Sex Workers Protest After Indonesia Shuts Down Massive Prostitution Complex

Residents of the red-light district, called the Dolly, protested the move to close the complex in Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia. Thousands of others rallied in support of shutting down the brothels.

AP Photo/Dita Alangkara

Although the Dolly complex — one of Southeast Asia's largest prostitution rings — was supposed to close down on June 18, the main drag of the center is still filled with young women and pimps who have no plans to end their sex-work, the Associated Press reports.

Young women stood on the streets of the complex attempting to lure in possible guests. Pimps also greeted potential costumers, making no attempts to hide from journalists. When one sex worker in a karaoke bar spotted journalists walking through Dolly, she reportedly ran outside shaking her fist and shouted, "Dolly will stay open!"

Although Surabaya's reformist mayor Tri Rismaharini promised each sex worker $425 after Dolly closed, many feel that is not enough to make up for ending their livelihood.

"The government just doesn't care about us," a prostitute who uses one name, Suyatmi, 43, told the AP. "We need a more permanent solution. They can't just solve the prostitution problem by handing out money to prostitutes."

Rismaharini plans to ease the women out of prostitution, and gave them until Monday to collect the compensation. The mayor says she wants the entire complex closed down by the end of Ramadan in late July.

AP Photo/Dita Alangkara

Indonesian officials shut down a massive prostitution complex in the nation's second-largest city, despite protests by sex workers, some of who said that shutting down the brothels will destroy their livelihood, the Associated Press reports.

AP Photo/Dita Alangkara

The Dolly is said to be named after a Dutch madam who ran a brothel during the Netherlands' colonial rule of Indonesia.

The mayor of Surabaya, Tri Rismaharini, announced the closure of the Dolly prostitution complex in a ceremony at the Islamic Center Building, about a mile away.

Rismaharini is first female mayor of Surabaya, and has said she plans to shut down all brothels in the city.

About 100 local political figures attended the ceremony and signed a statement in support of closing the complex, including the Cabinet minister and the governor of East Java. About 1,000 local Muslims from Surabaya, East Java, showed up to show support for the mayor's decision.

The majority of Indonesia's 246 million people are Muslims. Prostitution rings, however, operate legally and openly in all major cities. Some Islamic conservatives want to replace Indonesia's secular system with one ruled by Islamic law, the AP reports.

AP Photo/Dita Alangkara

The Dolly complex is one of Southeast Asia's largest red-light districts.

Surabaya is the so-called "sex capital" of Indonesia, the Jakarta Post reports. Mayor Rismaharini has been focused on changing this, saying it's "time to make the city more family friendly and more prosperous." She continued:

Surabaya is a port city, where prostitution has developed rapidly. There are four big localisation districts in Surabaya. I found there are children who come from this neighbourhood — they are not just involved in the profession but they aspire to become one because they come from this environment. This is why I am very concerned. I am very concerned for the children.

AP Photo/Dita Alangkara

Despite the widespread support for the mayor's decision, hundreds of sex workers and men who work in the complex said their living depends on the sex trade.

Sex workers, pimps, and local residents have depended on the red-light district for decades, and protested Dolly's planned closure.

"I make a living here ... If Dolly is closed, where should I get money? If I end up wandering the streets, it will only add to your [the government's] problems," Susiati, a 34-year-old sex worker, told the Jakarta Post.

AP Photo/Dita Alangkara

Dozens tried to block streets leading to the Dolly complex in protest of its closure.

AP Photo/Dita Alangkara

The government said they would provide $425 to each of the prostitutes — about $1,500 in total — to help them find new work and start a new life.

Indonesian newspapers are reporting that the sex workers will refuse the compensation.

AP Photo/Dita Alangkara