Drawing on ethnographic field research on female sex workers and male clients in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s global sex industry, this paper complicates our understanding of human trafficking in two ways. First, introducing the term perverse humanitarianism, the paper extends work on carceral feminism by offering concrete examples of interagency commitments between NGOs and the police. Second, my ethnography reveals that women framed their relationships with male clients as mutually beneficial because the men provided them with alternate pathways to economic mobility outside of sex work. Drawing on the same tropes of victimhood employed by the NGOs, sex workers elicited sympathy from male clients that they leveraged into gifts of money. Using men’s charitable gifts, many women became small entrepreneurs who opened local businesses and empowered other sex workers far beyond what NGOs were able to provide.
The author would like to thank Oluwakemi Balogun, Hana Brown, Jessica Cobb, Catherine Connell, Jennifer Jones, Stanley Thangaraj, Ashley Mears, Orlando Patterson, and Robert Vargas for their penetrating comments and critical feedback on various drafts of this paper.
Hoang, K.K. (2016), "Perverse Humanitarianism and the Business of Rescue: What’s Wrong with NGOs and What’s Right about the “Johns”?", Perverse Politics? Feminism, Anti-Imperialism, Multiplicity (Political Power and Social Theory, Vol. 30), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, pp. 19-43. https://doi.org/10.1108/S0198-871920160000030007Download as .RIS
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