Sex workers in Ho Chi Minh City speak of violence, humiliation

Thanh Nien News

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A sex worker with a potential client on a street in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Hong Pham/VnExpress A sex worker with a potential client on a street in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Hong Pham/VnExpress


Nga sits down on the sidewalk, puts some more powder on her heavy make-up, pulls an old perfume bottle from the bottom of her bag and sprays all over her body.
She slowly walks around, waiting for a client.
The 33-year-old migrant from the Mekong Delta has been a sex worker since 17 and working independently the past year, which means she gets to find clients on the street herself.
As Vietnam continues to agonize over whether to legalize prostitution and protect sex workers, Nga said she and her colleagues constantly suffer from gang rape and violent sex at the hands of clients and brutal beatings from procurers as well as their own husbands.
“I have felt ashamed and insulted so many times. I have cried all my tears. Well, it’s all for the money,” Nga told news website VnExpress sitting on the sidewalk of a park near Ben Thanh market one night in late November.
The woman said she dropped out of eighth grade and helped her mother with farm work.
A relative from Ho Chi Minh City visited one time when she was 17 and offered to help her find a job in the city.
Nga was first taken to a karaoke parlor and ordered to offer sex to clients.
She said she resisted many times, but threats from the managers and the need for money won.
“I have had to deal with more violent people than decent ones. If I refused to drink beer with them, they'd beat me. If I refused to serve their sadistic demands, they’d beat me. If they did not like the look of me, they’d beat me too.
“And they would curse at me as if I was the worst lowlife.”
But the clients are just one part of the job; if they complain, the managers and pimps also beat her.
Nga said her clients paid VND500,000, but she had to give half to the managers, more if a customer complained.
“Some of us disagree with the payment only to be badly beaten up. We then have to stay in bed for two or three weeks. So we remain silent.”
But the worst experience for her and other women in the job is being gang-raped.
She was raped by four men once after she agreed to go to the house of a young client.
“Once I entered his room, the door was slammed shut behind my back and three more men came out. I wanted to back out but they did not let me.”
She said sex workers under a manager usually would not have to deal with such a situation, but the manager could ask them to sleep with a group of pimps “to show gratitude for their protection.”
A survey by the Institute of Labor Science and Social Affairs at the social affairs ministry found that nearly half of sex workers were abused or knew of colleagues who were. But most of the victims did not report to the authorities since they were afraid their illegal work would be held against them.
Van, a sex worker in District 4, once fell victim to an apparent sadist.
She told VnExpress that she went with a foreigner and once they were in the room alone, he tied her up and kept hitting her with a belt despite her begging him to stop until she bled.
“I was paid more money that time but I had to use it all for medicines. It was terrible.”
Bich, who has been a sex worker for more than 20 years, said sex workers can only depend on each other since they have no voice in society or even in their family.
She said a sex worker called her on the phone several months ago, asking her in a very weak voice to come help her at a hospital.
“She was beaten by her husband because she was selling sex to earn money to take care of him, an alcoholic, and their child.”

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