On Assignment
Lifting the Lid: Getting Tough on Unlicensed Massage Operators
Keeping vice out of our neighbourhoods – we joined the Singapore Police Force on two enforcement operations against errant massage establishments.

The Massage Establishments Act, which came into force on 1 March 2018, was enacted in response to an increase in unlicensed massage establishments – between 2013 and 2016, the Police detected a 40% rise in their numbers, with 7% in HDB properties. 

What the new Act does is to equip the Singapore Police Force (SPF) with effective levers to deter vice and other law and order problems associated with unlicensed massage establishments.

And enforcement has been swift; in early March, we joined SPF officers as they clamped down on errant licensees, operators of unlicensed massage establishments and landlords who knowingly leased their premises to such operators.

Nowhere to Hide

Our first stop was a massage parlour located along Kitchener Road. It was late afternoon when we arrived, and inquisitive shop-owners watched as we disembarked from a Police van. “Someone’s in trouble,” one shop-owner whispered to another.

To get to the parlour, we walked along a row of grocery stores and Traditional Chinese Medicine clinics, just a few hundred metres away from a block of flats where unsuspecting residents were going about their daily activities. 

FEB 2018 MASSAGE RAID COLLECTING MONEY massage 2

Collecting money during a raid. PHOTO: Desmond Ang
FEB 2018 MASSAGE RAID WOMEN
PHOTO: Desmond Ang
Entering the parlour, we found ourselves in a small, dim lobby area. SPF officers gathered evidence at a counter while gown-clad masseuses stood along a narrow corridor, waiting to be interviewed by the officers in order to establish their employment and residency status.

Stale perfume lingered along a row of dimly-lit rooms where private massages were being conducted just 30 minutes before. Towels were strewn across the floor and on top of beds.

FEB 2018 INTERVIEW DURING MASSAGE RAID
Interview during a massage raid. PHOTO: Desmond Ang

FEB 2018 INTERIOR ROOM MASSAGE RAID
Interior of massage room pictured during raid. PHOTO: Desmond Ang

Searching the two-storey establishment, the officers looked for signs that the masseuses were offering services beyond a simple massage. Six customers and seven foreign masseuses were in the parlour when the raid was conducted, and we were informed that one masseuse would be detained for vice-related offences.

Vice in the Central Business District (CBD)

Our second stop was a massage parlour located in a shophouse along Amoy Street, on the fringes of Singapore’s CBD. It was hidden above a bar; three doors down, parents were waiting to pick up their children from a pre-school.

We were led up a narrow staircase to an opaque glass door. It was difficult to tell what went on behind it, but once inside, we were greeted by the sight of scantily-clad masseuses huddled on a couch. Having secured the establishment, the officers once again began the methodical process of gathering evidence.

FEB 2018 PRESENTING EVIDENCE DURING MEA RAID
Presenting evidence during a raid. PHOTO: Desmond Ang

massage6
Collecting evidence during a raid. PHOTO: Desmond Ang

The parlour had been in operation during the surprise sting, and a customer and masseuse had been caught red-handed. In the search that followed, nothing escaped the eyes of the officers, who went on to uncover packets of unused condoms in a stairwell at the back of the parlour. 
FEB 2018 UNUSED CONDOMS DURING MEA RAID
PHOTO: Desmond Ang

FEB 2018 INTERIOR OF ROOM DURING MEA RAID 2
PHOTO: Desmond Ang

Six foreign masseuses were present at the second parlour, along with seven customers. Of the six masseuses, two were later charged for offences under the Women’s Charter and Employment of Foreign Manpower Act. 
FEB 2018 WOMEN ARRESTED DURING MEA RAID
PHOTO: Desmond Ang

FEB 2018 WOMEN IN POLICE VAN DURING MASSAGE RAID 2
PHOTO: Desmond Ang


Between 1 and 14 March 2018, the SPF conducted an intensive, island-wide operation against unlicensed massage establishments and errant licensed establishments, raiding 41 parlours across 15 neighbourhoods ranging from the CBD to the heartlands of Ang Mo Kio, Bishan and Serangoon. Ten women were arrested for vice-related offences.

Operators of unlicensed MEs are also culpable. During the same operation, 14 massage establishments were found without valid licences. These operators will face hefty penalties – a fine of up to $10,000 or imprisonment of up to two years, or both, for first-time offenders.

Our officers work hard to keep Singapore safe and secure. We couldn’t help thinking about the diligence, professionalism and long hours that go into a successful operation, all to keep vice out of our neighbourhoods.

© 2019 Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore. All Rights Reserved.


  1. by Desmond Ang
  2. 24 March 2018
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