Legalisation of sex work in Vietnam

Since last week, Vietnamese media has been stirred up by discussions on legalisation of prostitution – should or should not. It is not difficult to realise their arguments are still targeting sex workers, considering them as the root of all evils who help destroying the so-called traditions and culture fostered for ages. The pictures used in those articles, just like the one below, also contribute to those views: young girls in skin revealing outfits holding pillows to cover their faces. Merely shameful and degrading.

Photo courtesy: Lao Dong Newspaper (

Widely presented as a more tolerant and pragmatic approach than “criminalisation”, the legalized model is actually “backdoor criminalisation” when it still criminalizes sex workers who cannot or will not fulfill various bureaucratic responsibilities. It apparently excludes sex workers who are already marginalized, for example, those who use drugs or are fleeing from domestic abuse. This makes their situation more precarious, and so reinforces the power of unscrupulous managers.

Many countries have tried different ways of treating sex work. Some fully criminalise it, like Russia and most of America, which means criminalizing everyone involved: seller, buyer and third parties . Some regulate sex work by partially criminalising it, which means the buying and selling of sex are legal, but surrounding activities, like brothel-keeping (two or more sex workers stay at one place) or soliciting on the street, are banned. Some criminalise the buyers as Sweden as they believe sex work is smt intrinsically harmful, and stopping the demand should stop the supply. And finally, some legalise it. Ironically, none of the four approaches succeeds in decreasing the number of sex workers in those countries. They even embolden even more stigmas against sex workers.

Personally I think decriminalisation should be the approach. It is something that New Zealand has already done since 2003. Please remember that decriminalisation is different from legalisation: it does not encourage sex work to be a profit-making industry but it sees sex workers – those who may not have other ways to earn their living – just as other professions. This means sex workers can be protected by laws; when they get abused by clients or brothel-owners, they can find police for help.  What is more impressive about this legislation is the community of sex workers in NZ were engaged in along the process. *Bow down*

I found it quite weird when suddenly the topic of legalisation of sex work out of blue re-emerge these days. But it seems that there is a story behind: the government is discussing the establishment of some specialised economic zones where casinos may be the main profit making machines. And yes, when you run out of fortune with cards, where can you go to gain some besides the red light streets (in Vietnamese, red represents fortune)? Everything fits into the puzzle then. Perfectly. It is not about tradition protection, cultural heritage preservation, or human rights or feminism – no. It is more about money.


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