An urgent message reached Blue Dragon one day in late 2021. There was a rumour that some boys in the central Vietnam province of Quang Nam had been sexually abused and were now infected with HIV.
The person contacting us had few details. They knew some boys aged around 15 had been diagnosed with the virus after meeting a man using Blued, a gay dating app. But that was all they could tell us.
Armed with that scant information, Blue Dragon started looking into what had happened, and how.
What we found grew more shocking by the day. We spoke with several boys, aged 14 to 16, who had met a man they knew only by his first name, Cuong. There were older teens, too, but Vietnamese law recognises children as aged under 16; teens aged 17 and 18 are not considered as victims of child abuse.
The boys had used the dating app to meet men as a way of making money through the hardships of COVID. One boy just wanted to afford a mobile phone. None of them knew what they were getting themselves into. None suspected that Cuong was HIV positive.
At the outset, Blue Dragon reported to police and the government. But the children were unwilling at first to make statements and we had no idea who had abused them.
Some kids told us that Cuong worked for an electrical repair company. Others said he owned a restaurant. There was just no concrete information about him at all; it was like looking for a ghost.
However, our years of rescuing people from slavery have taught us a lot about looking for ghosts. Even though Cuong had gone to great lengths to hide his identity, we put together the clues over several months.
Finally, we knew who he was and could report to the police.
Now that the boys knew they were safe, they agreed to make statements. Blue Dragon’s lawyers sat beside them as they reported in detail the terrible abuse they had suffered.
After 4 months of collecting evidence, Cuong is now in custody. The police are piecing together the case that will be presented in court later this year. If convicted, Cuong faces many years in prison.
Some important questions remain unanswered. How is it that the boys were all using Blued despite being underage? How many other men were involved, and how many victims in total are yet to be found? Blue Dragon is continuing to look for answers.
With the accused in custody, he can no longer harm more children. But this case is far from over. The police investigation is continuing and Blue Dragon stands ready to support all of the children and young people who have been affected.