Peer education workers are former sex workers who gave up their job to try to renew their life.
Part 1: A look inside male brothelsPart 2: Who are the clients of male brothels?Part 3: ‘Occupational hazards’ of male prostitutes Part 4: Peer education a safety net for sex workers
Thanks to easy access as ‘peers’ of prostitutes, these trained workers persuade them to give up the job, or give them information on health care and prevention of infectious diseases.
The peers also act as a link to connect prostitutes who are inclined to lead a cynical and self-contained life with the community.
Peers do not work individually, but attend regular training classes held by local authorities, and they prove their worth.
Peers do not approach sex workers with condescending claims like depravity or laziness, they simply listen to prostitutes with their mind and hearts and give them pragmatic advice to defend themselves from sinking further and follow healthcare standards such as using condoms.
An expert admitted that without these peers, sex workers would be more exposed to occupational hazards, and the rate of infectious diseases and HIV/AIDS in Vietnam would worsen.
A peer worker named B, who worked as a xe om (motorbike taxi) for sex workers in Hanoi, told Tuoi Tre he works not only with prostitutes but also meets local and foreign researchers and international delegations to learn about prostitution and drug use in his area.
“Whatever the reason you do this work, prostitution has existed for a long time because it helps satisfy the sexual desires of single or widowed people,” B recalled a client saying.
“Some may disagree that they enter prostitution to make money because many others living under poverty find a legal job to earn their living, but not prostitute themselves,” he added.
“So my job is not to blame them, but to show them the way to become better and better and one day he/she may give it up like me,” B confided.
B said he knows prostitution in Hanoi like the back of his hand.
“Where this man or that woman prostitutes themselves, how long did they work as a sex worker, if anyone has died or caught infectious diseases… I know them all.
“I just wish to extend my experience and knowledge to help reduce the risks for both the prostitutes and people in the community,” B said.
B is paid a monthly salary of less than 1 million dong (US$48), but it is a lawful and stable income, he admitted, adding that he has the chance to learn, attend conferences, and live in a friendly working environment.
A peer also distributes coupons to prostitutes to remind them to get a health check every three months.
Another peer in Ho Chi Minh City, named V, admitted to Tuoi Tre that he experienced a lot during his days of prostitution.
“I was sexually abused by clients, bilked out of money, and verbally assaulted. I witnessed my friends suffering terribly after catching diseases,” V said. “One day, I joined a training class held by some peers and now I work to help others.”
When a prostitute is about to run out of condoms, the peers immediately bring new batches to distribute them for free.
“In case they don’t have it and catch diseases, it is a pity for them,” a peer named T said.