Legalizing exploitation of poor women not such a good idea

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Last week in Vietweek, a local sociologist made an argument for legalizing prostitution in Vietnam because it was "normal" and the government could collect taxes.

Although his argument was quite weak, many would seem to agree the world's "oldest profession" should be legalized and managed for the safety of both the client and the service provider.

The sociologist cited prostitution in the Netherlands and Germany as successful initiatives to legalize the profession. What he did not mention is that such a business venture needs to be closely managed and policed.

If a client in any of these countries is dissatisfied with the service there is a formal procedure for making a complaint and it is resolved following prescribed regulations. In addition, the prostitute is also protected from any unwanted behavior and if there is a problem she will receive immediate assistance to protect her. Child prostitution is not allowed, nor is trafficking of children and females.

Considering the manner in which business and regulations are handled in Vietnam, legalizing prostitution would only create another unmanageable source of corruption and would do nothing to take the sleaze out of the sex business.

Supplemental sexual behaviors of men outside the boundaries of marriage are apparently more common in Asian countries than in North America or Europe. In Asia, men use brothels more as a source of entertainment and frequently offer the services of a woman as a business gift to business associates (, "The John's Chart" 08/11/2012).

I have noticed that Asian men frequently have extramarital affairs with mistresses or prostitutes as a signal of status, as it is only possible for the relatively wealthy to support a second or minor wife/mistress. I have seen many Asian men outside of Vietnam who are married and have families but have a second wife in Vietnam with children included (the second wife called a "minor" wife). However, sexual mores are a topic that is rarely discussed openly. 

Many expatriates have written to Vietweek concurring that despite the problems they face in Vietnam, it is simply not acceptable that people direct their anger and slurs at all Vietnamese. This forum, "Your two cents", opens the floor for you, the expats, to hold forth on the changes you see in Vietnam: what disappoints, what pleases and what you would like to see happen. Email your thoughts to
Prostitution in Vietnam is everywhere you look: hotels, barber shops, massage parlors, brothels, karaoke clubs, on the street, on the beach. It is estimated that there are 70,000 prostitutes in Vietnam with 20,000 of them children ( Country Information: Vietnam). Certainly the demand for such a business exists. But where do we get the supply?

Why do women prostitute themselves? A simple answer is that it is lucrative as has been demonstrated by the recent arrest of top-level hookers who were getting US$2,000 per act. These women may have had the luxury of choosing to sell themselves in order to maintain a glamorous lifestyle, but most women have no such choice.

An overwhelming number of "working girls" are forced into this degrading profession by poverty, ignorance or coercion and for them it is not profitable. We have heard of cases where parents sell their daughters into prostitution, some knowingly, others out of ignorance and poverty.

I wonder how many of the men who use these services would want their daughter to choose prostitution as a profession?


Still, some would be in favor of legitimizing prostitution for profit to the state. What about those who control all the street hookers and brothels? Are they willing to give up their monopoly and to compete with a cleaner industry? I can imagine the exploitation and marketing that would follow legalization: "Learn to be a prostitute in 30 days or less. Great working conditions. Free health checks. No education required, we will train you."

Perhaps we should focus on eliminating the ignorance and poverty of girls and young women and give them hope of a future where they have a choice. Legalizing prostitution may enhance the hedonistic lifestyles of the wealthy, but it would only exacerbate existing "social evils," whether or not the world's oldest profession is officially removed from this bracket.

By George Larson
The writer is an American expat who lives and works in Ho Chi Minh City

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