now *this* is interesting!

•September 25, 2008 • Leave a Comment *

high end prostituion in Viet Nam!  

While VN doesn’t have anywhere near the rates of johns as say China or Thailand (where studies suggest that 80% of Thai men paid for sex in the last year, and 50% of lost their virginity in transacted sex) paying for sex, as in most east asian countries, is not an anamoly. 

And with the rapidly increasing wealth of the new rich and the ostentatious displays of wealth that have become so apparent in the past 12 months, this niche market was always going to grow.  

The rate of $300-500 per encounter has been quoted on Viet language sites.  The per capita GDP is $800 a year.  In equivalent terms, with the US per capita at $45,000/year, it’s a charge of about $20K per encounter.  It really highlights the difference between the rich in the poor world and the rich in the west.  The spending power is astronomically different.   Anyway, I digress. 

If Hue was taking $100-150 cut per act, the women working for her would have been taking $200-350 themselves.  Not bad, when you consider the monthly wage for a tradesperson is about $120.  And that’s a skilled worker with qualifications and a considerable experience.  

Viet reports indicate Hue is 24 and comes from Viet Nam’s one of Viet Nam’s far south provinces, Ken Giang (incidentally, a rather rich province, cause many of the fishermen here smuggled refugees out, who’d sold everything to pay for the trip.  Though there are sure as hell lots of poor people there).  

Interesting how the network is comprised of “young girls”.  I’d be fascinated for more details. 

Hell, in this instance you don’t need any argument about “enjoying the work” – the money alone would form a sifficient justification.  Actually, Asian v Western preferences – I’ve heard it said again and again, “western men want me to like it!” like this is something shocking…  Long story here, but market preferences (as one might describe them) for sexual resposivity in women are vastly different – as a woman, you’re not meant to “like it”.  The But I Do It Cause I Love It! argument ain’t got no traction…  

And could you imagine if she’d kept information on the johns?  Given the rates involved, had she, I can’t imagine she’d have been charged.  Far too politically explosive.  But you never, never know….

And the leader?  I mean…  Really?  

I dunno.  There is just so much more here that’s not being said.  I do wonder what makes it into the public sphere… 

Anyway.  Maybe it’s just me that finds this interesting.  🙂

* sorry for the broken link.  Just… You know…

on responding to prostituted women and girls

•September 23, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Now.  You can accept or not accept the last post.  No matter. 

And you can be pro- or anti- prostitution.  No matter.

I don’t think anyone would disagree however that women who are prostituted, and who do not wish to be prostituted, should have to be so.   I cannot think of a reasonable person who could accept forced prostitution.  Indeed, it’s a tenant of sexpositive writing that anyone selling sex must desire to do so – otherwise this is not a Good Thing.

 Much of the dialouge/advocacy in feminist circles about prostitution (as far as I am aware, and I might not be very aware) tends to be about the pro or anti positions.  Which is fine, I think it’s an important debate to have.  None the less, the reality is some people selling sexual services wish to do so, some people whose sexual comodification is paid for do not wish to be in this position. 

So – what can we do to assist women who do not wish to be prostituted/who are engaged in the selling of sexual services?

In so far as I understand it from where I am, there are several vantage points for action.

  • Before an individual moves into prostituion/being prostituted/sex work.
  • While an individual is prostituted/sells sex.
  • When an individual wishes to stop being prostituted/selling sex.
  • After an individual is no longer prostitued/selling sex.

I break these up, because I think it raises various questions.  Every issue, and thus, response is dependent primarily on the women involved.  But they include:

  • What are the factors that might increase the chances of a woman/girl being trafficked/engaging in the sale of sex?  Economic factors.  Drug use.  Previous sexual exploitation.  Geographical location.  Familial history etc.
  • Why/how a woman came to be prostituted/selling sex?.  Tricked?  Economic reasons? Family reasons etc..
  • What her present motivations are.  Supporting a family?  Supporting herself?  She simply wished to?  etc.
  • What her long term motivations are.  Retuning to her familial home?  Living somewhere else?  Employment? Of what nature? etc.
  • The nature of the situation.  Closed or open brothel?  Street or brothel work?  Forced or voluntary? etc.
  • Existing skill sets and values.  What alternate employment options does she have?  Is she litterate?  If yes, is it a functional litteracy?   What “hidden” skills are there?  What does she enjoy doing?  What does she value?  etc.
  • Available support services.  North or south.  Can she get counselling if she wants it?  What about vocational training?  Is it in a field she’s interested in?  What about seed funding for a business idea? etc.

None of these questions really touch on whether or no prostitution should exist or not.  Answers need to be spoken to by the individuals or the circumstances in question, and the permiations are infinate.  Nor does it engage with the question of pro- or anti- prostitution positions.  I wished to post this though, as it speaks to the last post about choice. 

Where we provide women with choice, we allow them a degree of control over their lives.  In this place of choice, we plant the seeds of power, of opportunity – but most importantly, of dignity.  The dignity to decide for ones self.  

Personally, I think as long as men wish to commodify ‘fucking’, they will.  Such is the core issue.  If no one wished to buy sex, women would not be coerced into providing the object to be fucked.   Men, indeed, are the problem. 

Which leads to a post for another time – what constitutes prostitution?  And, forgive some freeforming here, i’ll not remember otherwise – the commodification of intimacy/the implications of loneliness and social ostracisation.

the power to chose

•September 22, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Once a month Cara-he?

Ha, I say, Ha. 

I thought I might write briefly about the idea of choice, and its intersection with prostitution and trafficking in asia, as I see it. 

If you have socially and economically weak young women in a society based on Confucian norms (for example), giving men significant social currency; when said young women depart their homes to seek a better life; when they are tricked, forced or even chose to be prostituted; when they find they cannot leave the situation of being prostituted; when they are beaten, raped, manipulated; when they do leave and then have no where to go, no options, so return to this hell: the horror is almost overwhelming.  It’s unthinkably hideous.  How could an 16 year old end up in a situation like that?  How could she have escaped it?  She’s a victim; she’s needs to be rescued from this god-awful situation.  You can’t *chose* something like that…  

And, if you had those responses, you’d be a decent human being.  And I’d agree with all of them (except the saving bit:); sometimes rhetorical questions are the best answers.  In so far as no one can give consent to something to which they are forced into by economics or social pressures; no problem.  The the young woman in the outline above did not chose her situation; she did not consent. 

But she did – at various points in time – chose certain things.  She chose to leave her home community.  She may have chosen to leave the country for the city.  She may have initially chosen a line of work and not liked it.  She may have chosen to accept work as an “entertainer”, “hairdresser” (don’t even ask, you’d be ill), a “karaoke hostess” without fully understanding what would have been expected of her.  She may have chosen trust go with the person who traffics her.  When she leaves or is released from the sexually exploitative situation, she then will have to chose what comes next (though certainly, from what could be a constrained range of options).  

 It’s at the points that those choices were made that there was potential to change the outcome. Leave home, not leave home? Leave with friends?  What type of job do you take?  Who should you trust?  Who do you send your money to?  Where should you go?  Once you prostituted or trafficked, again – who do you trust?  Do you escape?

The answers to many of these questions are culturally, socially or economically  pre-determined. More over, there is no right answer to any of these questions. There is just what one choses to do.  That doesn’t mean the young women in place might not make different choices, if they had different information in front of them.  

How the information is delivered; what is delivered; by who; is it even possible – all important questions.  But if there is no belief that these women COULD make different decisions, if they were supported to do so, negates that they have any agency, any hope – there is nothing that anyone can do to make it right.  It is Fatalistic.

 In reality, not all young female migrants, or poor rural women, become prostitutes.  Not all women working in karaoke bars provide sexual services.  Not all women who are faced with the same set of circumstances end up in the same place.  Luck, being in the right place at the right time, is significant.  But beyond mere circumstance, is the decision making process – how one makes decisions, what information is considered when the decisions are made, what information is valued.  More important still is having alternatives to chose and support.  

 Maybe different decisions ensure a young women from the Mekong Delta ends up in prostitution, maybe it doesn’t – but it present the opportunity for a more positive outcome.  Which is really all anything can ever do in life.  

To use an analogy of sorts: if one finds ones self pregnant – unplanned and unwanted – and assuming abortion rights stand – we could chose to abort or carry the child to term.  Neither option may be attractive; they may both be devastating.  The unfairness lies in the fact that we can get pregnant.  But the choice – to abort or to bear – offers us different opportunities.  This is what I mean by choice.  It might not be a choice you want to make.  Both options may be unattractive.  But at the point we chose we exert as much control over our lives as is possible.  Acknowledgment of this is so very important.

of marriage and men and cowboy hats

•August 16, 2008 • 1 Comment

So.  I intended to offer you up a profound critique of east asian womanhood as post number one, however I’ve realised that if I wait for myself to get around to writing it, I’ll never post again. 

As such, I’ll offer you a brief precis on the migration of southern vietnamese women to south korea.  Since 2001, the number of Korean men marrying Vietnamese women has increased dramatically.  In 2001, there were 83 F-2 marriage visas issued at the Consulate-General of Korea in Ho Chi Minh City, while in 2006 and 2007 more than 6,000 of these visas were issued each year.  Currently there are more than 20,000 Vietnamese women in Korea, having married Korean men.    

The average age for a southern Viet woman migrating to Korea is 22 years old; education level ninth grade.  They are, usually, the stronger willed of the young women in the region, often deciding to marry abroad in the face of opposition of their families – most coming from small rural villages, close knit, with relatives staying close, and grandparents usually closely involved in the raising of the child. 

The most commonly given reason for international marriage migration is to send money to the family (perhaps the basis for another post, suffice to say – a child’s debt to their parents is considered to be immense, and unpayable*).  Other frequently sited reasons include to see the world (this is cited by about 90% of these migrant women, though it’s usually not one of the main reasons given); to marry a “modern man” with more international and contemporary sensibilities (often citing other marriages in family or village) and to avail themselves of better work opportunities.  

Men’s reasons for marrying abroad reflect the social situation in Korea.  Sex selective abortion has skewed the sex ratio, leaving many men unable to find a wife.  The Korean government is providing funding of US$5K (equv) to men to go abroad and find a wife.  Vietnamese women are prized because of their perceived docility, traditional Confucian values and submissiveness.  (Perceptions all around: Viet Nam has had a higher level of female workplace participation than south korea, for longer; the level of female literacy in Vietnam is very high etc.. ).

It is estimated that as many as 70% of these marriages are arranged for men travelling to Viet Nam on week-long wedding “tours” by marriage brokers.    While for-profit marriage brokering is illegal in Viet Nam, there are Marriage Support Centres, operating under the authority of the Viet Nam Women’s Union, which may engage in matchmaking on a not-for-profit basis.  Yes – the Women’s Union can legally run foreign matchmaking services.  Lucky is the international company that pairs with the Women’s Union for their tours!

The cost of a one week “tour” to Vietnam ranges in price from about US$5 – $15 K.  This includes your flights, escort, introductions, a gift to the brides family and all wedding formalities.  A series of “available” young women* are paraded by for the man to chose from (yes, she does have to agree, and yes, men do get turned down), the wedding is consummated; there may be a one day “honeymoon”; the marriage is registered with the Justice Department and the man flies back to Korea while the woman remains in Viet Nam, for approx. three months, while the paperwork is processed.  Once she has the visa, she’s off.  

And so the new life begins…   Now, all things considered, Korea does a not tooooo bad job with international wives – in so far as it occurs within its particular context.  There is much to blame here, however that’s like shooting fish in a barrel.  Take the blaming as read as I say “all things considered”.  In every city, and in most smaller communities, there is an “international migrants centre”.  Wives are provided Korean lessons free of charge; there are extensive internet facilities provided.  There is a magazine entitled “Rainbow” for dual race families, which I think is funded by MOGEF (I am not certain) – that’s the Ministry for Gender Equality and Family (Yeah, the MInistry for Gender Equality and Family.   You get all excited, then they kill it in the same breath.  However.  See above…  Given the Korean context….).  Let’s be clear – there is support, but the idea is to “turn her Korean” – there is no desire for a multicultural utopia; it’s a one way switch that’s expected. 

Sorry..  I was going somewhere with this.. Ok.  The perceived issues form the Korean side is the fear that the woman is “only in this for the money” and will “run away”.  From the Viet side, complaints usually centre around a failure to find a middle ground; the level of expectation of change from her with none other forthcoming.  Survey’s of women going to Korea indicate that, for many, their only source of information on Korea is Korean soap operas, which is rather like watching the Bold and the Beautiful and feeling as though one has garnered a profound view of life in America. Unfortunately, the men these women are marrying tend not to be the idealised vision of the “rich man from the rich country”.  A “marriage market” exists in every culture – you target a particular “bracket”.  Most of the men coming to marry abroad are low income, blue collar workers – those who cannot compete in the highly competitive Korean marriage market.  This can come as something of a shock, if there is no transparency at the time of interaction…

Lord.  I need a break.  Take this as Part One.  I will return to this topic at a later date.  Delighted to answer specific questions, if you have them.  I should stress: this is all utterly blameworthy.  I’m not not blaming.  I shake my fists to the sky often enough.  Consider this a data dump.  We get to the blame dissection later; when the material is available to see the insidiousness of the whole system. 

I do, however, have a request of you, yee of the US.  I go to NY.  I want a cowboy hat.  See this sensational hat.  What’s the chance I can find something even hotter and of equal, gooood quality, for <$75 (i want this baby to last) in NYC?  Or would I need to be visiting Dallas for it even to be worth my while trying, or do I just order?

* denotes more information available on request, I’m just too damn lazy to write it all out here.  including: social norms;  social obligation; children/parents, where the women come from, who recruits them, how they come to be in the city waiting for men to pick em out etc.. 

on coherent thought

•July 31, 2008 • Comments Off on on coherent thought

cara has been so good as to invite me to join her at her blog. I am delighted to venture into the world of blogging without having to put one of these things together for myself; to hitch a ride, so to speak.

My interests include cheese; identity politics; labour and sexual exploitation (the how to prevent it side of things); east asia and religion – social organisation and the theological basis for belief. I also enjoy yoga and study for the sake of study. I find spelling difficult, though this doesn’t inspire me to proofread. Unfortunately.

While I’ve been promising Cara a post for what – I was going to say weeks, but it must be near months now – on women and social hierarchies in east asia, I have (surprise, surprise) not gotten around to writing it. I also fear I am better at responding to issues, than raising them – you requests are appreciated.


I’ll get my act into gear in the next day or two. Or there about. I’m thinking Confucian virtues of womanhood is an interesting place to start.

Announcements, excuses

•July 10, 2008 • 5 Comments

My dear wombats, hello.

Many of you have noticed that I’ve absented myself for a while.  Again.  My apologies, I’m both busier than I expected because of forum events, and a lazy git.

That said, I’m happy to announce that we will soon be home to a least one, possibly more new bloggers, and thus you should not have to go more than a month between posts again – although I make no guarantees.

Thank you all for you patience, and I promise a new post in a much more timely fashion.


Louise Arbour and the Public Announcement of Reality

•June 5, 2008 • Leave a Comment

The United Nations High Commissioner has today given a statement pronouncing feminist causes including the cessation of violence against women as among the top priorities of the United Nations. In a move sure to draw the ire of misogynists everywhere, she states that the attainment of full human rights for the women of the world is a necessary step in living up to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

With the adoption of resolution 6/30, the Human Rights Council affirmed its commitment to advancing women’s rights and gender equality. The task now is to translate that commitment into concrete steps and priorities to give real effect to women’s rights and dignity.

She goes even further, rightly reminding us that the root of rape is not the desire for sex, but the desire for power.

Whether perpetrated in conflict or in peace, the root causes of violence against women are deep-seated inequalities and discrimination.

Of interest to those of you who just read the post below about how the legality of abortion affects women, she makes a bold statement about the system and prevention of ‘maternal deaths’.

Discriminatory laws and practices are also at the root of many cases of maternal mortality. . .But there is often nothing inevitable about maternal mortality. Many of these deaths could be prevented by making women’s welfare and the realization of all their rights a matter of priority.

(I strongly recommend reading the whole speech, it is intense and magnificent.)

hat tip Catherine Martell, via UN News Center

New York Times Abortion Essay

•June 3, 2008 • 3 Comments

I am posting the full text of this essay because it has been my experience that the NY Times website makes it difficult to access archives, and I want every person reading this post to know precisely what has been said. Women do not simply deserve full humanity and citizenship (and thus ownership of our bodies), we need these things. All the statistics tell us that historically and currently, in the US and internationally, in ‘First’, ‘Second’, and ‘Third World’ nations, the rate of abortions performed remains constant regardless of the state of legality. So no, even fixing economics, even creating ‘religious states’, even offering birth control and medical care do not and will not replace the basic need for women to have the absolute legal right to safe medically supervised/performed abortions. Unless you believe that being a woman is an offense punishable by execution. And if you do, you may take full personal responsibility for every woman murdered by legal policies that prevent women from obtaining safe abortions.

Repairing the Damage, Before Roe

Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Published: June 3, 2008

With the Supreme Court becoming more conservative, many people who support women’s right to choose an abortion fear that Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that gave them that right, is in danger of being swept aside.  When such fears arise, we often hear about the pre-Roe “bad old days.” Yet there are few physicians today who can relate to them from personal experience. I can.

I am a retired gynecologist, in my mid-80s. My early formal training in my specialty was spent in New York City, from 1948 to 1953, in two of the city’s large municipal hospitals.

There I saw and treated almost every complication of illegal abortion that one could conjure, done either by the patient herself or by an abortionist — often unknowing, unskilled and probably uncaring. Yet the patient never told us who did the work, or where and under what conditions it was performed. She was in dire need of our help to complete the process or, as frequently was the case, to correct what damage might have been done.

The patient also did not explain why she had attempted the abortion, and we did not ask. This was a decision she made for herself, and the reasons were hers alone. Yet this much was clear: The woman had put herself at total risk, and literally did not know whether she would live or die.

This, too, was clear: Her desperate need to terminate a pregnancy was the driving force behind the selection of any method available.

The familiar symbol of illegal abortion is the infamous “coat hanger” — which may be the symbol, but is in no way a myth. In my years in New York, several women arrived with a hanger still in place. Whoever put it in — perhaps the patient herself — found it trapped in the cervix and could not remove it.

We did not have ultrasound, CT scans or any of the now accepted radiology techniques. The woman was placed under anesthesia, and as we removed the metal piece we held our breath, because we could not tell whether the hanger had gone through the uterus into the abdominal cavity. Fortunately, in the cases I saw, it had not.

However, not simply coat hangers were used.

Almost any implement you can imagine had been and was used to start an abortion — darning needles, crochet hooks, cut-glass salt shakers, soda bottles, sometimes intact, sometimes with the top broken off.

Another method that I did not encounter, but heard about from colleagues in other hospitals, was a soap solution forced through the cervical canal with a syringe. This could cause almost immediate death if a bubble in the solution entered a blood vessel and was transported to the heart.

The worst case I saw, and one I hope no one else will ever have to face, was that of a nurse who was admitted with what looked like a partly delivered umbilical cord. Yet as soon as we examined her, we realized that what we thought was the cord was in fact part of her intestine, which had been hooked and torn by whatever implement had been used in the abortion. It took six hours of surgery to remove the infected uterus and ovaries and repair the part of the bowel that was still functional.

It is important to remember that Roe v. Wade did not mean that abortions could be performed. They have always been done, dating from ancient Greek days.

What Roe said was that ending a pregnancy could be carried out by medical personnel, in a medically accepted setting, thus conferring on women, finally, the full rights of first-class citizens — and freeing their doctors to treat them as such.

Waldo L. Fielding was an obstetrician and gynecologist in Boston for 38 years. He is the author of “Pregnancy: The Best State of the Union” (Thomas Y. Crowell, 1971).

hat tip to elm

Couple of Links

•May 1, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Pretty soon I’m going to have to either cull or completely reorganize my blogroll, because everyday it seems I’m exposed to something else that all my wombats should be seeing.  Here are today’s:

A site devoted to the stories and support of UK women suffering from domestic violence

The 4th Carnival against Pornography

Asking the hard questions

•May 1, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Jezebella has an excellent post up about the problems with being a well-meaning but ultimately privileged honky white woman – someone who wants to both do GOOD and to do better, while at the same time struggling with making sure her own needs for self-care are met.

I am reminded of stories of women in wartime generations. Women who simply could not join the army, but had the sense that supporting the troops was a righteous thing to do (is it rude of me to say: oh, the joyful innocence of believing that there is a “just” war, and knowing with absolute conviction that our side is the right side?). They were women (we are told) who could collect bottle tops for scrap metal, knit socks and blankets for the troops – in other words, practice both self-care and activism by parleying hobbies such as knitting into social activities with the goal of helping someone in need. If a woman was particularly idealistic, and young, she could join as a nurse and be as close to front lines of action as possible, performing heroic and appreciated acts.

Women today do not have those same kinds of options. One might say that we haven’t for years (witness the tragic farce that was the Vietnam war), but even there, there seemed to be a sense that activism at home could change things – sit ins, love ins, campus protests and putting flowers in a soldier’s rifle for the young women. For older women, there still seemed to be a fair way to support the troops (even if not the war itself) with care packages. Either way, there was much less focus on tragedies and indignities perpetrated abroad.

Modern young women do not have those same kinds of options. They are all too aware of genocide, of oppression, of the horrors of this war, and of their own complicity in the consumerist/capitalist behaviors that subsume the rights of others to live without poverty, without US troops bombing the bejezus out of their homes, their government buildings, and their museums. Women today know too much about problems, and too little about how to fix them short of complete institutional change (although this would be MY personal preference). We know that putting yellow ribbon “Support the Troops” stickers on our cars implies that we support the war – and equally we know that putting “support the troops – bring them home” stickers there opens up far more complex dangers than a one-time protest would. It makes cars (and the people in them) constant moving targets.

We know, too, that even well meaning interference (activism) can cause more problems than those the activism is intended to address. To which organization can you donate money if you don’t want it to go through IMF/World Bank, or through Citibanks’ corporate (and often terrorizing) private lenders? If a woman defaults on a microloan you give her through Kiva, will she be harassed and shamed by neighbors? Will she be hunted down by the lenders? If you support sending pads and tampons to poor/rural areas so that girls don’t have to drop out of school for missing a week of classes every month, will you be creating more trash? Furthering Procter & Gamble’s corporate greed? Opening up those girls to retributive punishments by the men in their own community for daring to appear in public while menstruating (when they “should” be sequestered)?

So what do we do? How do we act in ways that are both generous and redistributve AND living up to our need for self-care? How do we navigate our own oppression AND our collusion in the corporate greed that has created and sustained the impoverishment of 90% of the world?