- sex workers are often immigrants, be they laotian, burmese or cambodian, essentially economic refugees.
- almost all are poor and uneducated. you don’t go from college to sex work in this country.
- many are children. an estimated third of thailand’s sex industry is underage.
- in one study, 40% of prostitutes had been physically abused as a child
- in that same study, 48% had been sexually assaulted
- in one study, researchers found that 57% of sex workers surveyed had been raped in prostitution
- 55% of the women were physically assaulted in prostitution
- 56% suffered past or current homelessness
- 47% had pornography made of them while they were in prostitution
- of that same group surveyed, coping mechanisms like drug and alcohol addiction were rampant (56% and 39%, respectively)
- some are HIV+. an estimated 19% of freelance sex workers in bangkok are HIV+ (though it drops considerably for bars girls) once they are HIV+, there’s even fewer places for them to find work and acceptance due to social stigma
- some of them will have a child (possibly yours) and will probably be unable to care for the child until they have stopped sex work, leaving them with a family member in another province.
- some of them will contract HIV either servicing farangs or later when they begin servicing thai men and pass it to their children or husbands.
- many will be ostracized from their communities or families because while they are accepted, sex workers are rarely welcomed
Social customs and laws in Thailand partly explain the expansive state of the sex industry and trafficking. Too often women and girls find themselves feeling like the best option for their life, financially anyway, is to become a prostitute. One sad example is that if a girl becomes pregnant she is forced to drop out of school, which ostensibly tells society and women in particular that they have no future if they get pregnant. Girls who become young mothers are given the double disadvantage of having to find work without a proper education, which means that they are entrenched in a cycle of poverty. If you’re poor and uneducated you’re at risk for getting pregnant, which keeps you poor and uneducated. Not exactly a hopeful scenario. When a woman has few options and little education, she is vulnerable to being trafficked or deciding herself to enter prostitution to support herself and her child, a decision that usually proves fatal for the mother and disastrous for the child. Women and girls in Thailand deserve more options than this.
Some of the scholarship students in my organization have gotten pregnant and they were merely crossed of the list and their scholarship given to someone else. When I asked if there was any way for the girls to stay in school or for us to support them, I was met with blank looks. The fact that girls are not allowed to continue school reinforces in Thai minds that these girls have no future and little value. Not to mention that the system feels a little bit like a setup since sex education is a widely ignored topic in particularly rural Thai schools. If girls and boys aren’t being educated on safe sex or the consequences of premarital sex, how can girls (and never boys, I might add) be discarded when they become pregnant? Seems entirely unjust to me.
There is hope, however, in the form of a new law being debated that would allow teen mothers to continue their public education. This editorial from The Nation is in full support of this law:
These girls should receive a second chance. Instead of sanctioning them, parents, friends and society should try to be more understanding, give them moral support, and allow them to continue with school. The alternative is that they end up in low-paying work, or prostitution, and cannot raise their child properly. Their self-esteem is affected, and that certainly affects their children.
The US Department of State’s 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report was released last week. Since I live in Thailand and see the effects of trafficking everywhere, I was not at all surprised that Thailand received a Tier 2 WL. This classification is defined as follows:
TIER 2 WATCH LIST
Countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards, AND: a) the absolute number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing; b) there is a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year; or, c) the determination that a country is making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with minimum standards was based on commitments by the country to take additional future steps over the next year
I take this to be essentially a C. Thailand might be “making significant efforts,” but clearly the efforts are barely making a dent in the massive amount of trafficking for sex slavery, sex labor, child labor and illegal labor. Go here to see the details of Thailand’s scoring.
Slate had an interesting (though not very thorough) piece on how the violence in Bangkok has affected the sex industry. Though really nothing more than a few conversations with sexpats (which echo many I have had the misfortune to endure), the article points out a bright spot in the protests: maybe more of the perverts will stay away.
Men—and there are thousands of them—who live heavily intoxicated here for weeks at a time, stumbling around from bar to bar, prostitute to prostitute, had a rude awakening when Thailand’s major sex tourism destinations were disrupted. “They fucked this country up,” a man named Tom told me indignantly, as though he had been scammed on a time-share. “I’ve been coming here for years. I’m 75. Where else am I going to find a 25-year-old girl who will sleep with me?” Indeed. How inconvenient for Thailand to have political turmoil that disrupts elderly men’s Viagra-fueled sex binges. Couldn’t they have waited—until he was dead, perhaps—to hash out their grievances with what they feel is an illegitimate government?
A great article from the Bangkok Post by Sanitsuda Ekachai exposes the return to “normalcy” in Bangkok after the protests for what it is: a dubious achievement. She quite rightly states that while it is nice to be free from violence in the Thai capital, perhaps Thais should try a bit harder to create a new normal by pursuing the Buddhist precepts of sila and standing up against the social inequality and notorious sex trade that defines normalcy in Bangkok.
“Normal. How sweet the word sounds, after two weeks of excruciating political tension which culminated in the torching of central Bangkok…
The elation was punctured when, at the traffic light, I spotted a little girl, not more than seven years old, looking tired and dejected, with jasmine garlands in her hand. Schools were already open that day. She should have been in class, learning how to spell. What was she doing on the street?
But isn’t the sight of garland children normal on Bangkok streets?
There are so many other things that we have come to view as part of our normal life in the capital. Rickety slums alongside luxury mansions. Beggars in front of shopping centres. Labourers toiling for a pittance. The daily extortion on the street when low-income policemen fleece low-income motorcyclists…
But what is normal cannot lead to disaster, can it? Why then the shocking explosion of fiery rage that shook Bangkok to the core?
Since our supposedly Buddhist society is desperately struggling to recover from the worst political violence in its modern history, let’s take a look at how Buddhism defines “normal”.
As Buddhists, we can recite by heart the five sila or precepts: no killing, no stealing, no sexual exploitation, no harmful speech, no intake of intoxicants. The Pali word “sila”, however, does not only mean precept, it also means the state of normality. This normalcy or balance breaks down when we kill, steal, exploit others, engage in hate speech, and/or take intoxicants. It is only when we observe the “sila” that we can maintain the state of normalcy, within and without. Look around. Can we honestly say our society is normal?
The recent bloody crackdown and senseless city arson aside, the crime rate in Thailand is one of the world’s highest. The country is an international hub of the sex trade, human trafficking and drugs. The education system and the mass media play a significant role in perpetuating oppressive values. What else has become “normal” in society? Strict social hierarchy? Angry and alienated youths who use violence to vent their frustrations? Landlessness and indebted farmers? Ethnic prejudices? Police corruption? Military supremacy? Rape and sexual harassment? Cleric patriarchy? The commercialisation of Buddhism? The destruction of the local villagers’ health and sources of livelihood for big business? Stark and persistent social inequity amid city affluence? Political centralisation that has no room for voices on the ground? Censorship?
The list is endless.
No, this is not a normal situation. This is a society without sila.
Sila is based on the principle of non-exploitation. It’s simple. Don’t harm others nor yourself. Do what is beneficial to others and to yourself. That is why Buddhism strongly advises against anger and hatred. The first target of destruction is we ourselves.
As individuals, we can sit and meditate all we want to instil inner calm, but we cannot hope to calm the anger of those on the receiving end of injustice if we do not understand the structural imbalance that hurts the weak and the poor and numbs us into hopelessness.
We need to tackle this inequality, this injustice. But how we do it must be in line with sila. If not, our supposedly normal lives will drift dangerously towards violence once again.”
I very much wish that Thais would take to the streets of Bangkok the way the redshirts did to protest the more urgent state of human rights abuses, sexual slavery and social inequality. While an equitable democracy is a slow process, the fact that police and government officials ignore the widespread sale of women and girls could and should be stopped NOW. An estimated 1 in 3 Northern Thai families has a daughter or other family member in the sex trade. Isn’t this worth protesting? Where are the people fighting for the rights of these women? Sadly, the “normal” thing to do in Thailand is to ignore that sex slavery exists at all.
this guy. this guy makes me angry:
“Economics professor Kenneth Ng is the scribe behind (), a site that guides tourists through Thailand’s sex trade.
The Los Angeles Daily News reports:
At (), users can access a wide range of tourist advice about Thailand, including restaurant reviews and stories about riding motorcycles around Bangkok.But its main focus is sex tourism, or what Ng calls “the Thailand Girl Scene.” Ng and other bloggers offer their take on where to find the prettiest and most eager “bar girls,” and how to negotiate a fee.
While postings do warn men to stay away from underage girls, they also make references to paying adult women for sex.
In a recent post on his site, Ng defends his freedom of speech and his right to portray the “real Southeast Asia.”"
i took out the name/link to his site cause i will not be responsible for sending anyone there. ng, a professor at california state university northridge, has since responded to criticism and “reluctantly” removed that part of his site. sure, he might be within his right to freedom of speech. sure, he might not have broken any laws, but have we no moral or possibly legal grounds to penalize this guy? fire him? boycott classes? publicly flog him? one of the many, many problems inherent in the sex trade is that it’s made up of people not doing anything explicitly wrong — there are very few legally punishable offenses taking place. the entire bangkok bar scene was created in such a way to protect the people profiting from the sex trade. men go to “dance bars” where they can pay bar fines for the “company” of any of the “dancers” (enough “” for you?) of their choosing. nothing wrong with that. the club owner, the mamasans (pimps) and the patrons themselves could claim ignorance that money is being exchanged for sex. the only vulnerable person in this equation is the thai woman herself (very few foreign men are ever arrested and it’s difficult to prove guilt anyway).
ng was making it easier for men to visit the brothels. is that illegal? no. but his role is essentially that of a bar tout who stands in the street at nana or patpong inquiring of every passerby “ping pong show?” (hint: NOT a show of the beloved sport of ping pong). while neither of these roles are explicitly wrong, the sex trade will continue to profit and flourish until men in these roles are punished. the laws (in both america and thailand) are crafted in such a way that the bar owners, the mamasans, the touts, the recruiters, the security are not doing anything punishable by law (unless lines are crossed, etc.). the only person in the sex-for-money equation breaking the law is the girl selling herself, and she is by definition and precedent, the weakest person in that situation. i have been to some of the bars, bars with names like g-spot and casanova, and met these women. of the women i talked to, all of them were from the poor, rural north. i’ve met women who were raped, women who are drug addicted and women supporting children. these are the sexy girls, the dancing girls that ng is promoting. furthermore, the thai women are further punishable by being ostracized from their communities, burdened later in life with disease and they bear children they cannot support once their short-lived careers are over. to end this injustice, touts (like kenneth ng) need to be arrested, mamasans need to be put in jail for human rights abuses and sex tourists and pedophiles should be vilified instead of courted by vulgar businesses.
in my mind, kenneth ng is directly responsible for promoting illegal activity (though laughable, prostitution is illegal in thailand). if he were promoting the drug trade in mexico or making it easy for people to illegally enter canada, he would be fired for publicizing that type of illegal activity. but since it involves a wink wink industry in which everyone looks the other way and the only people really hurt are poor, rural thai women, no one cares. it’s only a freedom of speech issue. like an assault-rifle toting tea-partier, ng is well within his legal rights, but it nonetheless seems unnecessary and highly questionable to promote an illegal activity in another country. if i went to california state university northridge you better believe i would boycott his classes, probably result to even pettier behavior like egging his car (not right, but i’m being transparent here). if you would like to email or call kenneth ng and tell him what you think of his site and his past behavior (he has taken it down, to be fair), you can find him here.
MTV Exit has provided a great resource on their website in the form of an entertaining anime-style cartoon to help educate people about trafficking. It can be difficult to stand and lecture specifically kids about the dangers of trafficking, because talking about it is not only culturally sensitive but also not a lot of fun, so this anime helps avoid losing audience interest. The best part is the soundtrack is available in English, Thai, Japanese, Tagalog and Mandarin so it can be widely used to educate about trafficking.
We have showed it to our students and they not only paid attention but also said that they learned something. They have other documentaries that target Western audiences as well (by using Angelina Jolie as narrator). They’re well executed (Radiohead!), informational and worth watching.
I moved to Northern Thailand a year and a half ago to work for a trafficking prevention organization. Though this in no way qualifies me as an expert on the subject, at least a dozen people from back home have emailed me to ask what they can do to either find a job with an anti-trafficking organization or how they can help with the problem in general. This blog is an answer to those questions.
The concept of “trafficking,” like the act itself, is difficult to pin down. I came here thinking that trafficking encompassed mainly forced labor and sex slavery, but trafficking is even bigger and uglier than that. My focus will be primarily on the problem of the sex trade in Thailand and how trafficking exacerbates social inequality, disease and ignored injustices. There are also many encouraging efforts to combat trafficking that are as varied as private orphanages, government initiatives and rehabilitation programs.
People may take issue with my definition of what is trafficking or what helps prevent trafficking, but really I’m just sharing my experience. In addition to providing information, I want to personally commit to really exploring issues instead of just taking it easy, as it is so tempting to do in the land of sanook (fun) and araigodai (whatever). Trafficking is quite the cause celebre right now (not to mention a centuries-old injustice), and I find myself smack dab in the middle of the largest recruiting grounds for the sex trade in the world. This blog is my answer to how to help, my personal research and my responsibility as someone living in northern Thailand.