Twenty-six-year-old Nguyen’s1 husband is a shoemaker, but his income of approximately 40 U.S. dollars a month is not enough to support them and their two children. To help make ends meet — including paying the monthly rent of 30 dollars on their one-room home — Nguyen supplements the household income by selling sex. Nguyen told us about a recent, typical day in her life.
“I was happy when I woke up at 6 a.m. that day because I had earned money the night before. After the morning routine of breakfast and washing clothes, I felt tired but had calls coming in, offering me more work. Some of the men who were calling I knew, some I didn’t. I agreed to meet with a man at the hotel where he was staying, and made sure I was back in time to make lunch for my husband and children. I caught up on some sleep after lunch then went outside my house. While I was seated there, some of the SMARTgirl outreach workers came and talked with me about staying healthy and preventing HIV. I was able to ask them about family planning options. I was thinking of getting [a contraceptive] implant, so they referred me to the Chhouk Sar clinic to get more information. [Chhouk Sar, or “White Lotus,” provides counseling, health services and referrals for populations at high risk of HIV acquisition and individuals living with HIV. The clinic is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development through FHI 360 under the Project for HIV and AIDS Strategic Technical Assistance.]
I work as a bar girl too, so I went to the beauty salon at 6 p.m. to have my makeup done before work. That night, I sat with a man who gave me ten dollars for my time (most men pay only two or three dollars) and asked me to have sex with him. We had sex, went dancing until 2 a.m. and then parted ways.”
When we asked her if she ever thinks about changing jobs, Nguyen replied, “No, I won’t stop because I need the money for my family. I’m not embarrassed about what I do. It’s a job. I earn the money I need to get by. My husband and family think of it this way too.”
1 In this series, real names of program participants are not used.