second time here, and that he is open to accompanying men for dinner or shopping.

According to individuals contacted and the advertisements, rates range from $80 to $200 per hour, inclusive of extra services.

In comparison, escort agency rates average about $400 per hour, with the escort taking home half the amount.

Services are provided at hotels most of the time, and at the customers’ homes.

Nine out of 10 escorts The Sunday Times contacted, both Singaporeans and foreigners, say the massages come with “extra services”.

Most of them serve both male and female clients, and said they can “go all the way” with both genders.

The customers are usually married men – who need the most private transactions – and other professionals in their 30s and 40s. They include expats and Singaporeans.

Local escort agencies say they are feeling the heat from foreign imports.

A spokesman for JM Escort and Models, which has been in the male escort industry for eight years, said business has been declining and it has been forced to find customers in other ways, so as not to compete on the same platform.

“It’s been happening for about a year, but it’s getting a bit out of control,” he said.

Asked why there has been a recent proliferation of foreign competitors, he said: “The prices in Singapore are high, they earn more over here than in their own country.”

Also, since these escorts are not operating in their own country, and they do not have friends or family here, they can promote themselves quite openly online.

Another local escort, who wanted to be known only as Ryan, said: “My business is still steady, but I can tell that previously there weren’t many foreigners giving competition. Now there are more.”

The 25-year-old is more optimistic, however, adding that society has started to open up, so there will accordingly be greater demand for these services. Since the pie is growing, naturally the supply of escorts will increase, he reckoned.

Escort agencies and social escorts The Sunday Times spoke to said the influx of foreigners is being partly driven by the Internet, which has traditionally been the main avenue to reach the gay community.

Direct contact with clients means escorts can bypass agents; using the Internet also means the trade – a taboo topic in Singapore – is not brought into the open.

Escorts like Dane say they go for HIV testing every three months, and that they insist on safety when oral sex or intercourse is involved.

A spokesman for Action for Aids said there are measures in place to address health risks.

She said: “Volunteers reach out to those who are in the male escort services as part of their overall education and outreach programmes.”

But the legal status of such service providers is at best murky.

Lawyers said these escorts – and their clients – are unlikely to be charged under Singapore’s prostitution laws, which are female- oriented, but they could technically run afoul of Section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalises homosexual sex. The penalty is a jail term of up to two years.

Many of the foreigners advertise their services by establishing profiles on websites designed for gay men to meet one another. These sites are international, but have Singapore sections.