Sex industry thrives in Ho Chi Minh City despite decade of control

By Dinh Phu, Thanh Nien News

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Sex workers on the street in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Nghia Pham Sex workers on the street in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Nghia Pham


The illegal sex business in Ho Chi Minh City has become more complicated and blatant, according to municipal policymakers.
A city government report on its ten-year fight against the sex industry was submitted to the Ministry of Social Affairs Monday.
The report said male heterosexual and homosexual services are particularly on the rise since Vietnamese laws lack specific provisions for addressing them.
More sex workers are targeting foreign customers seeking better payment. Some are going to work overseas.
Businesses that cater to foreign customers have come under more aggressive scrutiny in Ho Chi Minh City since last year, which seems hardly surprising.
The report said sex work can now net models and actresses thousands of dollars a nigh.
In one such high-profile case, last June, a Ho Chi Minh City court sentenced six people for running a prostitution racket that involved models, singers, and actresses and charged wealthy clients up to US$7,000 for sex.
Vietnam’s per capita GDP hit around $1,900 last year.
Vo Thi My Xuan, one member of the ring, was the winner of a Mekong Delta beauty contest in 2009 and a freelance model. She was sentenced to two and a half years for procuring clients for two other sex workers. 
The report said prostitution services have exploded and are now advertised online and via text messages which are beyond official controls.
The report also noted that sexual services can now be purchased in the city's cafés, barber shops, spas and massage parlors.
Prostitution in public places like parks or on the streets has also become more rampant, it said.
By the end of last year, authorities had identified 58 public places and streets that hosted prostitution in the city, and thousands of service shops that were likely to offer sex service.
The report estimated that Ho Chi Minh City is home to 5,500 sex workers employed at body service shops and 200 others working on the street.
Prostitution is illegal in Vietnam and sex workers can face fines of VND300,000 (US$14.2) for their first offense and up to VND5 million for repeat offenses. Their clients can be fined VND500,000-5 million depending on the circumstances.
Programs to help sex workers reintegrate into the community were established years ago, but only 500 workers were supported with loans worth just VND2 billion ($95,000), according to the social affairs ministry.
Civil society groups have pressured the government to legalize prostitution so that the industry can be regulated.

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