‘Kill me first’: Surabaya mayor vows to defend Dolly after court rejects IDR270 billion lawsuit for closure of former red light district

Surabaya Mayor Tri Rismaharini. Photo: Instagram/@trirismaharini
Surabaya Mayor Tri Rismaharini. Photo: Instagram/@trirismaharini

Before it was shut down in 2014, Surabaya’s Dolly was the largest red light district in Southeast Asia. The woman most instrumental in the shutdown, Mayor Tri Rismaharini, popularly known as Risma, won much praise from citizens for her swift and stern action to eradicate prostitution in the city, but, as is be the case with any prohibition of that magnitude, there was bound to be blowbacks.

Part of the legal backlash over Dolly’s closure was a class action lawsuit recently fild against the Surabaya administration by the residents of the neighborhood, who argued that the closure of the red light district caused huge material and immaterial damages. The group demanded IDR270 billion (US$15.15 million) from the administration in compensation.

But the first step in the lawsuit ended in disappointment for the plaintiffs after the Surabaya District Court rejected the lawsuit on administrative grounds, saying it should have been filed with the State Administrative Court (PTUN).

However, any lawsuit against a government policy must be filed no later than 90 days after the policy is enacted.

“This makes no sense. The closure of Dolly was in 2014, or four years ago. Because of that, we will appeal,” Nain Suryono, legal counsel for the plaintiffs, told Kompas earlier this week.

But Mayor Risma says she’s undeterred by more potential lawsuits or anybody who wishes to bring prostitution back to Dolly.

“If that’s what they want, kill me to get it over with. But I will not let the children of Surabaya be destroyed [by prostitution],” she said today, as quoted by Detik.

One of Risma’s justifications for shutting down Dolly back in 2014 was to prevent human trafficking into the red light district and the negative effects that being exposed to prostitution could have to the children living in the neighborhood.

“If you know their stories they’re horrifying. But I don’t want to tell the stories now. What’s in the past is in the past, let’s begin again together, let’s solve our problems together,” she said.

Around 1,500 sex workers were evicted from Dolly after its shutdown. Critics said that the shutdown would only drive the evicted sex workers underground, bringing about new problems regarding the safety and sexual health of both the prostitutes and their clients.

In February 2015, five months after the shutdown, Coconuts Jakarta did an investigation into the effects of Dolly’s shutdown and found that there were indeed evidence of the aforementioned new problems. You can read the feature story ‘Dolly Revisited’ and watch the accompanying short documentary here.

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