|A female sex worker cries while relaying her story at yesterday's conference in Ha Noi. — Photo vnexpress.net
HA NOI (VNS) — Many female sex workers here have suffered physical abuse and been defrauded of their wages, but most were not fully aware of the problem, accepting it as an occupational hazard.
Nguyen Thi Van Anh, deputy director of the Institute for Social Development Studies, told a conference here yesterday that a survey by the institute had revealed that some 3,000 female sex workers, aged between 18 and 50, worked in Ha Noi. Most were migrants from other provinces.
Many admitted to being physically abused and having their money stolen or withheld.
"They said they were shouted at, beaten, refused their wages, raped violently by a group of men or even robbed. This is all gender-specific abuse," she said.
Anh said most of the victims were poorly educated and could not find a job. They worked in this industry because they needed to earn a living. These women felt embarrassed by their job, but they could not stop working.
She said many female sex workers were severely traumatised after being abused or robbed. For instance, they would suffer mood swings, flying into a temper for no reason; refuse to meet their relatives; or feel as if their lives were meaningless.
Worse, none tried to call the police for help, as they feared they would be put into rehab centres, preventing them from earning enough money to help their families, she said.
At the conference, a female sex worker, known only as Ly, shared her story. According to Ly, a customer had taken her to an abandoned area, where five other men were lying in wait. She was gang-raped and left for dead. Ly then tried to flag down a truck, hoping to get a ride home, but she was raped by the truck driver.
Ly said she didn't know shouting or refusing her the money for her services was considered a type of abuse. She thought abuse was restricted to being beaten up and hospitalised for treatment.
"Every time a customer calls me, I hope that this guy will be a good one," she said.
Ly said she did not think she could get a job in the city as she had dropped out of school at the age of nine.
Thao, another female sex worker, is only slightly better off. One of her customers later became her boyfriend. Unfortunately, his wages from his job as a porter were not enough to support them both, so Thao was forced to continue working to earn more money.
Her boyfriend would sometimes beat her upon discovering she had returned to her old job, but Thao felt she had no choice.
Dao Van Huan of the Ha Noi Police Department's Social Order Investigation Unit said female sex workers must be made aware of gender-specific abuse. Those who wished to remain anonymous could place calls or write petitions to the police. Abusers could then be arrested for rape or human trafficking.
Huan said a hotline to support female sex workers was urgently required to provide legal consultancy services and to protect them from being abused. — VNS