Traditional and Emergent Sex Work in Urban Indonesia

Rebecca Surtees

  1. With its long history in Indonesia, the sex industry[1] is by no means a new issue for discussion and debate. What are new and, arguably, significant are the new types of sex work that are emerging in Indonesian urban centres and what their emergence tells us about the sex industry, as well as the social terrain more generally. Most notable is the trend of pecun—middle class female students in Jakarta who provide sexual services in exchange for money or gifts. Also in evidence is the practice of urban, professional women providing sexual services alongside and as a part of their professional duties. These emergent types of sex work contrast in important ways with more ‘traditional’ manifestations, belying the common assertion that sex work is the exclusive domain of the impoverished, rural dweller who enters sex work only when deceived or forced by circumstance. This, in turn, reveals that Indonesian sex workers manifest a far greater subjective complexity than is normally presented. While these trends are not, as yet, widespread, their emergence does hold significance for our reading of the sex industry and our appreciation of the lives and motivations of sex workers. In this article I will outline the various types of sex work—traditional and emergent—in urban Indonesia, drawing from the experiences of women working in both areas. Through the lens of their life stories we are able to appreciate the complexity of the sex industry as a social field, as well as points of divergence and commonality between emergent and traditional sex work. A more diverse and ultimately nuanced understanding of the sex sector in Indonesia affords us a fine-tuned lens through which to conceptualise Indonesian sex workers realities and subjectivities. More generally, it holds relevance for an appreciation of emerging sexual discourses in urban Indonesia.
  2. The Indonesian sex industry dates to pre-colonial times, albeit in a less formal and commercialised structure. Examples of the commoditisation of sexual services include the practice of concubinage in Javanese kingdoms and the king’s sexual rights over low caste widows in Bali.[2] In the Dutch colonial period the sex industry both expanded and became more organised. While early legislation sought to limit and even end prostitution, by 1852 the colonial government focused on regulation rather than abolition of the industry, with particular attention being paid to the sexual health of sex workers. For example, the 1852 Act encouraged sex workers to be based in brothels and undergo weekly medical examinations for syphilis and other contagious diseases. As well, the 1852 Act devolved authority over brothels from the central to regional governments.[3] This regulated, but somewhat ambiguous, framework endures in the present.[4]

    Traditional types of sex work
  3. Sex work is most visibly manifested in Indonesia’s official brothel complexes (lokalisasis),[5] which are found throughout the country. The lokalisasi is comprised of a collection of sex work establishments where sex workers work and reside. These lokalisasis are managed by the local Social Affairs Office [Dinas Sosial], which enacts and enforces local regulations to manage the industry.[6] Some regulations, such as regulated working hours and conditions, benefit sex workers. Others, like those that prevent women from leaving the lokalisasi without written approval from their brothel owner, are aimed at controlling sex workers and thereby infringe on their personal freedoms.
  4. While prominent features of the sex industry, these lokalisasis by no means exhaust the range of sexual services available in Indonesia. In addition, there are unofficial brothels [rumah bordel] which are generally single dwellings managed by a brothel owner and with the women resident therein. These operate outside of the government’s administration, although generally with its tacit approval. As well, the sex industry operates in ever-expanding locations and constellations including entertainment complexes—nightclubs [klub malam], karaoke bars [karaoke], discotheques [disko]—where freelance sex workers look for customers or where sexual services are available through the management. Generally, the client and sex worker meet at these locations but the sexual transaction occurs elsewhere, such as a nearby hotel. Similarly, there are street-based sex workers or streetwalkers [wanita jalanan] who sell sexual services in open locations, such as railways, parks or on the street. Establishments also house call girls [wanita panggilan] who are generally sent to provide sexual services at the client’s house or hotel.[7]
  5. Further, as sex work includes any provision of sexual services in exchange for reimbursement or material gain, I will equally attend to those that occur outside of designated sex establishments and on a more ‘part-time’ basis. Among the more prominent examples are ‘tea or drinks' sellers’ [penjual teh botol dan minuman ringan]Ᾱwomen and often girls working at drink stalls where they earn a monthly salary and a commission on the sale of drinks. They may also provide sexual services as a means to supplement their generally meagre incomes. These services range from touching to penetrative sexual relations. As one Jakarta tea-seller explained, 'they can touch and kiss me everywhere while they drink, on my breasts, my hips. Many also want to have sex but they must pay more for that.'[8]
  6. The case of Suzi, a Jakarta tea-seller, is typical in many ways. She left school at age fourteen, against the wishes of her family, to take a factory job in Jakarta that had been arranged by her neighbour. Once in Jakarta her neighbour forced her to work as a tea-seller in the park where she serves clients, including providing sexual services. Her salary each month amounts to Rp75,000 with an additional Rp3,000 each day for her meals. She also earns a commission on the sale of drinks—Rp1,000 per tea bottle and Rp3,000 per bottle of beer—approximately Rp70,000 a night in total. When she has sexual relations with a client—generally once a night—her pimp earns between Rp150,000 and Rp200,000. She receives none of this but occasionally receives a tip (about Rp50,000) from the client. She also has a 'boyfriend' [pacar], a military officer, who is one of her clients. He gives her Rp100,000 every month. She uses her income to support her daily needs, such as food, clothes, make up and medicine. She also sends Rp100,000 per month to her family in the village. Her salary is not always paid regularly and for the first month the pimp did not pay her salary at all.
  7. Suzi has been sexually harassed by the police and government officers, verbally abused by her clients and pimp and has had her meals and salary withheld by her pimp as punishment for ‘misbehaviour’. Suzi generally visits her family every six months. They know that she works as a tea-seller but not that she provides sexual services. She has withheld this piece of information from them because she fears their disapproval.[9]
  8. In addition to tea-sellers, there is a range of types of indirect sex work.[10] There are waitresses at truck stops, roadside beer-halls, warungs [food stalls] and snack bars who, in addition to their waitressing duties, may be available for touching and sexual transactions. The waitress is paid her salary, a commission on the drinks she sells as well as an additional fee for sexual intercourse. As well, there are women working in massage parlours [panti pijat] and beauty salons [salon kecantikan] who may, in addition to the specified service, provide a range of sexual services. Generally, these are provided at the location itself. Some women are also available for overnight bookings. These services are not limited to designated massage parlours but can also often be accessed at large hotels and spas.[11] In one of Jakarta’s popular spas, a sign announces the discontinuation of house calls, the explanation for this policy being that some clients had ‘misunderstood’ and thought sexual services were available through home service.
  9. Another example of this indirect sex work is ‘contract wives’, where the ‘wife’ is financially supported by her expatriate ‘husband’ for the duration of his contract of work in Indonesia, generally three years. While the couple often legally marries, it is essentially a business arrangement under which the ‘wife’ receives a set sum (or a house) when the ‘husband’ returns to his home country. According to one source, contract wives in Indramayu, West Java are often given a house where the husband visits her during his tenure in the country and which she retains upon his departure.[12]

    Emergent types of sex work
  10. In addition to these traditional manifestations, there are new expressions of sex work in the urban environment. Increasingly there is evidence that some women—many of them with high school and university education and a menu of viable economic options—are choosing to enter the sex industry to earn the income and materials they require (and desire). The most prominent of these is pecun. Another, albeit less visible and understood, is professional women who may provide sexual services alongside their professional tasks. These trends represent potential sites of divergence from traditional types of sex work.[13]
  11. Pecun[14][perempuan cuma cuma] or ‘woman for free’[15] are young, urban women, many of whom are students and even teenagers, who provide gadun [‘boyfriend’ or client] with sexual services for cash or, often, gifts. The services range from touching and fondling [peres-peres] to the provision of sexual intercourse. Some payments are made in kind, such as mobile phones, clothes, perfume or visits to expensive hotels, restaurants or clubs, while in other cases the women request money. Amounts can range from Rp200,000 to Rp2.5 million per transaction.[16] These women generally have a relatively high level of education such as high school or university; indeed, pecun are often still studying. They frequent bus stops, shopping malls, pool halls, warung [food stalls], disko [discotheque] and other locations.[17]
  12. According to NGO Yayasan Pelita Ilmu (YPI), an organisation that works with urban youth in Jakarta as well as on the issue of HIV/AIDS, the profile of pecun varies. Many of the pecun with whom YPI works are lower middle class women who engage in this activity to buy clothes or schoolbooks. As one pecun, a student at a private senior high school from Tangerang Regency, Banten explained, 'I have to do this because I need the money to pay for my school fees and to support myself.'[18] Other pecun are from middle class families who can afford to pay their university tuition but do not have enough money for their school books, accommodation in the university dormitory or consumer products that they want as a part of their student lifestyle. In other cases, pecun are from more affluent backgrounds and engage in this activity as a lifestyle choice and to enjoy consumer products, such as mobile phones and designer clothes. One pecun-broker observed of this latter group, 'they’re very selective. They are still in high school and most are from the upper class. They only want pleasure. But the ones who date them should really have deep pockets.'[19] In spite of these differences, the pecun reality is generally not one of survival needs.[20] For many there is also the element of experimentation and adventurism.
  13. Take, for example, the case of Lilis,[21] a pretty pecun of fifteen years of age with a junior high school education. Lilis comes from a sufficiently affluent, middle class family. Her parents are divorced and, according to Lilis, did not pay attention to her and her sister. She began to hang out at South Jakarta Mall with her older sister who introduced her to the pecun lifestyle. Initially she would allow only peres-peres so that she could earn money for clothes, cosmetics, accessories and clubbing. Lilis later spent more time at the mall and began to engage in sexual relations with the men. Young, pretty, fashionable and slightly western looking, she is very popular at the mall. She charges between Rp300,000 and Rp500,000. Her earnings allow her to live independently—at a boarding house with her sister—and pay for both life needs as well as consumer luxuries.[22]
  14. The pecun phenomenon signals diversity amongst women who sell sexual services and speaks to the need for a more nuanced representation of commercial sex workers (CSWs). Equally significant, although even less studied, is the apparent emergence of some professional women—secretaries and women in business—providing sexual services to clients along with their professional services.
  15. ‘Secretary Plus’ is a ‘service’ primarily, although not exclusively, for foreign executives working in Jakarta. The service includes a professional secretary who handles secretarial and administrative tasks as well as the provision of sexual services to clients of the company. The woman must be equipped with fluency in Bahasa Indonesian and English, a university degree, secretarial and administration skills and physical attractiveness. Executives may have these services offered to them through the companies with whom they are working, through business contacts or through brokers at their hotels. Women work in this field to meet both their professional and material aspirations. The fee for this arrangement is Rp3 million per day and the service is offered for a minimum of one week. Of this sum, the secretary earns 60 percent. In addition, the woman expects a bonus from the client upon completion of the contract.[23] According to researcher Endang Sulistyaningsih, 'This is is quite a common practice. Payments can even be made by credit card. It is undercover but you can have this service by approaching a manager or security guard at a hotel. They can direct you.'[24]
  16. Business transactions in Indonesia are commonly smoothed by the provision of sexual services.[25] While generally these services are provided by sex workers, in some circumstances young female professionals working in fields such as public relations, marketing and real estate may offer sexual services as a part of legitimate business transactions. They do so to augment their income through a commission or to secure a contract. These women are generally middle class and university educated women, already employed in legitimate enterprises. The use and provision of sexual services is often seen as an unwritten ‘rule of the game’ whereby demands range from the expectation that women professionals must be beautiful and sexy (one source in the PR sector observed that when a woman is beautiful, sexy and articulate, she is immediately hired as a public relations officer)[26] to the assumption that she would willingly provide sexual services to secure or maintain a business contract.[27]
  17. This practice also occurs in the field of real estate where the real estate agent may attempt to ensure the sale or rental of a property by offering sexual services. Similarly, marketing staff in the service sector, such as for large hotels and resorts, as well as insurance companies, may offer sexual services to secure bookings and sales from large businesses. In these cases, the women’s earnings come from their commission on the business transaction. Further, sexual services may also be requisite for businesswomen in their interactions with the government where payoffs for permits can be both with money and/or sexual services. At times when a businesswoman requires an official signature for her business venture she may be required to offer herself sexually in exchange or find another woman to provide these services.[28]
  18. In this exploration of emergent and more traditional types of sex work in Indonesia there are points of divergence and commonality. Arguably, noteworthy points are the practice of commercial sex amongst educated, middle to upper-class women; degrees of agency in the selection of sex work; varying rationales for entry into the sex industry; and divergent working conditions. I will explore each of these in more detail in what follows. While there is a subjective complexity within any one category of sex work, these points are valuable toward disentangling the intersections and divergences of the different types of sex work.

    Education and class
  19. Research indicates that poor women with no or limited education are highly represented in the Indonesian sex industry. For example, 50 percent of sex workers interviewed in one study in Jakarta’s Kramat Tunggak lokalisasi had six years or less of schooling while 30 percent had between seven and nine years and only 20 percent had more than nine years of schooling.[29] Even more dramatic are the findings of a study of fifty sex workers from Indramayu, West Java in which forty-seven had no education or had failed to complete primary school.[30] Similarly, of the fifty-two female sex workers surveyed at the Dolly lokalisasi in Surabaya, East Java, the majority had not graduated from primary school (six years) and only 8 percent had completed three years of secondary school.[31] This is not to say that there are no exceptions to this trend. Indeed a survey conducted in 2000 of 1502 CSWs (both lokalisasi and non-lokalisasi-based) in Jakarta, Surabaya and Manado found that while CSWs educational attainment was quite low, it had improved over previous studies.[32] Nevertheless, there is a correlation between lack of education (and therefore limited economic options) and entry into traditional types of sex work.
  20. It is therefore noteworthy that these new types of sex workers—pecun, ‘Secretary Plus’ and Business Women—are generally middle to upper class women with at least high school and generally university level education. A woman’s higher educational attainment generally translates into a broader range of economic options and more economic bargaining power. It is also often argued that women in Indonesia undertake sex work—on either a full-time or part-time basis—only in extreme circumstances and where alternatives are lacking. It is therefore striking that these women have embraced commercialised sexual transactions as an economic avenue in the context of a menu of options.

    Entry into the sex industry
  21. There are three ways that Indonesian women enter the sex industry—bonded entry (where a payment is made to parents, spouse, guardian or broker), involuntarily (by coercion, deception or abduction) and voluntarily (by choice). For the most part, entry into traditional types of sex work in Indonesia is ‘voluntarily’, albeit influenced by limited economic options, economic need and poor circumstances, such as a failed marriage or abuse in the family.[33] Certainly there are subtle distinctions to be drawn within the category of ‘voluntary entry’ when a woman’s economic and social opportunities are heavily constrained. It is important to highlight the complicated nature of ‘consent’ in such circumstances. At the same time, it is necessary to be cautious not to falsely dichotomise the contributors to a woman’s entry into sex work. That is,

      There is a conflict between those who privilege the free will of women to enter prostitution (agency) versus those who privilege the more deterministic constraints (structure) that make prostitution a job opportunity for women. This structure/agency binary is particularly evident in South East Asia where a forced/voluntary theoretical framework permeates discussion of prostitution.[34]

    As such, we must attend to the subtleties in sex workers' expressions of choice. Research conducted at Kramat Tunggak lokalisasi in Jakarta found that twenty-four of the thirty women were ‘forced by circumstance’ into sex work. Reasons were myriad and of varying degrees of urgency: debts, no source of support, insufficient education for other work, lack of better paying jobs, the need to support families, personal problems, violence within the home and family conflict. Six women had entered sex work because of the encouragement of friends or sisters and with their parents' consent.[35]
  22. That being said, the type of sex work often impacts on the degree of choice involved in entry. For example, a survey in Papua noted that brothel-based sex workers generally entered forcibly (deceived by family and friends) or due to difficult circumstances (early marriage, intra-familial abuse, widowhood, abandonment and extreme poverty). By contrast, entertainment-based sex workers (karaoke venues, bars, massage parlours and discos) in Papua entered primarily to earn money. Some even saw the work as an 'adventure'.[36]
  23. In the case of pecun, entry into sex work is voluntary[37] and generally a decision made in spite of other educational and economic options. Similarly, professional women also make this ‘choice’ in spite of the professional options available to them, thus demonstrating a vivid example of the degrees of agency within this quasi-legal, underground and stigmatised sector. Further, for emergent sex workers, entry is less constrained (although not unconstrained) and, thus, even more striking because their entry contradicts mainstream sexual discourse to which the middle class, in particular, adhere.[38] That is, in situations where the woman engages in sex work to meet economic need and socially prescribed obligations,[39] there is some indication that this behaviour is forgivable. But where the choice is largely unconstrained, to enter sex work is a bold and radical choice.

    Rationale for entry
  24. Tied intimately with entry into the sex industry is the rationale for entry. Where entry into traditional sex work is ‘voluntary’, it is often tied to limited alternatives. In a survey of sex workers at the Dolly lokalisasi in Surabaya, East Java, 48 percent cited economic reasons that included poverty of their parents (19 percent) and the need to support children (17 percent) or younger siblings (12 percent).[40]
  25. In Indonesia, it is through sex work that many women realise their most critical social obligations—to support their families. Take, for example, the case of one Jakarta tea-seller from Indramayu, West Java, who explained how she supports her entire family with her sex industry earnings. She came to Jakarta when she was sixteen-years-old because as the eldest daughter she was expect to contribute to the family economy.[41] Similarly, one Indramayu legislative council member observed that some sex workers from the area were open about the type of work they do 'and even feel proud of being able to support their families financially.'[42] That so many women regularly visit their families and return home to live, marry and raise families after their tenure as sex workers, lends further credence to the tacit acceptance of this economic strategy.[43]
  26. While hegemonic discourse does not condone sex work, these socially proscribed obligations render our reading of its acceptability more complex. This is not to say that being a sex worker is uncomplicated. Many sex workers feel shame over their work. As one former commercial sex worker (CSW) observed to me, 'I did not like to do this work. I felt that it was a sin.'[44] However, sex work may be acceptable within the framework of economic need, signalling 'points of instability, contradiction and strain in normative social life.'[45]
  27. Whereas traditional sex work often has an economic rationale and is tied to social obligations, these new sex workers have chosen this work from a broader menu of options and base their decision more on aspirations and lifestyle than on real material need. One broker for pecun observed that the women with whom he works tend to spend their money on consumer products and entertainment. As he put it, 'They are spendthrifts. As soon as they get money, they will spend it on the dance floor and on alcohol.'[46] Or put another way, 'the attractions of the easy money to be made by occasionally taking a client for commercial sex can be quite strong, particularly for young women who have acquired expensive tastes in clothing and make-up.'[47]
  28. This is not to say that material aspirations do not impact many women’s entry into the sex sector—both traditional and emergent alike. In the end, consumer culture affects everyone, 'enticing people to surround themselves with all kinds of goods that become indispensable as markers of urban ways. It also makes money inordinately important.'[48]
  29. For example, tea-sellers are not always required to provide sexual services as a part of their job but many transition into this because of their desire for higher income and the modern clothes and hand phones enjoyed by their peers.[49] Further, one brothel-based sex worker observed that, in addition to other push factors, she was attracted by the lifestyle: 'Honestly, I was attracted to the offer. I was a village girl who would really like to see Jakarta, a metropolitan city.'[50] There is an important relationship between material aspiration and rationale for entry into many types of sex work. However, where a primary rationale for entry can be identified, there is a difference to be drawn between traditional and emergent sex work.

    Conditions of work and remuneration
  30. Given the diversity of the sex industry, conditions range from reasonable (regular hours, safe conditions, fair wages) to dangerous and exploitative (limited freedom of movement, unhealthy conditions, withheld wages). Variations within traditional sex work notwithstanding, conditions are generally less favourable for these sex workers than emergent sex workers. In many cases, the gap is dramatic.
  31. While income in traditional sex work varies, it often compares favourably to those of other labour sectors. For example, the Rp1.14 million earned monthly by 1502 CSWs in Jakarta, Surabaya and Manado is more than twice the amount earned by full time domestic workers. CSWs reported being paid a mean amount of Rp96,000 by their last client in 2000.[51] At the same time, there are other sex workers whose earnings are minimal. For example, in Watampone, a district capital in South Sulawesi, lower-end sex workers earned between Rp15,000 to 20,000 per transaction.[52] Further, there is a significant difference between gross earnings and net profit, depending upon whether a sex worker has a pimp, broker or brothel owner to whom she owes a percentage of her earnings. The sex sector is replete with intermediaries who can siphon off significant proportions of a sex worker's earnings.[53]
  32. Earnings for pecun vary according to the location (more affluent locations, like Blok M shopping centre, yield higher earnings) as well as the pecun's bargaining skills, but range from Rp200,000 to 2.5 million per transaction. In some cases, the ‘date’ is only sexual intercourse (generally at a hotel paid for by the client). In other cases the date includes dinner, visiting nightclubs or staying at a hotel, all of which is paid for by the client (gadun) in addition to the transaction fee. In still other cases, the woman is paid in gifts, such as dinner, designer clothing or perfume. If the transaction involves only touching and fondling (peres-peres), the cost, on average, is Rp50,000 or a gift. Generally there are no intermediaries involved in the process and, where a broker is involved, the sum is not a significant percentage of the pecun's earnings. For example, one pecun at a South Jakarta mall reported paying Rp10,000 to 20,000 for her broker’s assistance in finding clients.[54] In other cases, the broker is paid by the gadun.[55] ‘Secretary Plus’ are also well paid, earning Rp3 million per day, for a minimum of a week, of which the secretary earns 60 percent and generally also a tip.[56]
  33. In terms of hours and conditions, these depend upon the type of traditional sex work undertaken. For example, in the Dolly lokalisasi in Surabaya, East Java, sex workers worked from 6 pm until midnight, had one day off each week, received two weeks annual leave, twelve months maternity leave, and sick leave (with a doctor's note). National laws on menstrual leave and national holidays were normally observed and the premises were safe and clean. Further, many brothel-based sex workers receive free accommodation and meals.[57] By contrast, streetwalkers and tea-sellers do not enjoy all of these benefits. One tea-seller said that she worked seven days a week from 7pm to 3am and while she could take sick leave, this resulted in salary deductions. She received accommodation and Rp5000 daily for meals. Often she provided sexual services in the open or in inexpensive rooms.[58] For all types of traditional sex work there is the risk of violence and harassment by clients and authorities.[59]
  34. By contrast, because pecun are essentially self-employed, their working hours are self-determined. The number of hours worked and clients served depend on their economy and needs. According to one broker, the girls with whom he works—upper class women—tend to ‘date’ three to four times a month. Other pecun from the less affluent quarters might serve one to two clients a week.[60] Problems are arguably less frequent than with traditional sex work—pecun exert more control over clients and location—however pecun may be exposed to violence, harassment and rape at the hands of gaduns or persons at the malls.[61]

    Life stories—Dewi and Una
  35. Above I have sketched out points of similarity and divergence in my exploration of traditional and emergent sex work. In so doing I have flagged the complexity of the sex industry itself as well as the depth of sex workers' subjectivities within and across different types of sex work. The sex industry is dynamic and this discussion must attend to varied and complex sex worker identities. That is, 'classed in the category of commercial sex workers, or prostitutes, are women (and men) with exceedingly diverse life histories, aspirations, and present life conditions.'[62]
  36. In what follows I will explore these lived realities through the lens of sex worker stories—traditional and emergent. I will juxtapose the story of Dewi, a brothel based sex worker,[63] with that of Una, a Jakarta pecun, examining points of intersection and difference. In addition, I will examine the experiences of Suzi, a tea-seller, and Lilis, a pecun, whose stories were related earlier in the article. I will flag elements that may be unique to these types of sex work as well as points of intersection between traditional and emergent sex work. In so doing I will take some preliminary steps towards a more carefully derived picture of Indonesian sex workers and the sex industry: to make space for 'the complexities, paradoxes and richness of sex worker subjectivities.'[64]
  37. At the time I conducted the research, Dewi was thirty-two years old. She was born and raised in rural East Java where she lived with her mother, stepfather and four brothers. She completed only elementary school as there was not enough money for her to continue her education. Even when she attended school she was expected to help with household finances, and had already begun to do some paid work. During her childhood her stepfather and two of her brothers raped her. She finds it difficult to talk with her stepfather and brothers. However, she does love her mother and visits her as often as she can.
  38. Dewi left home at the age of forteen to work in Surabaya, East Java as a seamstress in a factory. She worked there for several months. She then became a domestic worker, initially for a local family and subsequently in a brothel. Throughout this time she sent money home regularly to help her family. When her mother fell ill she wanted to send money for her mother's medical treatment. With this in mind, she agreed to have sexual relations with a regular brothel client she had come to know in the course of her domestic service there. The brothel owner facilitated this transaction. She planned to do this only one time, after which she would have enough money for her mother's medical expenses. However, the brothel owner offered her regular work as a sex worker. She was free to leave but was anxious to assist her mother with her medical expenses so agreed to the work. She generally serviced eight clients a week but occasionally served as many as three or four clients a day. Her clients were mostly foreigners—from the Middle East and Japan—and she was able to earn a reasonable salary. The conditions of work were satisfactory and no restrictions were put on her movement. She was also free to leave whenever she wanted. She continued to regularly send money to her family.
  39. After a couple of years she moved to Jakarta where a friend assured her she could earn more money. She was not happy at the new brothel because the market was quite small, the wages low and it had an unappealing clientele. When she moved to another brothel she was arrested by the police and returned to the brothel where she worked for four months to pay back the debt she had incurred for her transportation to Jakarta. Once this obligation was fulfilled, she moved to West Kalimantan where she was promised good work and wages. She stayed there for several months but overall was not happy with the conditions and salary. She did, however, have one regular client who paid her well and even paid her fare back to Jakarta when she was leaving. In total she worked as a sex worker for more than four years. She says that this was a difficult time in her life. Her family does not know what type of work she did during this period, although she thinks her brothers suspect. She also thinks that some people in her village know she was a sex worker but they never criticise her.[65]
  40. Now, I will juxtapose Dewi’s story experience with that of Una, a pecun at a South Jakarta Mall. Una is a twenty-one-year-old university student and the prima donna of the South Jakarta mall that she frequents. She is petite and beautiful, with light skin. She comes from a family of seven children of whom she is the fifth. Her childhood was quite affluent because her father worked as a migrant worker in the Middle East. Since his death, the family income has been reduced, although her family is still financially comfortable.
  41. Una had sexual intercourse for the first time when she was in high school. This intercourse was with her boyfriend of the time. However, he later left her, which she found difficult. Una began to hangout at the mall when she was a senior high school student. Initially she only allowed men to fondle her (peres-peres), which gave her income to meet her consumer needs, such as trendy clothes. Once she graduated from senior high school she continued to hangout at the mall but then began to work as a pecun, earning initially between Rp300,000 and RpR500,000 and more recently between Rp500,000 and Rp1 million for sexual relations with a client. Not only are Una’s earning sufficient, but she is also satisfied with her work environment. She is well known and popular at the mall. Further, she has a regular gadun who treats her very well.
  42. Una uses her earnings to help support her family and also to purchase consumer products which she enjoys. She is accustomed to luxury items now. She enjoys routine visits to spas, annually upgrades her hand phone, shops at expensive stores and frequents nightclubs. She is currently living in a comfortable boarding house which costs Rp1.5 million per month—an expense paid by her gadun. Her gadun also pays her university fees and provides her with gifts and other support.[66]
  43. These life stories afford us a lens through which to view these different types of sex work, noting some significant points of divergence and similarity both across and within these categories. In many ways Dewi is a typical lokalisasi-based, traditional sex worker. She has limited education and comes from a poor rural family. Her economic alternatives were minimal, limited to domestic work and sewing. While her entry into sex work was voluntary, it was not unconstrained. It was very much linked to economics and the social obligation to assist her family. Her working conditions, while tolerable, were not good, nor were her earnings. In the case of Suzi, whose experiences I discussed above, key elements of the traditional sex work identity were also apparent. She had a low education, limited economic opportunities, poor working and living conditions and was regularly exposed to violence through her work. Suzi’s entry into sex work was literally forced and her conditions very poor and limiting. Indeed while both stories are typical in many ways of traditional sex worker identity, it could be argued that Suzi’s experiences were particularly pronounced manifestations.
  44. Similarly, at face value, Una was the prototypic pecun. She comes from an affluent family. She was in senior high school when she began to work as a pecun and later went on to study at university. She became a pecun voluntarily and her family background was sufficiently affluent that her rationale for entry was less about economics than aspirations and perhaps experimentation. Her working conditions were good—on her own terms—as was her income. Similar observations can be made of Lilis, the pecun mentioned at the beginning of this article. Lilis too can be described as a fairly typical pecun. Her family background is sufficiently affluent so as not to force her into sex work and her original use of her earnings was for luxury items, such as clothes, cosmetics, accessories and entertainment. Her earnings are substantial (between Rp300,000 and Rp500,000) and cover her living costs and consumption habits.
  45. At the same time it is important not to oversimplify the differences between traditional and emergent sex work. I am not arguing here that traditional sex work involves forced entry, economic need, victimhood and poor conditions, while emergent sex work represents voluntary entry, material aspiration, agency and luxury. The lived realities for all sex workers (and people more generally) are far more nuanced than such a victim/agent dichotomy allows. Further, there must be an acknowledgement of the multiplicity of identity and motivation within the sex worker subject herself.[67] That is, uni-dimensional explanations for multi-layered decisions and motivations are unconvincing.
  46. For example, while Dewi encapsulates many aspects of a brothel-based sex worker, her story also indicates more complex and fluid experiences and identities. While constrained and informed by the specifics of her life—as a victim of rape, ‘forced’ by a poor economy, limited education, poor economic alternatives—her ‘victimisation’ is by no means all consuming. Her story is not one of austere oppression or victimhood, but rather involves layers of subjectivity which I hope to have conveyed in the re-telling of her story. Dewi described her entry into sex work as ‘forced’ by limited options and education. But her story conveys layers of explanation and, arguably, subtle inconsistencies. She had been sending money home to her family prior to her mother’s illness while working as a seamstress and domestic worker. While a large cash infusion was advantageous, it does not entirely explain why she chose sex work or continued with this work after the first transaction. Issues of material aspiration and consumer comfort may have also played a part in her decisions. Similarly, she was proactive in pursuing work opportunities in different provinces in Indonesia, which does not signal complete disenfranchisement or force. Her movement to different brothels and provinces suggests at least a degree of entrepreneurship alongside economic need.
  47. Suzi’s experiences embody many typical aspects of traditional sex worker’s identity and experience. Nonetheless, Suzi also manifests some complex and fluid behaviours, albeit ones that were significantly constrained. For example, she continued to work as a sex worker in spite of the fact that her freedom of movement was not overtly limited, evidenced by the fact that she regularly visited her family in her village. Also significant was her relationship with her ‘boyfriend’—a source of support in this difficult lifestyle—which can arguably also be read as a coping mechanism and manifestation of negotiation within this more amplified example of traditional sex work and its attendant elements of disenfranchisement.
  48. Similarly, while Una’s story embodies many aspects of pecun identity—high education, affluent family, voluntary entry, material aspirations and adventurism—it would be overly simplistic to conceptualise her experiences within only the parameters of empowerment and agency. For example, it is unclear to what degree her abandonment by her boyfriend, with whom she had had pre-marital sex, was difficult for her and contributed to her openness to the pecun lifestyle. Arguably her affluent childhood accustomed her to a standard of living as well as educational and professional aspiration, that, after her father’s death, she could only realise through her work as a pecun, implying layers of constrained choice. Similarly, while overall she enjoys good conditions, this does not mean that she has never been subject to abuse or harassment. The very nature of her work and the vulnerability of her age render this difficult to avoid. Lilis’ lifestyle choices were arguably also significantly influenced and informed by other factors. For example, we must note the family discord, which ultimately led to her parents' divorce. Lilis also described her parent’s ‘neglect’ of her and her sister, which, one might argue, led them to look outside their home for attention. Her youth—she was fifteen-years-old when she started to work as a pecun—also necessarily raises questions about the nature of voluntary entry and informed decision-making. Further, in the case of both women, we cannot overlook that sex work is ultimately a disdained occupation and is arguably even more stigmatised in affluent and middle class circles where adherence to state ideologies of gender and social roles is strongest. This stigma and disdain cannot help but impact upon their sense of identity.
  49. What this study highlights is that the Indonesian sex industry is complex, varied and changing and Indonesian sex workers manifest a far greater subjective complexity than is often presented. While the identity of ‘disempowered sex worker’ is well represented in the Indonesian sex sector, it by no means exhausts the range of possibilities. This discussion must equally attend to more varied and complex sex worker identities as well as the multiplicity of identities within the subject herself.
  50. There is a tendency to read the sex industry as a site of abuse and the Asian sex worker as the passive, naïve, coerced, disempowered and exploited victim, incapable of making decisions about her own life.[68] While the identity of ‘disempowered CSW’ flags real issues and experiences for those working in the industry, it is far from holistic or adequately nuanced. Even women who mesh with the prototypic traditional sex worker manifest expressions of choice, agency and multiple subjectivities. Similarly, the ‘empowered’ pecun is not exempt from constrained choices and layered rationales for entry. To understand who sells sex in Indonesia and why, individual identities and praxis in the local world must be taken into consideration. Models of commercial sex must be grounded in the lives and experiences of real people.[69] This approach is critical in Indonesia where the sex sector impacts upon so many women and yet is understudied and misunderstood. That is, as Kempadoo reminds us,

      in an era when women can no longer be defined exclusively as victims, where Third World women speak for themselves in various forums, where increasingly analyses have shifted focus from simple hierarchies and dichotomies to the problematization of multiple spaces, seemingly contradictory social locations and plural sites of power, it would seem that experiences, identities and struggles of women in the global sex industry cannot be neglected.[70]

    The desire to travel, make money, have adventures, take jobs as needed, do not mesh well or comfortably with many people’s views on why women become sex workers.[71] However, this discussion has highlighted that women of all classes and situations often do make an informed choice to enter the sex industry and not always out of material need. While this is evident to some degree in the more traditional manifestations of sex work, newly emergent types of sex work make the point especially vivid. As such, in Indonesia as elsewhere,

      practices of prostitution like other forms of commodification and consumption can be read in more complex ways than simply as a confirmation of male domination. They may also be seen as sites of ingenious resistance and cultural subversion … the prostitute cannot be reduced to one of a passive object used in male sexual practice, but instead can be understood as a place of agency where the sex worker makes active use of the existing social order.[72]

    Or put another way, the sex worker’s body—both traditional and emergent—'is an object of power, a site of resistance, as well as a site where identity is fluidly constructed.'[73] Sex workers do not conceive of their lives and experiences only in oppressive or empowered terms and neither should we dichotomise them as such.
  51. Through the lens of four women’s lives, this article has identified and explored emerging trends in the Indonesian sex industry, flagging issues of commonality and divergence as well as layers of meaning within subjects. In so doing this article has sought to present a more nuanced and ultimately holistic appreciation of the sex industry: to 'illuminate sexual behaviour, including forms of sexual-economic exchange, as expressions of and adaptations to specific constellations of socio-cultural, economic and personal motivations and pressures.'[74]
  52. This conceptualisation has relevance beyond the parameters of the industry itself. More generally, this snapshot of sex work—which is just one element of urban sexual culture—is a lens through which urban sexual culture can be observed more generally. And what we observe is a liberalising sexual discourse in which some young urban Indonesians are willing to accept sexual behaviour that is unacceptable in mainstream social discourse. Sexuality is a central social field in Indonesia with particular attention paid to the virginity of unmarried women and the fidelity of married women. However, in contemporary urban culture recent studies indicate that more liberal sexual attitudes and behaviours are common for many urban young people.[75] The pecun phenomenon fits within this broader sexual discourse where the dominant view of women as good wives, mothers and citizen is being challenged by the behaviour of educated, urban youth.[76]
  53. Of course it is important to note that cultural change is decidedly uneven, and does not apply to all actors equally. There are many people who continue to adhere to the dominant sexual codes. For example, one young woman highlighted her own experience of social stigma when her behaviour was considered outside the norm: 'being alone with my boyfriend when we were dating I would always be monitored by my parents, nevertheless I was reported to have been already pregnant since my boyfriend often visited me at home.'[77]
  54. In addition, where sexual culture is diverging from the dominant, this emergent sexual culture is not only liberalising. There are also reactionary, ‘anti-sex’ forces closing down brothels, burning entertainment centres, and physically attacking sex workers. The Islamic Defenders Front (Front Pembela Islam, FPI) has become infamous for orchestrating attacks on ‘iniquitous’ nightspots; attacks for which FPI chairman Habib Rizieq Shihab is currently serving a prison sentence.[78] Take, for example, the FPI’s violent attacks in 2001 and 2002 at Jakarta’s Jalan Jaksa—a street frequented by foreign backpackers and sex workers. Similarly, the 2004 bombing of a café in South Sulawesi was explained by the perpetrator (allegedly trained by Laskar Jihad) as an act of Jihad [holy war] against sinful activities, such as prostitution.[79] And one month earlier, local residents in Bogor, outside of Jakarta, burned down twelve small cafés they accused of promoting prostitution.[80] This reactionary sexual discourse is emerging alongside and in contrast to the liberalising sexual discourse. That being said, there can be no question that this liberalisation—in which sex work in increasingly tenable, albeit not desirable—is a noteworthy manifestation of alternative urban sexual discourse.
  55. The experiences of Dian—a twenty-six-year-old university educated woman from a middle class, religious family—illustrates this broader social terrain where there is conflict between ideals and realities amongst contemporary, young, urban, middle class women:

      At first sight, Dian appears a true paragon of female chastity. A devout Muslim wearing Islamic veil and dress, she abides by her parent's [sic] wishes. An acquiescent woman, she is engaged to a man of her parent's liking, she studied a major of her family's choice and after graduation she returned to live with her parents so they could keep a close eye on her until the wedding day … But contrary to her outward appearances, Dian is not the chaste and docile woman she wants everyone to believe she is … She told me all about her private fantasies and imaginary future scenario's [sic] of a more autonomous way of life … Even more astonishingly, she confided that she had been sexually active for many years. Not only had she shared the bed with her fiancé, but without his knowledge with other lovers as well. Despite the religious prohibition on premarital sexual intercourse, Dian says she has no regrets. In her private view, 'American style' sexuality, as she calls having intercourse with several partners, is a normal fact of contemporary life … She admits to feeling deep guilt every day, not for her sexual behaviour per se, but for being hypocritical about it towards her parents and even worse so in her religiosity.[81]

  56. Clearly such activities contradict dominant social and sexual discourse and signal, in important ways, that sexual culture is increasingly manifesting behaviour and tolerance to action that is untenable in the mainstream. Such activities arguably also signal a changing value system, at least amongst urban, Indonesian youth. That is, in Jakarta, as Hull et al. suggest, 'the challenges to traditional culture and the complexities of western influences and emerging middleclass lifestyles lead inevitably to a great deal of confusion among young people about values, limits and appropriate behaviour.'[82]
  57. Our understanding of the world around us must equally attend to dominant discourse and emergent meanings. And it must acknowledge the complexities, paradoxes and depth that are inherently present in any social field as well as subject. It is critical that we appreciate the social and sexual discourses, both hegemonic and emerging, in which these (and our) life-stories take place.


    [1] The choice of terminology—between prostitution and commercial sex work—is often a contentious and ideological issue and emphasises a perspective on prostitution. While the term ‘prostitution’ is used by those focused on materialism, the term ‘sex work’ is used by those who emphasise the analogous nature of commercial sex and other commercial activities. See L. Shrage, Moral Dilemmas of Feminism: Prostitution, Adultery and Abortion, New York and London: Routledge, 1994, p. 122. I choose the terminology of sex work as it is issues of agency, labour and commercial enterprise that I seek to highlight in this article. As well, I use this terminology to avoid projecting any negative associations on those who work as commercial sex workers.

    [2] E. Sulistyaningsih, Sex Workers in Indonesia: Where Should They Go?, Jakarta, Indonesia: Manpower Research and Development Centre, 2002, p. 3-5.

    [3] T. Hull, G. Jones and E. Sulistyaninsih, Prostitution in Indonesia: Its History and Evolution, Jakarta, Indonesia: Pusaka Sinar Harapan, 1999, pp. 30-31, E.R. Sedyaningsih-Mamahit, ‘Female Commercial Sex Workers in Kramat Tunggak, Jakarta, Indonesia,’ in Social Science and Medicine, 49 (1999), pp. 1101-14, p. 1101.

    [4] While no law prohibits sex work in Indonesia, neither does one permit it. The criminal law does prohibit facilitation of illegal sexual activity (Article 296), the trade in women or underage males (Article 297) and earning profit from the prostitution of women (Article 506). See A. Hamim and R. Rosenberg, ‘Review of Indonesian Legislation’ in Trafficking of Women and Children in Indonesia ed. R. Rosenberg, Jakarta, Indonesia: ICMC/ACILS, 2003, pp. 195-215, pp. 196-98 and T. Hull, G. Jones and E. Sulistyaninsih, ‘Prostitution in Indonesia,’ in The Sex Sector: The Economic and Social Bases of Prostitution in Southeast Asia, ed. Lin Lean Lim, Geneva, Switzerland: ILO, 1998, pp. 29-66, p. 57. In the draft criminal code currently being deliberated sex work is criminalised only in the case of solicitation in public spaces (Article 434). The draft code also includes articles about intermediaries who facilitate and profit from sex work (Article 432) and the ‘trade’ in women for sex work (Article 460).

    [5] In 2000 there were 70,781 women officially registered as sex workers in lokalisasis in Indonesia. G. Hugo, Population Mobility and HIV/AIDS in Indonesia, Jakarta, Indonesia: ILO, 2001, p. 150. While commonplace, the presence of lokalisasis is not uncomplicated. Since 1998 community and religious groups" opposition to these establishments have increased in frequency and tenor. For example, in 1999 the government of Jakarta closed the Kramat Tunggak lokalisasi due to pressure from community and religious groups. Protesters set brothels alight in Tangerang, Banten and Tasikmalaya and Ciamis in West Java. See Kafil Yamin, ‘Jakarta’s brothel closedown sends industry underground,’ in Asia Times Online, 24 December 1999, online,, site accessed 16 March 2004; Hull et al., ‘Prostitution in Indonesia,’ pp. 64-66; Sulistyaningsih, Sex Workers in Indonesia, p. 38.

    [6] The modern lokalisasi is the result of efforts in the 1960s toward social discipline and control. Hull et al., Prostitution in Indonesia, p. 36. An important aspect of the lokalisasi is the social rehabilitation centre for sex workers (Panti Rehabilitasi Wanita Tuna Susila [Centre for the Rehabilitation of Immoral Women]). These centres offer vocational training (sewing, typing, cooking, etc.) as well as moral and religious training—skills required to facilitate women’s transition out of the sex industry. For a discussion of Jakarta’s Kramat Tunggak lokalisasi, see Sedyaningsih-Mamahit, ‘Female Commercial Sex Workers in Kramat Tunggak’, pp. 1101-14.

    [7] Sulistyaningsih, Sex Workers in Indonesia, p. 36; Hull et al., ‘Prostitution in Indonesia,’ p. 37; Interview with Laurice Moelino, Atma Jaya University, Jakarta, Indonesia, February 2003; Rebecca Surtees, ‘Commercial Sex Work,’ in Trafficking of Women and Children in Indonesia, ed. R. Rosenberg, Jakarta, Indonesia: ICMC/ACILS, 2003, pp. 63-103, pp. 73-74.

    [8] Interview with ‘Haryanti’ (pseudonym), Jakarta, Indonesia, January 2003.

    [9] F. Agustinanto, 'Skripsi Gambaran Perilaku Coping Anak yang Dilacurkan dalam Menghadapi Penyakit Menular Seksual: studi kasus 5 anak yang dilacurkan yang terkena penyakit menular seksual,' BA Dissertation, Jakarta/Depok: Universitas Indonesia, 2001, pp. 96-116.

    [10] Direct sex workers are those who are directly involved in sex work, such as brothel workers and streetwalkers, whereas indirect sex workers are those who engage in sex work on a more informal basis, such as waitresses or tea and drink-sellers.

    [11] A. Greenbury, ‘Do You Want Some Special Service, Mister?’ Jakarta Post, 20 July 2000; Hull et al., Prostitution in Indonesia, pp. 37, 41; Sulistyaningsih, Sex Workers in Indonesia, p. 64; Surtees, ‘Commercial Sex Work,' pp. 73-74.

    [12] Interview with Anna Sulikah, NGO Bandungwangi, Jakarta, Indonesia, March 2003. Cf. Alison Murray, No Money, No Honey: A Study of Street Traders and Prostitutes in Jakarta, Singapore, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1991, pp. 105, 116.

    [13] While these trends are noteworthy, significantly more research is needed to understand both their prevalence and nature. Until recently the pecun phenomenon was not publicly recognised and, while some attention has now been paid to it, this has generally been sensationalistic (on television talk shows and in men’s magazines) rather than the subject of serious research. Even less understood are professional women providing sexual services in their business transactions. Entry points to interview these women were extremely complicated.

    [14] Perek (perempuan eksperimen [experimental women]) is a term often used inter-changeably with pecun and refers to a woman who has sexual relations with different men for pleasure and in a spirit of adventurism and experimentation. While this may involve some sort of remuneration or gift, it is not always a clear case of sex work and is often not only for the purpose of remuneration. The term perek emerged in the 1980s to designate this newly emerging sexual identity and was adopted by some in the sex industry. Interview with Henny Yusriani and Widyatna, NGO Yayasan Pelita Ilmu (YPI), Jakarta, Indonesia, March 2003 and Hull et al., ‘Prostitution in Indonesia,’ p. 34. According to one source, the term has a negative connotation in mainstream society: 'Perek, the Indonesian word for slut.' Y. Sastramidjaja, ‘Sex in the City,’ in Inside Indonesia, April-June (2001), online,, site accessed 16 March 2004.

    [15] There is some debate about the origin of the term pecun. According to staff at NGO Yayasan Pelita Ilmu (YPI), the origin is perempuan cuma cuma, which can be translated as ‘woman for free’ or ‘woman free of charge’. Another source argued that the origin was perek cuma cuma, which means ‘perek free of charge’. For an explanation of the term perek, see note 14. Yet another source cited the origin as perek culun, with culun roughly translated as ‘weird’ or ‘odd’.

    [16] Rp is Indonesian Rupiah. In 2003 the exchange rate ranged from Rp8,000 to Rp9,000 for US$1.

    [17] Interview with Henny Yusriani and Widyatna, NGO Yayasan Pelita Ilmu (YPI), Jakarta, Indonesia, March 2003, Interview with Endang Sulistyaningsih, Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration, Jakarta, Indonesia, February 2003. Cf. L. Tampubolonl, Adolescent Prostitution in Indonesia: The Effect on their Reproductive Health, online,, site accessed March 19, 2004 and G. Lumoindong and L. Reinda, Penyimpangan Seksual ABG Kita: Tinjauan Etis Teologi Terhadap Praktik Hubungan Seks Pranikah, Yogyakarta, Indonesia: Yayasan Andi, 1996.

    [18] Multa Fidrus, ‘Teenage prostitution booming in Tangerang’, in Jakarta Post, February 15, 2003.

    [19] ‘Dating Upper-Class High School Girls’, in Popular Magazine, May 2002, p. 46.

    [20] This pattern has also been noted in Thailand where some female college students supplement the allowance provided by their parents by engaging in paid sexual relations. The rationale is their desire for city lifestyle and consumer products. Chris Lyttleton, Endangered Relations: Negotiating Sex and AIDs in Thailand, Netherlands: Harwood Academic Publishers, Bangkok: White Lotus C., 2000, p. 224. Cf. L. Brown, STI/HIV: Sex Work in Asia,WHO Regional Office for West Pacific, July 2001, p. 7.

    [21] The names and other aspects of identity have been camouflaged for all informants to ensure confidentiality.

    [22] Client case file, Yayasan Pelita Ilmu (YPI), March 2003.

    [23] Sulistyaningsih, Sex Workers in Indonesia, p. 39. Cf. Lipstik, 26 April 2001.

    [24] Interview with Endang Sulistyaningsih, Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration, Jakarta, Indonesia, February 2003.

    [25] One PR firm allocated between Rp10 and Rp20 million per quarter for these ‘sexual entertainment’ services. See ‘Sexy Women who Smooth Business,’ Popular Magazine, September 1994.

    [26] ‘Sexy Women,’ Popular Magazine 1994.

    [27] Hull et al., ‘Prostitution in Indonesia,’ p. 35.

    [28] Julia Suryakusuma, ‘The State and sexuality in New Order Indonesia,’ in Fantasizing the Feminine in Indonesia, ed. Laurie Sears, Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1996, pp. 92-199, p. 116.

    [29] Sedyaningsih-Mamahit, ‘Female commercial sex workers in Kramat Tunggak,’ p. 1106.

    [30] Hull et al., Prostitution in Indonesia, p. 84.

    [31] Hull et al., Prostitution in Indonesia, p. 42. In addition, a 1997 survey of sex workers in Bali found that the average level of education was six years. K. Ford. and L. Thorpe, ‘Correlates of condom use among female prostitutes and tourist clients in Bali, Indonesia,’ in AIDS Care, 9(1997), pp. 181-98, p. 184. Similarly, research conducted on brothel-based sex workers in Jakarta found that 9.7 percent had no formal education, 38.1 percent had attended but not finished primary school, 39.7 percent had finished primary school and 10.4 percent had more than a primary school education. Ivan Wolffers et al., ‘Pacar and Tamu: Indonesian women sex workers’ relationships with men,’ in Culture, Health and Sexuality, 1(1999), pp. 39-53, p. 43.

    [32] N. Dharmaputra and B. Utomo, Findings of the Behavioural Surveillance Survey (BSS 1996-2000) on Female Commercial Sex Workers and Adult Male Respondents, Jakarta, Indonesia: The Centre for Health Research, University of Indonesia, 2001, pp. 8-9.

    [33] Hull et al., Prostitution in Indonesia, p. 51.

    [34] Lisa Law, Sex Work in Southeast Asia: The Place of Desire in a Time of AIDs, London and New York: Routledge, 2000, p. 97.

    [35] Sedyaningsih-Mamahit, ‘Female Commercial Sex Workers in Kramat Tunggak’ pp. 1106-08.

    [36] I. Safika and W. Wiebel, Migration Patterns of Social Workers in Irian Jaya, Indonesia, University of Illinois at Chicago, School of Public Health and PATH/Indonesia, 2001, pp. 3-6.

    [37] While most pecun enter the sex industry ‘voluntarily,’ it is important to note that their young age renders the notion of voluntary entry somewhat complicated. While it is true that the international standard for adulthood (eighteen years of age) does not have the same resonance in Indonesia where practices such as early marriage are socially acceptable and common, minors are arguably less equipped to make informed decisions or have the negotiation techniques to protect themselves within high risk fields like the sex industry. As such, voluntary entry must be read in this light.

    [38] Mainstream sexual discourse requires virginity amongst unmarried women and fidelity amongst married women. Further, women are tasked with the care and development of their children and the overall success of their family. See Sastramidjaja, ‘Sex in the City,’ 2001; Rebecca Surtees, ‘Cultural Context,’ in Trafficking of Women and Children in Indonesia, ed. R. Rosenberg, Jakarta, Indonesia: ICMC/ACILS, 2003, pp. 124-37, pp. 124-26; F. Magnis-Suseno, Javanese Ethics and World-View: The Javanese Idea of the Good Life, Jakarta, Indonesia: Penerbit PT. Gramedia Pustaka Utama, 1997, pp. 173, 177; L. Wagner and D.I. Yatim, Sexualitas Di Pulau Batam, Jakarta, Indonesia: Yayasan Perspective, Pustaka Sinar Harapan and the Ford Foundation, 1997, p. 64.

    [39] Indonesian children are expected to assist their parents in terms of household earnings. One study found that support in old age and help in the household were the two main reasons why people had children. For example, older sisters generally care for younger siblings, and at ages as young as six to eight years, spend a daily average of 1.7 hours on babysitting tasks. See J. Berninghausen. and B. Kerstan, Forging New Paths: Feminist Social Methodology and Rural Women in Java, London and New Jersey: Zed Books Ltd, 1991, pp. 147, 152. Adult women also bear significant socialised responsibility for family survival. According to the 1978 Panca Dharma Wanita [The Five Tasks of Women], women’s roles include wife, household manager, mother, citizen and supplementary wage earner. Cf. Sita Aripurnami, ‘Whiny, finicky, bitchy, stupid and ‘revealing’: the image of women in Indonesian film,’ in Indonesian Women: the Journey Continues, ed. C. Bianpoen and M. Oey-Gardiner, Canberra: Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, ANU, 2000, pp. 50-65, p. 58; C. BianPoen, ‘The family welfare movement: a blessing or a burden,’ in Indonesian Women: the Journey Continues, ed. C. Bianpoen and M. Oey-Gardiner, Canberra: Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, ANU, 2000, pp. 156-71, p. 159 and Surtees, ‘Cultural Context,’ pp. 124-26.

    [40] Hull et al., Prostitution in Indonesia, p. 72.

    [41] Interview with ‘Haryanti’ (pseudonym), Jakarta, Indonesia, January 2003.

    [42] Nana Rukmana, ‘Indramayu, supplier of sex workers,’ Jakarta Post, 5 November 2001.

    [43] Surtees, ‘Commercial Sex Work,’ p. 71.

    [44] Interview with ‘Dewi’ (pseudonym), Jakarta, Indonesia, March 2003. Cf. Sedyaningsih-Mamahit, ‘Female Commercial Sex Workers in Kramat Tunggak,’ p. 1106 and Wolffers et al., ‘Pacar and Tamu: Indonesian women sex workers’ relationships with men,’ p. 45.

    [45] Barbara Zalduondo, ‘Prostitution viewed cross-culturally: toward recontextualizing sex work in AIDS intervention research,’ in Journal of Sex Research, 28 (1991), pp. 223-48, p. 236.

    [46] ‘Dating Upper-Class High School Girls,’ Popular Magazine, May 2002.

    [47] Hull et al., Prostitution in Indonesia, p. 59.

    [48] Niels Mulder, Inside Indonesian Society: Cultural Change in Java, Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur: The Pepin Press, 1996, p. 136. Cf. Brown, STI/HIV: Sex Work in Asia, p. 9.

    [49] Interview with Anna Sulikah, NGO Bandungwangi, Jakarta, Indonesia, March 2003.

    [50] ‘Prostitution in Jakarta, from street to boardinghouses,’ in Kompas, 2 April 2003. Cf.‘Booming sex trade deeply rooted in Jepara,’ Jakarta Post, 26 July 2003.

    [51] Dharmaputra and Utomo, Findings of the Behavioural Surveillance Survey, p. 15. In fact, salaries are often higher than those for mid-level government officials. Hull et al., ‘Prostitution in Indonesia,’ p. 53.

    [52] Abbey Ruddick, Summary Results of Social Research on HIV/AIDS and STDs, Jakarta, Indonesia: AUSAID, 2000, p. 20.

    [53] In most lokalisasis and call girl establishments, sex workers keep about half of their fee and any tips they receive. Streetwalkers generally keep the full fee, but may have to pay for the services of taxi drivers and others who assist them in locating clients. A tea-seller with a pimp generally receives her monthly salary (Rp60,000) and commission on the drinks she sells but none of the fee for sex, approximately Rp150,000. She may receive a tip, which can be approximately IDR50,000. Interview with Anna Sulikah, NGO Bandungwangi, Jakarta, Indonesia, March 2003.

    [54] Interview with Henny Yusriani and Widyatna, NGO Yayasan Pelita Ilmu (YPI), Jakarta, Indonesia, March 2003; Cf. ‘Dating Upper-Class High School Girls,’ Popular Magazine, May 2002.

    [55] L. Tampubolonl, Adolescent Prostitution in Indonesia; G. Lumoindong and I. Reinda, Penyimpangan Seksual ABG Kita, 1996.

    [56] Sulistyaningsih, Sex Workers in Indonesia, p. 39.

    [57] Sulistyaningsih, Sex Workers in Indonesia, p. 61. Such conditions compare favourably with those of female factory workers in Jakarta who generally work without a contract, are required to work through their 'compulsory' menstruation leave and are dismissed if they become pregnant. Murray, No Money, No Honey, p. 99.

    [58] Interview with ‘Haryanti’ (pseudonym), Jakarta, Indonesia, January, 2003. Freelance tea-sellers have more autonomy in terms of working hours and days than those with pimps. They can take leave for holiday or menstruation, as needed. Working hours are decided by the tea-seller herself and are generally fewer than those working with a pimp (9 pm to 2-3 am).

    [59] Interview with Laurice Moelino, Atma Jaya University, Jakarta, Indonesia, February 2003; Interview with brothel owner, Lokalisasi Pemandangan, Bandar Lampung, June 2002; Sedyaningsih-Mamahit, ‘Female Commercial Sex Workers in Kramat Tunggak,’ p. 1103; Sulistyaningsih, Sex Workers in Indonesia, p. 70.

    [60] ‘Dating Upper-Class High School Girls,’ Popular Magazine, May 2002; Interview with Henny Yusriani and Widyatna, NGO Yayasan Pelita Ilmu (YPI), Jakarta, Indonesia, March 2003.

    [61] Interview with Henny Yusriani and Widyatna, NGO Yayasan Pelita Ilmu (YPI), Jakarta, Indonesia, March 2003.

    [62] Zalduondo, ‘Prostitution Viewed Cross-Culturally,’ p. 241.

    [63] For case studies of lokalisasi-based sex workers, see Sedyaningsih-Mamahit, ‘Female commercial sex workers in Kramat Tunggak,’ pp. 1101-14.

    [64] Law, Sex Work in Southeast Asia, p. 63.

    [65] Interview with ‘Dewi’ (pseudonym), Jakarta, Indonesia, January 2003.

    [66] Client case file, Yayasan Pelita Ilmu (YPI), March 2003.

    [67] For a discussion of the multiple identities manifested by Indonesian sex workers, see Wolffers et al., ‘Pacar and Tamu: Indonesian women sex workers’ relationships with men,’ p. 43.

    [68] J. Doezema, ‘Forced to choose: beyond the voluntary v. forced prostitution dichotomy,’ in Global Sex Workers: Rights, Resistance and Redefinition, ed. J. Doezema and K. Kempadoo, New York and London: Routledge, 1998, pp. 34-50, pp. 42; and K. Kempadoo, ‘Introduction: globalizing sex workers' rights,’ in Global Sex Workers: Rights, Resistance and Redefinition, ed. J. Doezema and K. Kempadoo, New York and London: Routledge, 1998, pp. 1-28, p. 12.

    [69] Lyttleton, Endangered Relations, p. 212. However, in general 'little research or theorizing to date is, for example, grounded in the lives, experiences, definitions and perspectives of Third World people in sex work, allowing western categories and subjects to be privileged in the international discourse on sex work.' See Kempadoo, ‘Introduction: globalizing sex workers' rights,’ p. 13.

    [70] Kempadoo, ‘Introduction,’ p. 14.

    [71] Laura Agustin D’Andrea, ‘The (crying) need for different kinds of research,’ Research for Sex Work, June 2002, pp. 30-31, p. 31.

    [72] W. Chapkis, Live Sex Acts: Women Performing Erotic Labor, New York: Routledge, 1997, pp. 29-30.

    [73] Law, Sex Work in Southeast Asia, p. 14.

    [74] Zalduondo, ‘Prostitution Viewed Cross-Culturally,’ p. 242.

    [75] A 1981 study of 417 Jakarta residents between fifteen and twenty-one years of age found that 4.1 percent had experienced pre-marital sex. Similarly, a 1993 study found that 78.5 percent of respondents in Yogyakarta and Bali and 91.6 percent in Manado reported first hand knowledge of pre-marital pregnancy in their neighbourhood. See McDonald and Utomo, New Approaches, pp. 4-5, 10. This observation is consistent with social trends more generally, in which 'the younger generation is exerting increased control over their lives including making independent decisions on issues such as marriage partners, relationships prior to marriage and sexuality.' See P. McDonald and I.D. Utomo, 'New Approaches to Studying Young People’s Sexuality and Reproductive Health Behaviour: A Case Study of Indonesia,' Paper presented at the seminar on Social Categories in Population Health, Cairo, Egypt, September 15-18, 1999, p. 7. Cf. Murray, No Money, No Honey, p. 100; and Sastramidjaja, ‘Sex in the City,’ 2001.

    [76] Hull et al., Prostitution in Indonesia, p. 18.

    [77] Wagner and Yatim, Sexualitas Di Pulau Batam, p. 88.

    [78] B. Platzdasch, ‘Radical or reformist? How Islamic will the new movements make Indonesia?,’ in Inside Indonesia, October-December (2001), online,, site accessed 16 March 2004; Muninggar Sri Saraswati, ‘Rizieq faces 7 month jail term’ in Jakarta Post, 30 July 2003; Yamin, ‘Jakarta’s Brothel Closedown.’

    [79] ‘Palopo blast aimed for jihad,’ in Jakarta Post, 3 February 2004.

    [80] ‘Locals attack red-light café,’ in Jakarta Post, 31 January 2004.

    [81] Sastramidjaja, ‘Sex in the City,’ 2001.

    [82] Hull et al., ‘Prostitution in Indonesia,’ p. 59.


This paper was originally published in Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context, with the assistance of Murdoch University.

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