(Written by Shin Nyein and Translated by Ba Kyaw)
Sex workers in Myanmar have faced AIDS, exploitation, persecution, and sexual harassment since a long time ago.
In Myanmar, sex workers are not protected by law and are considered illegal and could end up in jail anytime.
According to their words, the situation for sex workers has gotten worse after the military coup. They said they have faced more sexual, physical, and mental abuse than ever.
In the past, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have assisted sex workers in violent situations. But it has totally changed now. Less assistance from NGOs, the country’s weak legal system, and dire economic conditions have made sex workers face more violence.
One of the sex worker Pyae Pyae said, “This is the worst time. I experienced sexual abuse at a level I had never before experienced. I was also robbed in addition to not receiving payment for my services. I was forced to have group sex and use drugs. It is the worst.
18 years old Pyae Pyae is a flat, tall, white body with round eyes. However, she worked as a housemaid and became a sex worker because of her family business.
After her mother passed away, her father couldn’t work, who had liver cancer due to alcoholism. That’s why she decided to pursue a lucrative career as a sex worker, she said.
She explained that we have no other job but hard labor for the uneducated like us. These work types are not even worth eating. So if we become ill, we will have no choice but to die. We have no choice but to work as sex workers to earn money.
The violence of April 2022 proves that sex work may be a lucrative job but not as easy as it may seem.
That night, she went to the top room of a five-story building taken by a visitor to a nightclub in Rangoon. There were some women and men in the dim light of the room. When they arrived, some returned and left two women and three men, including Paye Pyae.
Ms. Pyae Pyae continued her experience, “I drank a little bit with them. While drinking, I felt dizzy, unable to move and lift my head. Then they abused me. The whole lower body was covered in blood. I hardly had to go back down to the basement.”
After this coup, she was not the only sex worker who experienced brutality.
20 years-old Soe Soe was sexually exploited and was robbed of her phone and money.
Ms. Soe Soe said, “Last month, one of my visitors told me he wanted to call for an hour. I refused because there were three people when I arrived. But they did not pay me, so they beat me, choked me, and assaulted me sexually.”
She added that my phone was stolen by a guest I met in early January when I was leaving for the restroom.
Ms. Soe Soe has been employed in the sex industry for two years, but she hasn’t disclosed this to her family.
After she dropped out of middle school and moved to the city. She worked as a housemaid due to the scarcity of jobs in the rural area where she lived. And then she unexpectedly became a sex worker.
She was seduced and sexually assaulted by a married man in the house where she worked. The employer paid to prevent them from complaining, so no one noticed this incident.
After this incident, the man came to see me whenever he wanted. And about a year later, I was taken out and given to others to engage in sex work.
She disclosed, “He was a hooker, in actuality. I believed he loved me because of my stupidity.”
She continued, I escaped the man who had taken me away, told a friend about what had happened, and asked for help. My friend introduced her employer, and I decided to become a sex worker. I’ve decided I
won’t continue working if I can launch my own rice shop.
Ms. Thiri, a sex worker, has also experienced psychological suffering in addition to physical abuse from customers.
25 years-old Thiri told her story as follows.
I tried to get home after my working hours were over.
At first, he said, “Stay a moment.”
I responded, “I can’t because I have other work.”
He said, “There were still 10 minutes remaining.
And He forced me to sit down.
When I struggled, he kicked me and slapped my cheek and ear.
And then raped me without getting paid.
Ma Thiri has been doing this sex work for over three years. Her early marriage and the husband’s subsequent desertion had a tremendous impact on her life.
Ms. Thiri explained she was paying off the mortgage on her house to support her mother, her 4 years old boy, and her husband’s gambling debts. She then decided to work as a sex worker to earn more income.
Working as a sex worker is easy and quick to make money.
However, it is not worthwhile to her income and her experience of violence. In addition, the hooker exploited her income.
She said, “The most important part of our job is to make our guests happy. However, I was traumatized by some of the visitors’ violence: suddenly strangulation and swordplay to my breast and vagina. Other acts of violence should not be mentioned.”
Although the sex industry is prohibited by law and prostitution is not legally protected, there remains a sizable and lucrative market.
According to a 2013 World AIDS Organization (UNAIDS) survey, there are around 70,000 prostitutes in Myanmar.
They joined the sex industry for various reasons and backgrounds. But they are considered illegal and may face up to a year in prison under the Prostitution Act.
Under this law, only sex workers can be prosecuted, and men who have sex are not considered guilty.
As a result, those who support sex workers’ rights, as well as sex workers themselves, have long fought for legal protection and a place to report violent crimes.
In 2015, the parliament sought to adopt a law on this subject, but it was defeated after receiving heavy criticism.
The Department of Social Welfare, women’s organizations, and organizations representing sex workers started developing a new prostitution law in 2018, but it has not yet been ratified.
From the beginning, there was no legal protection, and after the coup, human rights and the rule of law worsened, and the lives of sex workers became more challenging.
Ms. Soe Soe said, “if we have been bullied in the past, we can complain to the relief groups. So we get the courage to defend ourselves. We are not as brave as we once were now that these organizations have disbanded. Security is nonexistent. We have to work with anxiety.”