Publication Details

Ford, M and Lyons, LT, Making the most of whay you've got: Sex Work and Class Mobility in the Riau Islands, Indonesian Studies Working Papers No. 2, University of Sydney, May 2007.


The islands of Batam, Bintan and Karimun on the Indonesian border with Singapore and Malaysia have an extensive sex industry which caters predominantly to foreign visitors. This paper explores the place of ‘sex as work’ for women involved in the industry and the opportunities for class mobility that sex work may present to them. We argue that these opportunities are the product of the Riau Islands’ particular spatiality, including a geographical proximity to Singapore and Malaysia, and a pattern of migration which has seen large numbers of temporary and long-term transmigrants from throughout the archipelago moving in and out of the islands in search of work. In this paper we explore these issues through the stories of two women, Lia and Ani, who – as a result of their marriages to foreign men – have moved out of the sex industry and into the lower middle class.