SURABAYA, Indonesia—The mayor of Indonesia’s second-largest city has officially shut down “Dolly,” one of Southeast Asia’s biggest red-light districts, but the world’s oldest profession is still working despite warnings to stop.
Dolly—believed to have been named years ago after a colonial Dutch madam—was supposed to have closed June 18, but on the main drag, young women in skin-tight miniskirts and heels continue to lure guests into rooms lit only by faint red and pink lights.
Pimps made no attempt to hide as they stood outside, greeting potential customers. When a sex worker in a karaoke parlour spotted journalists walking past, she ran out with a raised fist and shouted, “Dolly will stay open!”
Surabaya’s reformist mayor Tri Rismaharini has vowed to shutter the area, and the government is offering $425 to each of the estimated 1,500 sex workers to help them get out of the business.
Rismaharini plans to ease the women out of the work, and gave them until Monday to collect the money. She has not attempted to use force but said she wants the entire complex closed down by the end of the holy month of Ramadan in late July.
But the sex workers, pimps and local business owners have taken to the streets in protest, saying the city is offering too little compensation for yanking them away from their livelihoods.
“The government just doesn’t care about us,” said Suyatmi, 43, a prostitute who uses one name like many Indonesians. “We need a more permanent solution. They can’t just solve the prostitution problem by handing out money to prostitutes.”
Prostitution rings operate openly in all major Indonesian cities despite opposition from Islamic conservatives, some of whom want to replace the country’s secular system with one bound by Islamic law. Most of Indonesia’s 246 million people are Muslims.
Rismaharini, the first female mayor of Surabaya, has pledged to shut down all brothels in the city.