My name is An My and I am 42 years old. I live in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, with my husband, daughter and son. When I was a child, my parents did not have enough money to buy the food and clothes we needed. So I decided to become a sex worker. First, I did not even have a good dress, but later another sex worker sold her old clothes to me. People around me reacted in different ways. A few understood my situation and showed sympathy, but the majority did not approve of my job. For instance, my father’s relatives tried to convince me to stop, as I might get sexually transmitted diseases. I also experienced stigma and hypocrisy. Many people in front of my eyes were happy when they saw I had money and asked me to help them, but behind my back they whispered that I was just a hooker.
In Vietnam, sex work is considered to be a social evil. People say that sex workers are lazy and destroy families. One time I was caught by a police agency specialised in arresting sex workers. They asked me many questions and I was very scared, but luckily they released me quickly. Another challenge that sex workers face is that some clients do not want to pay. Once, there was a mafia member who wanted to be with me. I refused, because I knew he would abuse his power and not pay me. Then he shot his gun at the ceiling and so I went for a ride with him. Later he asked me to come to his house and when I said no, he shot once more. But I did not have fear, and finally he let me go. As a sex worker, you have to be arrogant and assertive to survive.
As a sex worker, you have to be arrogant and assertive to survive
Nevertheless, after I started sex work, my life really improved. I became rich and could give money to my relatives, to buy furniture and many other things. And I could keep my two younger sisters in school. In 2009 I met an old boyfriend who was an outreach worker at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). He motivated me to become a social worker. Within the Bridging the Gaps programme, I participated in different workshops and learnt skills such as facilitating meetings and working in a team. Currently, I work at the community-based organisation Cuoc Song Moi and educate and support sex workers. I give them, for example, information about safe sex and the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. Due to my personal experience with sex work, many sex workers come to talk to me. This encouraged me to form a sex workers group. I support friends who join the group, for instance to become outreach workers or find jobs like painting nails. My hope for the future is that all sex workers will stay healthy and beautiful, and that society will no longer stigmatise and discriminate them.