Vietnamese police spark outrage for publicly shaming sex workers

By Cuu Long, Pham Du   January 30, 2018 | 09:43 pm PT
Vietnamese police spark outrage for publicly shaming sex workers
A screen cut from a Facebook video shows a police officer reading names of sex workers and their customer standing next to him in Phu Quoc, Vietnam.
The officers could face charges for humiliating the women on Phu Quoc Island.

A video of a police officer shouting out the names of sex workers while making them stand in public in southern Vietnam has been met with public backlash, prompting senior officials to step in.

Police in Kien Giang Province have launched an investigation into the incident, which took place on the popular resort island of Phu Quoc on Tuesday, saying it “should not have happened”.

The four-minute video was posted on Facebook that morning, showing the officer reading out the charges laid against the four people standing next to him. Two were sex workers, another was a woman who runs a coffee shop offering sex services, and the last was a male client.

Their full names, ages, addresses and marital statuses were read out on the sidewalk of a busy street in front of other police officers, tourists and residents, including children.

“Someone who is looking for a job wouldn’t be doing this,” the officer said about one of the sex workers as she tried to cover her face.

Of the male client, he said: “He does not have a wife so he often goes to secret sex dens to satisfy his needs.”

Duong Dong Police initially said the public display was for educational purposes.

But Le Van Mot, chief of police on Phu Quoc, later said the show “should not have happened”.

“It was unnecessary,” Mot said, promising to deal with the case after the video caused uproar online.

Media reports of the incident have received a storm of comments, most accusing the police officers involved of being “completely wrong” and “inhumane”.

Lawyer Nguyen Van Duc from Can Tho in southern Vietnam said the police’s behavior was “offensive and counter-educational”.

“It was humiliating,” Duc said. Humiliating people is a criminal offense punishable by up to three years in jail in Vietnam.

His colleagues also spoke out against the display. Sex workers can be fined if they are caught, so this public shaming is against the law, they said.

Their identity should be protected under Vietnamese law, so the women in the video have the right to sue the police for damaging their reputations, they added.

Vietnam outlaws sex work and many consider prostitution a social evil instead of a business, despite the fact that demand has made the mission to end it practically impossible.

Data may vary but figures from the International Labor Organization (ILO) suggest that there are nearly 101,300 sex workers, including 72,000 women, in Vietnam.

A study by the organization in 2016 said sex workers were some of the most vulnerable people in Vietnam as they have to deal with regular police raids and persistent fear of theft and violence.

A full-time worker usually works 10 to 12 hours each day, and women provide sexual services to between six to 10 clients on average, but sometimes up to 30 per day. Male workers serve between three and 10 clients each day, a workload considered “heavy” by many pimps interviewed by the ILO.

The organization said the country should do something about the occupational safety and health risks that come with the industry.

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