Pimps hook sex workers by claiming to pay bail

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Prostitutes seek Thanh Nien’s help to escape the clutches of their vicious pimps.


Prostitutes on Nguyen Chi Thanh Street in Ho Chi Minh City. Many sex workers have sought
Thanh Nien’s help against pimps who they claim enslave them by putting up bail money when
the women are taken in by the police and then demanding usurious interest.

Lai, a young woman from the Mekong Delta, was forced to sell sex during her pregnancy and only had 30 days’ rest after delivery to repay a debt her pimp and father of her child said she owed him.

She allegedly incurred the debt of VND30 million (US$1,624) when the pimp, identified only as M., paid bail for getting her released after she was picked up by the police.

Lai is among several young women who have managed to escape from their pimps’ debt traps and told their stories to or sought help from Thanh Nien.

Lai, whose name means “mixed blood,” was born to an Indian father.

Her career as a prostitute began when a woman from Ho Chi Minh City asked her to work in the city to earn money to send to her sick mother.

The woman, who was married to M., let Lai live in their house and treated her kindly.

When Lai grew up into a pretty girl, however, she asked her to “sell” her virginity.

The first client paid VND10 million ($541) and Lai got VND3 million ($162) to pay her mother’s medical costs. She then began to work as a prostitute.

One time the police caught Lai marking the beginning of her travails.

M. forced her to work more to return the money together with interest.

Sometimes when he found Lai sleeping while waiting for customers on Xo Viet Nghe Tinh Street in Binh Thanh District, he would pull her hair and punch her. Other prostitutes standing nearby got the same treatment if they tried to intervene.

Lai tried to escape several times and succeeded last year by pretending to go and buy medicine for the child. She told her story to Thanh Nien earlier this month.

M. is also known to pimp for several other prostitutes whom he forces to work even they are sick or menstruating.

Several of them told Thanh Nien correspondents â€" who pretended to be prostitutes themselves for the story â€" that it was suspicious how they would be caught by the police whenever they had accumulated a large amount of money.

It was as if their pimps had set the police on them, they said.

The pimps would then tell them about the bail money and soon it became a vicious cycle that kept them enslaved.

He who must not be named

Two pimps wait for customers on Nguyen Chi Thanh Street in HCMC

Prostitutes plying their trade around Thi Nghe Bridge connecting districts 1 and Binh Thanh talk about a pimp whom they dared not name but only refer to as “you know who” and his victim Sen.

Sen was illiterate but attractive and she earned around VND1 million ($54) every day for the pimp. After three months, she asked to send her money home to her sick parents and the pimp promised to give it to her the next day. That very night she was taken in by the police.

He claimed to bail her out by paying VND50 million ($2,707) but in two months her debt had risen to VND120 million ($6,497) with the addition of interest.

But since her pimp promised to let Sen go home for Tet (Lunar New Year), she worked even harder but was again caught on lunar New Year’s Eve. He again paid her “bail” money and forced her to stay and work during the holiday.

Sen too managed to escape last year after realizing she could never clear her so-called debts.

Another woman, who just called herself Hue, became a prostitute for a different pimp after her husband was jailed for selling drugs and she was unable to feed her two children and mother-in-law.

“There were days when I waited from morning till night with no customers showing up. And I had to borrow money [from the pimps],” the 23-year-old said.

In March, she borrowed VND3 million from a pimp known only as L., who allowed her to repay VND150,000 a day. She paid for 12 days but stopped for the next 10 because she fell sick and could not work. When the pimp said she had to start afresh Hue chose to flee.

She was assaulted by pimps “so many times that I don’t even remember how many” when she did not repay the money. “They would beat me on the street, take all my cash and cell phone, and still force me to pay more.

“Recently, I was beaten three times in just 10 days.”

Thao, 26, was indebted to the same pimps after the police caught her cruising around on a motorbike looking for clients.

She was told she owed VND10 million, including VND3 million for interest.

But Nguyen Van Giau, chief of police of Ward 9, District 5, who took her in, said they had released Thao and the motorbike on her mother’s guarantee.

Thao said she had paid the pimps VND14 million but they kept saying “not enough yet.” They stopped her in early August, took all her money and asked for a further VND4.5 million, Thao said when she came to the Thanh Nien office in HCMC’s District 1 to appeal for help.

“They threatened to beat me up every time they see me if I don’t pay more. I know they will and can do that because other girls and I have been beaten and nobody dared interfere.”

Reported by Thanh Nien staff

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