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Prostitution in Thailand is illegal [8], but in practice it is tolerated and regulated.

Since the Vietnam War, Thailand has gained international notoriety among travelers from many countries as a sex tourism destination.

Contents

Position in society and extent of prostitution

Thai society has its own unique set of often contradictory sexual mores. Visiting a prostitute or a paid mistress is a not uncommon though not necessarily acceptable behavior for men. Many Thai women, for example, believe the existence of prostitution actively reduces the incidence of rape.[1]

Another reason contributing to this issue is that ordinary Thais deem themselves tolerant of other people, especially those whom they perceive as downtrodden. This acceptance has allowed prostitution to flourish without much of the extreme social stigma found in other countries. According to a 1996 study, people in Thailand generally disapprove of prostitution, but the stigma for prostitutes is not lasting or severe, especially since many prostitutes support their parents through their work. Some men do not mind marrying former prostitutes.[2] A 2009 study of subjective well-being of prostitutes found that among the sex workers surveyed, sex work had become normalized.[3]

This cultural milieu combined with poverty and the lure of easy money have caused prostitution in general and sex tourism in particular to flourish in Thailand.

Estimates of the number of prostitutes vary widely and are subject to controversy. A 1980 study put the number of prostitutes in Thailand at 500,000 to 700,000. A 2004 estimate by Dr. Nitet Tinnakul from Chulalongkorn University gives a total of 2.8 million sex workers in Thailand, including 2 million women, 20,000 adult males and 800,000 minors under the age of 18.[4] One estimate published in 2003 placed the trade at US$ 4.3 billion per year or about three percent of the Thai economy.[5] It has been suggested for example that there may be as many as 10,000 prostitutes on Koh Samui alone, an island resort destination not usually associated with prostitution, and that at least 10% of tourist dollars may be spent on the sex trade.[6]

Although centers such as Bangkok (Patpong, Nana Plaza, and Soi Cowboy), Pattaya, and Phuket (Patong) are often identified as primary tourist "prostitution" areas, with Hat Yai and other Malaysian border cities catering to Malaysians, prostitution takes place in nearly every major city and province in the country.

Chiang Mai, Koh Samui (Chaweng and Lamai) are also major centers. In Bangkok, many roads have saunas or massage parlors, with some as large and luxurious as four-star or five-star hotels, with comparable amenities, that front for sex. The so-called Ratchadapisek Entertainment District, for example, running along Ratchadapisek Road near the Huay Kwang intersection in Bangkok, features several large entertainment venues which include sexual massage. Even "concerts" or "karaoke" style bars in small provincial towns have their own versions, with scantily dressed women singing Traditional Thai music.

Many sex industry workers in Thailand – certainly those servicing foreigners or "farang" in the sex tourist trade – have origins in the impoverished northern parts of the country, including for example, the Chiang Mai and Isaan regions.[citation needed]

Legal situation and history

Prostitution had been illegal in Thailand [9] since 1960, when a law was passed under pressure from the United Nations. However, the prohibition was seldom enforced. Instead, the government has instituted a system of monitoring sex workers in order to prevent their mistreatment and to control the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.[1] The 1960 Law was repealed by The Prevention and Suppression of Prostitution Act, B.E. 2539 (1996)[10].

Thailand has an ancient, continuous tradition of legal texts, generally described under the heading of Dhammasattha literature (Thai pron., tam-ma-sat), wherein prostitution is variously defined, and universally banned. The era of traditional legal texts came to an end in the early 20th century, and the significance of these earlier texts on both the writ and spirit of modern legislation cannot be overlooked.[7]

The "Entertainment Places Act of 1966" is one of the modern laws regulating massage parlors, go-go bars, karaoke bars, bathhouses and similar establishments. Under this law such establishments are required to be licensed. The law does not expressedly permit prostitution, but allows for "service providers" and "bath service providers," differentiated from regular, non-sexual service staff.[8] For example, there are massage parlors where men come and look at women, who are sitting separated by a glass wall (known as a "fishbowl"), and may choose whom they want. The women go to a room where they bathe and massage the customers, but in reality may do much more than that. It is left for the customer to decide what kind of "special service" he really wants, and because of this, such establishments are able to avoid being designated as illegal brothels.[citation needed]

The Entertainment Places Act was enacted at a time when the Thai Government thought to increase state revenue from the "rest and recreation" activities of the U.S. Armed Forces stationed in both Thailand and Vietnam.[citation needed]

The Prevention and Suppression of Prostitution Act, B.E. 2539 (1996)[11] (the “Prostitution Law”), is the central legal framework prohibiting prostitution. The law defines prostitution as any act done to gratify the sexual desire of another in exchange for money or any other benefit, but only if it is done “in a promiscuous manner”. The Prostitution Law does not define what exactly a “promiscuous manner” constitutes, and the act of prostitution by itself is not outlawed anymore, while solicitation is. The crime of solicitation is vaguely defined. A “John” soliciting the services of a prostitute is liable under the Prostitution Law only if the solicitation is done “openly and shamelessly or causes a nuisance to the public”, the penalty being a fine of up to 1,000 baht.[9]

Legalization attempt

In 2003, the Ministry of Justice considered legalizing prostitution as an official occupation with health benefits and taxable income and held a public discussion on the topic. Legalization and regulation was proposed as a means to increase tax revenue, reduce corruption, and improve the situation of the workers.[5] However, nothing further was done.

HIV/AIDS

The prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Thailand, and especially among sex workers, has been the subject of significant media and academic attention, and Thailand hosted the XV International AIDS Conference, 2004.

Mechai Viravaidya, known as "Mr. Condom",[10] has campaigned tirelessly to increase the awareness of safe sex practices and use of condoms in Thailand. He served as minister for tourism and AIDS prevention from 1991 to 1992; he also founded the restaurant chain Cabbages and Condoms.

After the enactment of the Thai government's first five-year plan to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the country, including Mechai's "100% condom program", as of 1994, the use of condoms during commercial sex jumped markedly, to 90%. No current data on the use of condoms is available. The program instructed sex workers to refuse intercourse without a condom, and monitored health clinic statistics in order to locate brothels that allow sex without condoms.[1]

Thailand was praised for its efforts in the fight against HIV/AIDS during the late 1990s, but a study in 2005 found that the lack of public support in the previous several years had led to a resurgence of the disease.[11]

Reasons for the existence of prostitution in Thailand

Although prostitution in Thailand is widely believed to exist because of the lack of employment opportunities for large numbers of uneducated rural women, particularly during the period of the Vietnam war, when a large number of US troops passed through Thailand, the truth is that widespread prostitution existed in this part of the world for thousands of years. It is noted that the Khmer emperors had as many as a thousand concubines at their disposal.

However, the main reason that prostitution is a lasting industry in Thailand is that many Thai men of all levels of society, especially government officials, actively protect and promote the sex industry, the latter through entertainment-related media and activities.[citation needed]

Godfather of Prostitution exposes politicians

Chuwit Kamolvisit, owner of several massage parlors in Bangkok and considered by many "a godfather of prostitution" in Thailand, revealed in 2003 that some of his best clients were senior politicians and police officers, whom he also claimed to have paid, over a decade, more than £1.5m in bribes so that his business, the real business of selling sex, could thrive.[12] “I used to buy whole trays of Rolex watches for police officers. I used to carry cash in black plastic bags for them (police)."[13]

The Guardian of the UK has stated, "He's the godfather of the Thai sex industry – and what he knows about corruption could bring down the government."[12] The Thai media was gripped by Chuwit's claims and the headlines ran: Top Cops Got Free Sex And Drinks.

Although Thailand's sex trade aimed at foreigners is overt and raucous, the enormous industry that caters exclusively to Thai men had never before been publicly scrutinised, let alone the sexual exploits of Thailand's unchallengeable officials.[12]

Government Politicians and Prostitution

Support of prostitution is pervasive in political circles, as the BBC News reported in 2003 that "MPs from Thailand's ruling Thai Rak Thai Party are getting hot under the collar over plans by the party leadership to ban them from having mistresses or visiting brothels" … "One MP told The Nation newspaper that if the rules were enforced, the party would only be able to field around 30 candidates, compared to its more than 200 sitting MPs."[14]

Attitudes towards women can be described by MP Thirachai Sirikhan, informing The Nation newspaper, "To have a mia noi (mistress) is an individual's right. There should be no problem as long as the politician causes no trouble to his family or society".[14]

Having many wives was a common attribute of Thai culture in the past, but because prostitution is so pervasive, a common attitude among women is that they expect their husbands to cheat, and don't believe them if they deny it.[citation needed]

Both politicians and police have been supporting and indulging in the prostitution industry openly. Khun Tavich, a veteran politician at 76 years was under fire in 2005 for impregnating a 14 year old girl, who worked across the street from the congressional building.[15] It is well-known, for example, that the father of a female member of Parliament is the owner of the Poseidon massage parlor on Ratchadapisek Road, a fairly deluxe establishment with several stories of jacuzzi-equipped rooms.

After a police raid on some Bangkok parlours where policemen had sex with prostitutes, "Acting Suthisan Police chief Colonel Varanvas Karunyathat defended the police action, saying that the (police) officers involved needed to have sex with the masseuses to gain evidence for the arrest."[16] Apparently, this is standard practice as a separate police force did the same in Pattaya in May 2007.[17]

Even more evidence of politicians supporting the prostitution industry and the sexual habits of elderly Thai men in general can be gleaned from the fact that Viagra is being given to elderly voters in exchange for their votes in an election drive.[18]

Interview with a Thai human rights activist

Kritaya Archavanitkul, a Thai human rights activist, interviewed by UC Berkeley Institute of International Studies, said,

"This is sad to say, that the Thai social structure tends to accept this sort of abuse, and not only to accept – we have laws, we have bills that vitally support the existence of these sex establishments. That's one thing. And also, we have a Mafia that is also involved in the political parties, so this keeps the abuse going. The second reason is a cultural factor. I don't know about other countries, but in Thailand the sexual behavior of Thai men accepts prostitution. Every class of Thai men accept it, although not all Thai men practice it. So they don't see it as a problem. So when it comes to the policymakers, who are mostly men, of course, they don't see this as a problem. They know there are many women who are brought into prostitution in Thailand. They know that some are treated with brutal violence. But they don't think it's a terrible picture. They think it's just the unlucky cases. And, because of the profit, I think there are many people with an interest involved, so they try to turn a blind eye to this problem.

[19]

Organized Crime

The red-light districts of Thai cities are home to Chinese-owned brothels, casinos, and entertainment facilities that function both as sources of income and as operations centers for trafficking in humans and narcotics and extortion.[20] The Chinese organized crime groups engaging in human trafficking, called the “Piglet Gangs” by the Thai police.[20]

Forms of prostitution

Prostitution in Thailand can be found in a number of venues, including brothels, massage parlors, saunas, hostess bars, go-go bars, "beer bars" and karaoke places.

Body massage

Body massage (Ab ob nuat, washing and massage in Thai) in Thailand most often consists of either an oil massage or a bath treatment which might include sexual services.

Thailand is also known for a non-sexual traditional style of massage, completely unrelated to the erotic body massage. Traditional, "ancient", or "therapeutic" Thai massage (Nuat Phaen Boran, Thai: นวดแผนโบราณ) is very relaxing and beneficial. The masseuse or masseur is well trained, often at temple academies such as Wat Pho in Bangkok.

Bars catering to foreigners

The most prevalent form of interaction with Westerners—though it is far less common than the Thai sex trade—is through the various forms of bars. Young women ("bar girls", or men in the case of gay bars, or transsexual "kathoeys") are employed by the bars either as dancers (in the case of go-go bars) or simply as hostesses who will encourage customers to buy them drinks.

Go-go bars are distinguished by having dancing on stage similar to a strip club in Western countries. Beer bars and hostess bars are similar. Beer bars are outdoors, fairly small, and often clustered together with other beer bars; hostess bars are generally indoors.


Apart from these sorts of bar, there are a number of other venues for the sex trade; some bars, while not employing staff as sex workers, will allow women to solicit clients. Many Thai prostitutes have the ultimate goal of meeting a rich Westerner as husband or boyfriend.[21]

Sex tourism

Thailand is a major destination for tourists from the Western World who travel to this country to have sex with prostitutes. Sex tourism in Thailand can trace its origins to the presence of American military on rest and recreation leave during the Vietnam War [22].The huge economic disparities between Thai locals and the Western tourists contribute to the proliferation of sex tourism to Thailand.

Child sex tourism is a serious problem in the country. Thailand, along with Cambodia, India, Brazil and Mexico has been identified as a leading hotspot of child sexual exploitation.[23]

Prostitution and crime in Thailand

Child prostitution

The exact number of child-prostitutes in Thailand is not known, but Thailand’s Health System Research Institute reports that children in prostitution make up 40% of prostitutes in Thailand [24].

The reasons why and how children are commercially sexually exploited include [22]:

  • Poverty: a high proportion of the population lives in poverty.
  • Ethnic hill tribe children: these children live in the border region of northern Thailand. They suffer from disproportionate levels of poverty in relation to the general population and most of them lack citizenship cards. This means that they do not have access to health care or primary school, which limits their further education or employment opportunities.
  • Trafficked children: Many children are trafficked into or within the country through criminal networks, acquaintances, former trafficking victims and border police and immigration officials who transport them to brothels across Thailand.
  • Sense of duty: According to traditional customs the first duty of a girl is to support her family in any way she can. Due to this sense of duty and to pay off family debts, many girls have been forced into prostitution and some have even ‘married’ their abusers.
  • Wealthy tourists: Child sex tourism is a serious problem, numerous tourists from the Western World travel to Thailand to have sex with children.
  • Foreign child sex offenders: Some foreign sex offenders residing in Thailand have taken up professions with access to children or are involved in trafficking children and organising sex tours for others.

Children are exploited in sex establishments and are also approached directly in the street by tourists seeking sexual contact [25].

Human Trafficking

Thailand is listed by the UNODC as both a top destination for victims of human trafficking and a major source of trafficked persons.[26]

A proportion of prostitutes over the age of 18, including foreign nationals from Asia and Europe, are in a state of forced sexual servitude and slavery.[27]

There are reports of bribe taking by some low- or mid-level police officers facilitating the most severe forms of trafficking in persons [28].

Ethnic minorities such as northern hill tribe peoples, many of whom do not have legal status in the country, are at a disproportionately high risk for trafficking internally and abroad. Within the country women are trafficked from the impoverished northeast and the north to Bangkok for sexual exploitation.

According to the 2003 documentary Trading Women, most women trafficked into Thailand come from Myanmar; others come from Cambodia, Laos and China. The film cites as root causes of the trafficking problem the economic and political situation in Myanmar, the destruction of the traditional economy in Thai hill tribe regions resulting from development and opium suppression programs, the inability of many members of Thai hill tribes to obtain proper papers and participate in society, and the rampant corruption among police and border guards.

It is common that Thai women are lured to Japan and sold to Yakuza-controlled brothels where they are forced to work off their price. The reason why it is so easy to lure these women from neighboring countries is because Thailand has 56 unofficial crossover points and 300 checkpoints where people can simply cross over the borders without the need for any paperwork. This makes it easier for exploiters to get by without a hitch.[1] Most legal entry points into Thailand demand some i.d.--either a passport or an identity card, but the problem of people who cross borders to work every day (like the USA/Mexican border) makes lax the rules due to familiarity of officers and frequent travelers.

In a landmark case in 2006, one such woman filed a civil suit in Thailand against the Thai perpetrators, who had previously been convicted in criminal court. The woman had managed to escape from the Yakuza-controlled prostitution ring by killing the female Thai mama-san and had spent five years in a Japanese prison.[29]

Crimes against tourists

Petty theft and druggings of patrons of prostitutes, as well as numerous murders of those who visit prostitutes have occurred in Thailand. One high profile example is that of Toby Charnaud, 41, whose former prostitute wife clubbed him to death with an iron bar and wooden staves.[30] This incident, like many other murders by former prostitutes of foreigners, are fueled by the Thai government's ban on foreign ownership of property, and the corruption and temptation of large amounts of cash that comes with it.

Many foreigners in Thailand are highly suspicious of police collusion with prostitutes.[citation needed] According to The Guardian, Thailand has the highest death rate of any nation for Britons on holiday, some 224 Britons died in Thailand between April 2005 and March 2006, although most of those were long-term elderly British residents.[31].

Organizations

Several support organizations for sex workers exist in Thailand. Most of them attempt to discourage women from taking up or continuing the trade.

EMPOWER is a Thai NGO that takes a neutral stance towards sex work and offers educational and counseling services to female sex workers. It has been operating since 1985 and has offices in Patpong (Bangkok), Chiang Mai, Mae Sai and Patong Beach.

SWIG (Sex Workers in Group) is a recent offshoot of EMPOWER, offering support to male and female sex workers in Patpong and Pattaya. It offers English classes, teaches safe sex, distributes condoms, and promotes health and safety with their gym and discounted medical examinations. The newly formed organization SISTERS works with transgender sex workers in Bangkok and Pattaya.

FACE is an organization that focuses on child prostitution and trafficking and is the main partner of the UN in the country. DEPDC is an organization that battles trafficking of women and children.

The Population and Community Development Association (PDA), headed by Mechai Viravaidya, pioneered family planning and safe sex strategies in Thailand over thirty years ago. The organization no longer focuses expressly on safe sex issues, but continues to provide information, condoms, and prevention programs around the country.

International Justice Mission is a U.S.-based Christian human rights organization which operates in Thailand to rescue brothel workers held in sexual slavery.

Books and documentaries

  • Jordan Clark's 2005 documentary Falang: Behind Bangkok's Smile takes a rather critical view of sex tourism in Thailand.
  • David A. Feingold's 2003 documentary Trading Women explores the phenomenon of women from the surrounding countries being trafficked into Thailand.
  • Travels in the Skin Trade: Tourism and the Sex Industry (1996, ISBN 0745311156) by Jeremy Seabrook describes the Thai sex industry and includes interviews with prostitutes and customers.
  • Cleo Odzer received her Ph.D. in anthropology with a thesis about prostitution in Thailand; her experiences during her three years of field research resulted in the 1994 book Patpong Sisters: An American Woman's View of the Bangkok Sex World (ISBN 1559702818). In the book she describes the Thai prostitutes she got to know as quick-witted entrepreneurs rather than exploited victims.
  • Hello My Big Big Honey!: Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews by Dave Walker and Richard S. Ehrlich (2000, ISBN 0867194731) is a compilation of love letters from Westerners to Thai prostitutes, and interviews with the latter.
  • For an informative caricature of historical and contemporary sexual norms and mores of Thailand versus the West see the fiction novels of John Burdett including Bangkok 8 for the comparative anthropology of his half Thai-Western protagonist detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep.
  • Dennis Jon's 2005 documentary travelogue The Butterfly Trap provides a realistic and non-judgmental first person viewpoint of sex tourism in Thailand.

References

  1. ^ a b c d Thailand, in The International Encyclopedia of Sexuality, Volume I–IV 1997–2001, edited by Robert T. Francoeur
  2. ^ Sara Peracca, John Knodel, Chanpen Saengtienchai (16 July 1998), "Can Prostitutes Marry? Thai Attitued Toward Female Sex Workers", Social Science and Medicine 47 (2): 255–267 
  3. ^ Elizabeth Monk-Turner and Charlie Turner (December 23, 2009), "Subjective Well-being Among Those Who Exchange Sex and Money, Yunnan, China and Thailand", Social Indicators Research, doi:10.1007/s11205-009-9568-9 
  4. ^ "Prostitution: More Thais selling sex, study finds", The Nation, 3 January 2004, http://www.nationmultimedia.com/search/read.php?newsid=91309 
  5. ^ Paradise revealed, Taipei Times
  6. ^ See, e.g.: Andrew Huxley, ed., THAI LAW: BUDDHIST LAW
  7. ^ Jon Fox,Sex Laws in Thailand Part 2: Laws Regulating Commercial Sex and Entertainment PlacesThailand Law Forum, November 2009
  8. ^ Jon Fox, Sex Laws in Thailand Part 2: Laws Regulating Commercial Sex and Entertainment PlacesThailand Law Forum, November 2009
  9. ^ Thailand's 'Mr Condom' makes comeback, The World Today (7 September 2005)
  10. ^ Mechai renews crusade against the Aids threat The Nation, (September 5, 2005)
  11. ^ a b c The brothel king's revenge, The Guardian
  12. ^ Chuwit Page 2bangkok.com
  13. ^ a b Thai MPs protest mistress ban BBC News 2003
  14. ^ Thai law-maker & cleric exposed as illicit shaggers
  15. ^ Chuwit Page, 2Bangkok.com
  16. ^ PATTAYA VOLUNTEER POLICE INDULGE IN UZBEK STING OPERATION -> Pattaya Daily News : pattaya daily update news
  17. ^ Viagra used to bribe voters, Associated Press, 29 November 2007
  18. ^ UC Berkeley, Institute of International Studies
  19. ^ a b [1]
  20. ^ Jed Levine (19 May 2005), "Taking a Swing at new life", Daily Bruin, http://www.dailybruin.com/articles/2005/5/19/taking-a-swing-at-new-life/ 
  21. ^ a b [2]
  22. ^ [3]
  23. ^ [4]
  24. ^ [5]
  25. ^ [6]
  26. ^ UNICRI Trafficking in Minors, Report on Thailand 2005
  27. ^ [7]
  28. ^ Woman's Dying: Wish to punish traffickers who ruined her life The Nation, (January 23, 2006)
  29. ^ Thai bride 'killed and barbecued British husband' - Scotsman.com News
  30. ^ Holidays from Hell, The Guardian (August 3, 2007)

Further reading


Prostitution in Thailand is illegal, although in practice it is tolerated and partly regulated. Prostitution is practiced openly throughout the country [1][2] Local officials with commercial interests in prostitution often protect the practice. Trafficking in women and children for prostitution is a serious problem. The precise number of prostitutes is difficult to assess; estimates vary widely and are subject to national and international controversy.[3] Since the Vietnam War, Thailand has gained international notoriety among travelers from many countries as a sex tourism destination.[4]

Contents

Extent of prostitution

Estimates of the number of prostitutes vary widely and are subject to controversy. A 1974 study put the number of prostitutes at 500,000 to 700,000. A 2004 estimate by Dr. Nitet Tinnakul from Chulalongkorn University gives a total of 2.8 million sex workers, including 2 million women, 20,000 adult males and 800,000 minors under the age of 18.[5] One estimate published in 2003 placed the trade at US$ 4.3 billion per year or about three percent of the Thai economy.[6] It has been suggested for example that there may be as many as 10,000 prostitutes on Koh Samui alone, an island resort destination not usually associated with prostitution, and that at least 10% of tourist dollars may be spent on the sex trade.[7] According to a 2001 report by the World Health Organisation: "The most reliable suggestion is that there are between 150,000 and 200,000 sex workers."[8] A recent government survey found that there were 76,000 to 77,000 adult prostitutes in registered entertainment establishments; however, NGOs believed there were between 200,000 and 300,000 prostitutes.[3]

Although centers such as Bangkok (Patpong, Nana Plaza, and Soi Cowboy), Pattaya, and Phuket (Patong) are often identified as primary tourist "prostitution" areas, with Hat Yai and other Malaysian border cities catering to Malaysians, prostitution takes place in nearly every major city and province in the country.

Chiang Mai and Koh Samui (Chaweng and Lamai) are also major centers. In Bangkok, the so-called Ratchadaphisek entertainment district, running along Ratchadaphisek Road near the Huai Khwang intersection, features several large entertainment venues which include sexual massage. Even karaoke style bars in small provincial towns have their own versions, with women, in addition to singing traditional Thai music, sometimes engaging in prostitution.[citation needed]

Legal situation and history

Prostitution had been illegal in Thailand[3] since 1960, when a law was passed under pressure from the United Nations. The government has instituted a system of monitoring sex workers in order to prevent their mistreatment and to control the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.[9] The 1960 Law was repealed by The Prevention and Suppression of Prostitution Act, B.E. 2539 (1996).

Thailand has an ancient, continuous tradition of legal texts, generally described under the heading of Dhammasattha literature (Thai pron., tam-ma-sat), wherein prostitution is variously defined, and universally banned. The era of traditional legal texts came to an end in the early 20th century, and the significance of these earlier texts on both the writ and spirit of modern legislation cannot be overlooked.[10]

The "Entertainment Places Act of 1966" is one of the modern laws regulating massage parlors, go-go bars, karaoke bars, bathhouses and similar establishments. Under this law such establishments are required to be licensed. The law does not expressedly permit prostitution, but allows for "service providers" and "bath service providers," differentiated from regular, non-sexual service staff.[11] For example, there are massage parlors where men come and look at women, who are sitting separated by a glass wall (known as a "fishbowl"), and may choose whom they want. The women go to a room where they bathe and massage the customers, but in reality may do much more than that.

The Prevention and Suppression of Prostitution Act, B.E. 2539 (1996) (the “Prostitution Law”), is the central legal framework prohibiting prostitution. The law defines prostitution as any act done to gratify the sexual desire of another in exchange for money or any other benefit, but only if it is done “in a promiscuous manner”. The Prostitution Law does not define what exactly a “promiscuous manner” constitutes, and the act of prostitution by itself is not outlawed anymore, while solicitation is. The crime of solicitation is vaguely defined.

A person soliciting the services of a prostitute is liable under the Prostitution Law if the solicitation is done “openly and shamelessly or causes a nuisance to the public”, the penalty being a fine of up to 1,000 baht.[11]

Legalization attempt

In 2003, the Ministry of Justice considered legalizing prostitution as an official occupation with health benefits and taxable income and held a public discussion on the topic. Legalization and regulation was proposed as a means to increase tax revenue, reduce corruption, and improve the situation of the workers.[6] However, nothing further was done.

HIV/AIDS

The prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Thailand, and especially among sex workers, has been the subject of significant media and academic attention, and Thailand hosted the XV International AIDS Conference, 2004.

Mechai Viravaidya, known as "Mr. Condom",[12] has campaigned tirelessly to increase the awareness of safe sex practices and use of condoms in Thailand. He served as minister for tourism and AIDS prevention from 1991 to 1992, and also founded the restaurant chain Cabbages and Condoms, which gives free condoms to customers.

After the enactment of the Thai government's first five-year plan to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the country, including Mechai's "100% condom program", as of 1994, the use of condoms during commercial sex probably increased markedly. No current data on the use of condoms is available. The program instructed sex workers to refuse intercourse without a condom, and monitored health clinic statistics in order to locate brothels that allow sex without condoms.[9]

Thailand was praised for its efforts in the fight against HIV/AIDS during the late 1990s, but a study in 2005 found that the lack of public support in the previous several years had led to a resurgence of the disease.[13]

Reasons for the prevalence and toleration of prostitution

Social views

Thai society has its own unique set of often contradictory sexual mores. Visiting a prostitute or a paid mistress is not an uncommon, though not necessarily acceptable behavior, for men. Many Thai women, for example, believe the existence of prostitution actively reduces the incidence of rape.[9] Among many Thai people, there is a general attitude that prostitution has always been, and will always be, a part of the social fabric of Thailand. [9]

According to a 1996 study, the sexual urge of men is perceived by both Thai men and women as being very much stronger than the sexual urge of women. Where women are thought to be able to exercise control over their desires, the sexual urge of men is seen to be "a basic physiological need or instinct". It is also thought by both Thai men and women that men need "an occasional variation in partners". As female infidelity is strongly frowned upon in Thai society, and, according to a 1993 survey, sexual relationships for single women also meets disapproval by a majority of the Thai population, premarital sex, casual sex and extramarital sex with prostitutes is accepted, expected and sometimes even encouraged for Thai men, the latter being perceived as less threatening to a marriage over lasting relationships with a so-called "minor wife".[14]

Another reason contributing to this issue is that ordinary Thais deem themselves tolerant of other people, especially those whom they perceive as downtrodden. This acceptance has allowed prostitution to flourish without much of the extreme social stigma found in other countries. According to a 1996 study, people in Thailand generally disapprove of prostitution, but the stigma for prostitutes is not lasting or severe, especially since many prostitutes support their parents through their work. Some men do not mind marrying former prostitutes.[15] A 2009 study of subjective well-being of prostitutes found that among the sex workers surveyed, sex work had become normalized.[16]

This cultural milieu combined with poverty and the lure of easy money have caused prostitution in general and sex tourism in particular to flourish.

Government politicians and prostitution

Chuwit Kamolvisit is the owner of several massage parlors in Bangkok and considered by many "a godfather of prostitution" in Thailand. In 2005 he was elected for a four-year term to the Thai House of Representatives, but in 2006 the Constitutional Court removed him from office. In October 2008 he again ran for governor of Bangkok but was not elected. He revealed in 2003 that some of his best clients were senior politicians and police officers, whom he also claimed to have paid, over a decade, more than £1.5m in bribes so that his business, the real business of selling sex, could thrive.[17]

Although Thailand's sex trade aimed at foreigners can be considered overt, the industry that caters exclusively to Thai men had never before been publicly scrutinised, let alone the sexual exploits of Thailand's unchallengeable officials.[17]

Support of prostitution is pervasive in political circles, as the BBC News reported in 2003 that "MPs from Thailand's ruling Thai Rak Thai Party are getting hot under the collar over plans by the party leadership to ban them from having mistresses or visiting brothels" … "One MP told The Nation newspaper that if the rules were enforced, the party would only be able to field around 30 candidates, compared to its more than 200 sitting MPs."[18]

Attitudes towards women can be described by MP Thirachai Sirikhan, informing The Nation newspaper, "To have a mia noi (mistress) is an individual's right. There should be no problem as long as the politician causes no trouble to his family or society".[18]

Both politicians and police have been supporting and indulging in the prostitution industry openly. Khun Tavich, a veteran politician at 76 years was under fire in 2005 for impregnating a 14 year old girl, who worked across the street from the congressional building.[19] It is well-known, for example, that the father of a female member of Parliament is the owner of a massage parlor, a fairly deluxe establishment with several stories of jacuzzi-equipped rooms.[citation needed]

After a police raid on some Bangkok parlours where policemen had sex with prostitutes, "Acting Suthisan Police chief Colonel Varanvas Karunyathat defended the police action, saying that the (police) officers involved needed to have sex with the masseuses to gain evidence for the arrest."[20] Apparently, this is standard practice as a separate police force did the same in Pattaya in May 2007.[21]

Even more evidence of politicians supporting the prostitution industry and the sexual habits of elderly Thai men in general can be gleaned from the fact that Viagra is being given to elderly voters in exchange for their votes in an election drive.[22]

Interview with a Thai human rights activist

Kritaya Archavanitkul, a Thai human rights activist, interviewed by UC Berkeley Institute of International Studies, said,

"This is sad to say, that the Thai social structure tends to accept this sort of abuse, and not only to accept – we have laws, we have bills that vitally support the existence of these sex establishments. That's one thing. And also, we have a Mafia that is also involved in the political parties, so this keeps the abuse going. The second reason is a cultural factor. I don't know about other countries, but in Thailand the sexual behavior of Thai men accepts prostitution. Every class of Thai men accept it, although not all Thai men practice it. So they don't see it as a problem. So when it comes to the policymakers, who are mostly men, of course, they don't see this as a problem. They know there are many women who are brought into prostitution in Thailand. They know that some are treated with brutal violence. But they don't think it's a terrible picture. They think it's just the unlucky cases. And, because of the profit, I think there are many people with an interest involved, so they try to turn a blind eye to this problem."[23]

Organized Crime

The red-light districts of Thai cities are home to Chinese-owned brothels, casinos, and entertainment facilities that function both as sources of income and as operations centers for trafficking in humans and narcotics and extortion.[24] The Chinese organized crime groups engaging in human trafficking are called the “Piglet Gangs” by the Thai police.[24]

Religion

In Buddhism, the predominant religion in Thailand, women are viewed as naturally inferior to men. Buddha made clear to his disciples that women were “impure, carnal, and corrupting.”[25] This is also evidenced by the belief that women cannot attain enlightenment, although this view is disputed by other Buddhist scriptures such as the Vinaya Pitaka in the Pali Canon.[26] In addition, the type of Buddhism practiced in Thailand outlines ten kinds of wives in its vihaya, or rules for monks.[25] Within these rules, the first three are actually women who can be paid for their services.  In present day Thailand, this has manifested itself into an acceptance by wives about prostitution. Sex with prostitutes is viewed by wives as empty sex, and thus women may allow their husbands to have meaningless sex with prostitutes rather than to find a new spouse.

Buddhism also prescribes “acceptance and resignation in the face of life’s pain and suffering",[25] in accordance with belief in karma and expiation of sins from previous lives. Conjecturally, women may choose to believe that suffering as prostitutes is the result of their karma.

Forms of prostitution

Prostitution in Thailand can be found in a number of venues, including brothels, massage parlors, saunas, hostess bars, go-go bars, "beer bars" and karaoke places.[27][28]

Body massage

Body massage (Ab ob nuat, washing and massage in Thai) in Thailand most often consists of either an oil massage or a bath treatment which might include sexual services.[citation needed]

Thailand is also known for a non-sexual traditional style of massage, completely unrelated to the erotic body massage. Described as traditional, "ancient", or "therapeutic", the Thai massage (Nuat Phaen Boran, Thai: นวดแผนโบราณ) is administered by a masseuse or masseur often trained at temple academies such as Wat Pho in Bangkok.

Bars catering to foreigners

The most prevalent form of interaction with Westerners—though it is far less common than the Thai sex trade—is through the various forms of bars.[29] Young women ("bar girls", or men in the case of gay bars, or transsexual "kathoeys") are employed by the bars either as dancers (in the case of go-go bars) or simply as hostesses who will encourage customers to buy them drinks.[citation needed]

Apart from these sorts of bars, there are a number of other venues for the sex trade; some bars, while not employing staff to serve as bar girls, will allow women ("freelancers" in this context) to solicit clients.[citation needed]

Prostitution and crime in Thailand

Child prostitution

The exact number of child-prostitutes in Thailand is not known. According to the US-based research institute “Protection Project”, estimates of the number of children involved in prostitution living in Thailand ranges from 12,000 to the hundreds of thousands (ECPAT International). The government, university researchers, and NGOs estimated that there are as many as 30,000 to 40,000 prostitutes under 18 years of age, not including foreign migrants (US Department of State, 2005b). Thailand’s Health System Research Institute estimates that children in prostitution make up 40% of prostitutes in Thailand.[30]

The reasons why and how children are commercially sexually exploited include:[31]

  • Poverty: a high proportion of the population lives in poverty.
  • Ethnic hill tribe children: these children live in the border region of northern Thailand. They suffer from disproportionate levels of poverty in relation to the general population and most of them lack citizenship cards. This means that they do not have access to health care or primary school, which limits their further education or employment opportunities.
  • Trafficked children: Many children are trafficked into or within the country through criminal networks, acquaintances, former trafficking victims and border police and immigration officials who transport them to brothels across Thailand.
  • Sense of duty: According to traditional customs the first duty of a girl is to support her family in any way she can. Due to this sense of duty and to pay off family debts, many girls have been forced into prostitution.

Children are exploited in sex establishments and are also approached directly in the street by tourists seeking sexual contact.[32]

Child sex tourism is a serious problem in the country. Thailand, along with Cambodia, India, Brazil and Mexico has been identified as a leading hotspots of child sexual exploitation.[33]

Human trafficking

Thailand is listed by the UNODC as both a top destination for victims of human trafficking and a major source of trafficked persons.[34]

A proportion of prostitutes over the age of 18, including foreign nationals from Asia and Europe, are in a state of forced sexual servitude and slavery.[35]

There are reports of bribe taking by some low- or mid-level police officers facilitating the most severe forms of trafficking in persons.[3]

Ethnic minorities such as northern hill tribe peoples, many of whom do not have legal status in the country, are at a disproportionately high risk for trafficking internally and abroad. Within the country women are trafficked from the impoverished northeast and the north to Bangkok for sexual exploitation.

According to the 2003 documentary Trading Women, most women trafficked into Thailand come from Myanmar; others come from Cambodia, Laos and China. The film cites as root causes of the trafficking problem the economic and political situation in Myanmar, the destruction of the traditional economy in Thai hill tribe regions resulting from development and opium suppression programs, the inability of many members of Thai hill tribes to obtain proper papers and participate in society, and the rampant corruption among police and border guards.

It is common that Thai women are lured to Japan and sold to Yakuza-controlled brothels where they are forced to work off their price. It is easy to lure these women from neighboring countries because Thailand has 56 unofficial crossover points and 300 checkpoints where people can cross the border without paperwork.[9]

In a landmark case in 2006, one such woman filed a civil suit in Thailand against the Thai perpetrators, who had previously been convicted in criminal court. The woman had managed to escape from the Yakuza-controlled prostitution ring by killing the female Thai mama-san and had spent five years in a Japanese prison.[36]

Organizations

Several support organizations for sex workers exist in Thailand. Most of them attempt to discourage women from taking up or continuing the trade.

EMPOWER is a Thai NGO that takes a neutral stance towards sex work and offers educational and counseling services to female sex workers. It has been operating since 1985 and has offices in Patpong (Bangkok), Chiang Mai, Mae Sai and Patong Beach.

SWING (Service Workers in Group) is a recent offshoot of EMPOWER, offering support to male and female sex workers in Patpong and Pattaya. It offers English classes, teaches safe sex, distributes condoms, and promotes health and safety with their gym and discounted medical examinations. The newly formed organization SISTERS works with transgender sex workers in Bangkok and Pattaya.[37][38][39][40]

FACE is an organization that focuses on child prostitution and trafficking and is the main partner of the UN in the country. DEPDC is an organization that battles trafficking of women and children.

The Population and Community Development Association (PDA), headed by Mechai Viravaidya, pioneered family planning and safe sex strategies in Thailand over thirty years ago. The organization no longer focuses expressly on safe sex issues, but continues to provide information, condoms, and prevention programs around the country.

CPCR (The Center for the Protection of Children's Rights Foundation) is a Thai NGO which concerns primarily with preventing and confronting the physical and sexual abuse, exploitation and neglect of children in Thailand, and was established in 1981.[41]

International Justice Mission is a U.S.-based Christian human rights organization which operates in Thailand to rescue brothel workers held in sexual slavery.

Fr. Ray Foundation in Pattaya provides care and housing where vulnerable children can find safety at the Children's Home, and homeless kids are offered a sanctuary from the dangers of the street at the Drop-In Centre for Street Kids. Exploited women and their children are helped and assisted through education and care at the Fountain of Life.[42]

The SOLD Project began in 2007 and is committed to stopping child prostitution through education. Their mission is "to prevent child prostitution through culturally relevant programs for vulnerable children and to share their stories to empower creative, compassionate people to act".[43]

Books and documentaries

  • Jordan Clark's 2005 documentary Falang: Behind Bangkok's Smile takes a rather critical view of sex tourism in Thailand.
  • David A. Feingold's 2003 documentary Trading Women explores the phenomenon of women from the surrounding countries being trafficked into Thailand.
  • Travels in the Skin Trade: Tourism and the Sex Industry (1996, ISBN 0-7453-1115-6) by Jeremy Seabrook describes the Thai sex industry and includes interviews with prostitutes and customers.
  • Cleo Odzer received her Ph.D. in anthropology with a thesis about prostitution in Thailand; her experiences during her three years of field research resulted in the 1994 book Patpong Sisters: An American Woman's View of the Bangkok Sex World (ISBN 1-55970-281-8). In the book she describes the Thai prostitutes she got to know as quick-witted entrepreneurs rather than exploited victims.
  • Hello My Big Big Honey!: Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews by Dave Walker and Richard S. Ehrlich (2000, ISBN 0-86719-473-1) is a compilation of love letters from Westerners to Thai prostitutes, and interviews with the latter.
  • For an informative caricature of historical and contemporary sexual norms and mores of Thailand versus the West see the fiction novels of John Burdett including Bangkok 8 for the comparative anthropology of his half Thai-Western protagonist detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep.
  • Dennis Jon's 2005 documentary travelogue The Butterfly Trap provides a realistic and non-judgmental first person viewpoint of sex tourism in Thailand.

References

  1. ^ http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2008/eap/119058.htm
  2. ^ http://www2.hu-berlin.de/sexology/IES/thailand.html#2 section 8B: Prostitution - Commercial Sex
  3. ^ a b c d 2008 Human Rights Report: Thailand, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor; February 25, 2009, U.S. State Department
  4. ^ http://www.dab.uts.edu.au/conferences/queer_space/proceedings/cities_suwatcharapinun.pdf
  5. ^ "Prostitution: More Thais selling sex, study finds", The Nation, 3 January 2004, http://www.nationmultimedia.com/search/read.php?newsid=91309 
  6. ^ Paradise revealed, Taipei Times
  7. ^ http://www.wpro.who.int/internet/resources.ashx/HSI/docs/Sex_Work_in_Asia_July2001.pdf
  8. ^ a b c d e Thailand, in The International Encyclopedia of Sexuality, Volume I–IV 1997–2001, edited by Robert T. Francoeur
  9. ^ See, e.g.: Andrew Huxley, ed., THAI LAW: BUDDHIST LAW
  10. ^ a b Jon Fox, Sex Laws in Thailand Part 2: Laws Regulating Commercial Sex and Entertainment Places Thailand Law Forum, November 2009
  11. ^ Thailand's 'Mr Condom' makes comeback, The World Today (7 September 2005)
  12. ^ Mechai renews crusade against the Aids threat The Nation, (September 5, 2005)
  13. ^ http://htc.anu.edu.au/pdfs/Knodel1.pdf
  14. ^ Sara Peracca, John Knodel, Chanpen Saengtienchai (16 July 1998), [Expression error: Unexpected < operator "Can Prostitutes Marry? Thai Attitude Toward Female Sex Workers"], Social Science and Medicine 47 (2): 255–267, PMID 9720644 
  15. ^ Elizabeth Monk-Turner and Charlie Turner (December 23, 2009), [Expression error: Unexpected < operator "Subjective Well-being Among Those Who Exchange Sex and Money, Yunnan, China and Thailand"], Social Indicators Research 99: 13, doi:10.1007/s11205-009-9568-9 
  16. ^ a b The brothel king's revenge, The Guardian
  17. ^ a b Thai MPs protest mistress ban BBC News 2003
  18. ^ Thai law-maker & cleric exposed as illicit shaggers
  19. ^ Chuwit Page, 2Bangkok.com
  20. ^ PATTAYA VOLUNTEER POLICE INDULGE IN UZBEK STING OPERATION -> Pattaya Daily News : pattaya daily update news
  21. ^ Viagra used to bribe voters, Associated Press, 29 November 2007
  22. ^ UC Berkeley, Institute of International Studies
  23. ^ a b [1]
  24. ^ a b c [Bales, Kevin 1999 Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy. Los Angeles: University of California Press.]
  25. ^ Murcott, Susan (1991), [Expression error: Unexpected < operator The First Buddhist Women:Translations and Commentary on the Therigatha], Parallax Press, pp. 16, ISBN 0-938077-42-2 
  26. ^ http://www.hawaii.edu/hivandaids/Changes_in_Prostitution_and_the_AIDS_Epidemic_in_Thailand.pdf
  27. ^ http://www.walnet.org/csis/papers/redefining.html#3e
  28. ^ http://goliath.ecnext.com/coms2/gi_0199-6659022/Sex-workers-and-cultural-policy.html
  29. ^ [2]
  30. ^ [3]
  31. ^ [4]
  32. ^ [5]
  33. ^ "UN highlights human trafficking". BBC News. 2007-03-26. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/6497799.stm. Retrieved 2010-05-22. 
  34. ^ UNICRI Trafficking in Minors, Report on Thailand 2005
  35. ^ Woman's Dying: Wish to punish traffickers who ruined her life The Nation, (January 23, 2006)
  36. ^ http://www.unescobkk.org/fileadmin/user_upload/hiv_aids/Documents/Workshop_doc/MSM_Lao/Day2/Presentation_from_Participants/Thailand_SWING.pdf
  37. ^ http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/investigation/14601/getting-into-the-swing-of-things
  38. ^ http://www.fhi.org/en/CountryProfiles/Thailand/res_SWING.htm
  39. ^ http://www.unaids.org/en/KnowledgeCentre/Resources/FeatureStories/archive/2009/20090319_SexWork.asp
  40. ^ http://www.thaichildrights.org/en/
  41. ^ http://www.frray.us/
  42. ^ http://thesoldproject.com/

Further reading

External links








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