East Java Sex Workers Left Forgotten Following Red-Light District Closure

June 18, 2009
Nurfika Osman

Authorities in the East Java district of Tulungagung have not given promised help to sex workers who were displaced after officials closed down a red light district that was publicized in a documentary film, an activist said on Thursday.

The Gunung Bolo red light district, part of which included a graveyard used for sexual encounters, was exposed in the film “Pertaruhan” (“The Gamble”).

Noted director and producer Nia Dinata compiled the film, a series of five documentaries about women by five female directors, which was released last December but not widely seen.

It did, however, apparently come to the attention of officials in Tulungagung, who decided to shut down the brothels in the area. They did so on June 4, with officials promising to help the prostitutes put out of work.

“Since the closure, they have not come up with an alternative for the 80 prostitutes whose lives are at stake now,” said Ifada Nur Rokhmaniah, a program director the Center for Study and Millennium Development (Cesmid), an NGO that works with people at risk of exposure to HIV/AIDS.

On June 8, Cesmid and the Tulungagung district government met to discuss how to help the prostitutes of Gunung Bolo. Both sides agreed to identify those affected by the closure and enlist various health and social agencies for concerted action.

“We have not received any concrete solution. I am afraid [the government] will only give the prostitutes money and then leave them,” Ifada said. “They need health assistance and new jobs to pay for their children’s school fees and feed them when they are hungry.”

She said the local government so far had no plans to help the women find new jobs or learn new skills, which the NGO would address in a meeting with the district head next week.

“We hope the district head will listen and accommodate our opinions to save [the prostitutes’] lives,” Ifada said.

Tulungagung district spokesman, Wahyu Aji Gunawan, said the local government had communicated the matter to all parties involved, and was in fact planning to close additional red-light areas in the district.

“Half of the prostitutes have been moved to legal red light areas in Kaliwulu and Mujang, which are overseen by the local government,” he said, stressing that most of the prostitutes came from outside Tulungagung.

Ifada said that there were 13 illegal red light areas in the district. Gunung Bolo had been operating for more than a decade with the full knowledge of the local authorities, she said.

Link to original at the Jakarta Globe

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