Is a war being waged on sex work in Thailand?
As regular readers of this website along with anyone who has ever traveled to cities like Bangkok and Pattaya would know the country of Thailand is known around the world for its large and vivacious sex industry. Even many of the more modern countries such as those in Europe which have fully legalized open prostitution can’t hold a match to Thailand’s infamous adult nightlife in terms of scope or variety (though Japan certainly gives the place a run for its money).
Despite this reality there are those who like to turn their head and pretend that no such thing exists. Lately they seem to be partnering up with those who know what exists but want for whatever reason to shut it all down or at least go through the motions.
In the past I have written about periods of repression in particular red light and other adult areas. For the most part these seemed to be temporary and limited to specific places. At least they were not tied to any nationwide organized plan to shut down sex work once and for all. As far as I know there is still no such plan though the words and actions of many in positions of power do seem to suggest that there are more than a few shot callers in the land of smiles who like to see sex work eliminated all together.
Channel NewsAsia of Singapore recently published a report claiming that Thailand is in the midst of a war against the sex industry in Thailand. At least that what’s the title suggests. Reading a little further into the article reveals something else. Nonetheless many people living in country seem to be convinced that there is a concerted effort to at least limit if not eliminate sex work. At least two different people sent me links to this article over the last few hours and others including some who have lived in Thailand for years have otherwise suggested to me that they think major changes are in the works.
As the report indicates the minister of tourism has come out publicly against sex work which is aimed at foreign men. According to the article Tourism Minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul said that
“Tourists don’t come to Thailand for such a thing. They come here for our beautiful culture”. She went on to say, “We want Thailand to be about quality tourism. We want the sex industry gone”.
One is left to wonder who exactly the “we” she refers to entails but suffice to say the tens of thousands of sex workers who make a living in the industry are probably not among them. I wouldn’t imagine the owners of bars and massage parlors would be included either. Those in official positions who collect unofficial taxes would also probably not be behind such a campaign. Fortunately for all of them no such official campaign seems to exist.
Raids do seem to have picked up recently especially in Bangkok though as far as I know most led to nothing more than check ups. The large Nataree soapy massage parlor was closed down with the help of a Western religious-based organization that claims the place was involved in human trafficking. At least one report also claimed that at least one under aged woman was found on the premises. Since this all leads to good publicity and more donations for said organization one can wonder if the claims made are true. By their own admission said organization is totally opposed to sex work even when it is engaged in by adult women who enter the trade by their own choice. There is also the question of what exactly “human trafficking” entails since it seems to be used for anyone who to travels to engage in sex work even though it is rarely if ever used to describe people who migrate to engage in other forms of work which are often lower paid and statistically more dangerous.
One may also wonder why so little time has been spent reporting that most of the raids looking for immigrant workers and underage girls have led to nothing. The majority of places which have been raided apparently did not employ either. As far as I can tell even the anti sex work outfit from abroad only claims that such a thing occurred in one place. This would suggest that perhaps such things aren’t as common as a lot the opponents of sex work like to claim.
No feeling person is in favor of the exploitation of other human beings. Unfortunately this is not the kind of thing that is decided by some open and democratic process where those who are against such things simply pull a lever and eliminate them for all times. All sorts of things have gone into the creation of the society we find ourselves in today. That must be kept in mind if any kind of serious decisions or actions can ever be made. For my part I simply observe and study and report my findings here for the entertainment of the reader. I make no recommendations or suggestions to anyone but I can’t help but point out glaring contradictions and hypocrisy once in a while.
Many of those quoted in the NewsAsia report mention that it is economic circumstances which drive most women into the sex industry. That is probably true of any industry. How many Thai women would volunteer to work at the local 7 Eleven shop for no pay? This is obviously not limited to Thailand. The Independent recently ran a report claiming that female students are turning to prostitution to deal with rising tuition costs in England. I would guess that most sex workers around the world are in it for the money. A few may actually be looking for sex too. Swingers clubs and the like have quite a few members in a lot of major cities around the world and people even pay to join them!
To its credit the NewsAsia report also mentions that country’s large sex industry is “largely catering to Thai men”. Perhaps this is a truth too obvious to cover up when talking to an Asian audience. That’s especially true in Singapore where prostitution is legal and regulated and large red light district like Geylang are visited by thousands of local men. The question then becomes whether this aspect of the industry is being targeted. I think the answer is no for various reasons that include the need to keep people calm at home while simultaneously placating whinging spectators from abroad.
In all truth I don’t think that any aspect of the industry is really being targeted in a widespread and organized way. According to the article in question police say there is no link between the tourism minister’s desire to rid the country of sex work and the rash of recent raids. That sounds right to me.
When all is said and done some places have been visited. Some places have been warned. One or two places have even been shut down. There has been a clear shift by people with resources to attract a new type of family tourism to Thailand which includes promoting Pattaya as a real getaway destination. I don’t know how many people would visit that city for the beaches alone but apparently some think it can be done. Or at least that’s what they are saying. In the meantime over a hundred thousand women and countless other men and ladyboys continue to make a living by providing sexual services to local and foreign men in exchange for money.