some fast facts about the sex tourism industry in thailand

Posted: February 21, 2012 in Uncategorized

I don’t know what the dinosaurs sounded like as they headed off into the tar pits of history but the Thai sex industry is dying in incremental silence. The economic miracle that has swept millions of Thai’s out of poverty in the past twenty years has  been consistently driving nails into the coffin of the sex tourism industry,  in business terminology it’s a sunset industry. Prostitution will never completely vanish in any country including Thailand. But as in any country which has provided opportunity and education for it’s citizens there are far fewer willing male and female participants for the sex trade than ever before. Too much is made of the history of sex tourism in Thailand by the western media. Too many naive reporters are still titillated by the existence of  watered down flesh markets and continue to report unfairly that Thailand is some sort of adult Disney Land for the sexual gratification of western deviants.

Like any western country, the sex workers in Thailand are  primarily foreign and/or have been trafficked into the industry by unscrupulous pimps and gangsters. They are compromised by ethnicity, poverty, psychology, lack of education or social circumstance. The majority of women found in the brothels and bars today are from the impoverished villages of the northern states. One group dominates, these are Issan women who originate from Shan communities that hug the borders of Burma, Lao and Cambodia. They are easily recognized by their unique appearance. Most share similar physical features, broad flat facial bones and nose, dark skin color and splayed feet and toes from spending a lifetime  bare foot  working  the rice paddies.

You can tell the newest recruits by how they teeter along in their first set of heels, with toes and flesh hanging over the sides of the narrow platform. For some it will be their first pair of shoes of any kind. The Thai and Russian mobs that control the prostitutes in Pattaya and elsewhere are now having to look farther afield because there is a shortage of Thai women. The gangs are  importing prostitutes from the disadvantaged areas of Eastern Europe and the Russia’s. In many cases the women are being tricked by phony labor brokers who promise  work as domestics, models and restaurant work ‘overseas’.

The misconceptions that are spread by an ill-informed media contain idea’s such as  prostitutes ‘enjoy what they do’. The industry is further perpetuated by the western attitude that is somehow ‘OK’ to exploit these impoverished women who have no other choice to feed themselves and their families except by selling themselves to foreign men. I don’t know how the truth of this fact can make any western man giddy with desire. These women are not willing nurse maids here to solve the sociocultural inadequacies of the western male. These prostitutes are desperate victims and any smiles you may see are the product of pathetic self loathing , drugs , alcohol or all three that keep the women numb from the pain they experience each and every time they are abused. The western man who believes he’s had seven minutes of  ‘fun’ with a girl is deeply delusional.

What is it that brings a man from a western democracy to Thailand knowing full well  about such things after a lifetime of social education that somehow Asian women are here to be exploited? What is it about a furtive and degrading sexual encounter with a woman who cannot speak more than five words of your language that makes it a ‘sexually satisfying’ experience? She is most likely thinking that she will be able to pay the alley way ‘daycare’ operators who hold her children while she works and how she can supply a meal once she gets through the time she’s sold. Are western women so intimidating by expressing themselves as equals that you are willing to forget that Asian women are human and deserving of respect? The deviant must be able to forgo these basic moral questions in his narcissistic quest to satisfy himself as if it is his right to do so. Fortunately , there are fewer women being exploited in the bars and brothels every year in Thailand. Western men must begin to question their motivations for coming to a country like Thailand to exploit unprivileged women for sexual gratification, that’s not sexy.

  1. Luca says:

    While I find the article very interesting and informative (e.g. on the changing nature of Thailand’s sex trade) I would like to criticize two things:
    1. When writing about Thailand’s sex industry one has to mention that the biggest part of Thailand’s sex industry caters to Thai males. The highly visible part of the sex industry catering to foreign men from all over the world (e.g. in Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket) is only a small part of the whole industry.
    2. To portray women involved in the sex tourism industry as helpless victims being abused by evil and deviant foreign men is in my opinion (and according to various anthropological studies as well) very one-sided. Even though some women get tricked into the sex industry and there is, no doubt about that, a lot of abuse going on within the sex industry, many women chose prostitution consciously as the best way (within often very limited circumstances) to improve their situation and the situation of their families. One can argue whether it is “nicer” to work as a prostitute or in a factory (with long working hours and little pay) or as a maid. People have different attitudes towards sex, so for some to become a freelance sex worker is more favorable.

    I think we have to keep those things in mind when talking about the sex tourism industry anywhere…

    • Sir, while I welcome comments. There is no justification for the exploitation of women under any circumstances. Your comparisons between factory work and prostitution are absurd. I cannot disagree with your use of the word ‘choice’ strongly enough. If you wish to assist in the economics of the prostitutes in your area please donate to a woman’s shelter to go towards their care, rehabilitation and education so that such a ‘choice’ is not a factor in any woman’s life.

  2. Mellisa Ballard says:

    Well said Mr. Hardin. I could not agree with you more. Thank you on behalf of all of the women in the world! ….and a quick note to Luca…the next time you think working as a prostitute is a viable choice for women, I urge you to strip down and stand on a street corner where you live and sell yourself to the first stranger that comes along. Then tell us how much better it was than your office job!

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  4. Shane Jenson says:

    I agree with the sentiments of your article, I do find it somewhat confusing though the mention of men needing to question their morality on this issue. What is the standard of morality? Are the high class escorts in NY city who are doing this work by choice moral? Is the person with the proclivity to be dominant in a sexual sense (with a willing partner of course) moral. I am just trying to understand what the standard is because what I see as completely immoral is a basic right to some more progressive thinkers, though I do have a common standard of morality. Once again I disagree with none of what you say in your article but i do hope to know the thought process behind the judgements made in the article.

    • Fair ball Shane. This is not to question the choice of a New York hooker who chooses her profession. The fact is that in Thailand 99% of the prostitutes are not even Thai, they are poor women from the border regions, country side and refugee’s who have no choice. There is no ‘willing partner’ standard applied when one party is threatened with starvation or performing sex for a ‘dominant male’ who wants to exploit starving or oppressed women because he’s too cheap to hire a woman in his own country who may be in a position to make a choice. I have a fellow blogger who writes very specifically on this subject from the perspective of the ‘New York Hooker’….she wasn’t exactly ‘happy’ about her choices either. You have to look into the background of women who choose prostitution….it’s sad in most cases. Many people aren’t aware that the sex trade in Thailand in area’s like Phuket and Pattaya are dominated by violent gangsters who exploit and traffic women because of their immigration and economic status…very sad. The children are often held for ransom in the back alley’s of the bars . They have to pay or can’t get their kids back. By Thai standards Phuket is the most corrupt state in Thailand….and that’s a very low bar when measuring corruption in Thailand. Women who came to work complain of being threatened and coerced with violence into prostitution by police forces among others. Many prostitutes in the sex trade area’s of Bangkok are either Issan tribeswomen or Burmese Karen natives running from murder and desperation in their own country. The moral choice for a western man not to entertain the thought of paying for sex with women who ‘choose’ between starvation , exploitation and being a ‘willing partner’ is not one I would wish on anyone. So…the next time a prostitute wants a john to buy her a drink….remember that she’s trying to forget what she has to do to feed her family…..not to better enjoy whats about to happen to her.

      • In fact, the pimps keep all the girls personal possessions hostage. The girls must return to the pimps to retrieve their children and possessions after every shift. Native women from Issan province are the primary source of prostitutes in Pattaya and most report being tricked by employment schemes only to be forced into prostitution by the roving pimps who target desperately impoverished families. Burmese women are second in number particularily in the bar scene of Bangkok and Phuket. There is an increasing number of foreign nationals from the ex- Soviet satellites working as sex slaves in Thailand…..all controlled by ruthless Russian pimps. Feminism and exploitation do not equate. If you have a problem with feminism why would that make you want to sexually exploit a third world sex slave? Surely it would be cheaper and more satisfactory to spend the money it takes you to fly to Thailand on a psychotherapist so as to refocus your debilitating sexual thoughts and fear of women on engaging in real relationships. I have spent over 40 years in Thailand…thank you.

  5. auntyuta says:

    I read ‘The double Life of Alfred Buber’ by author David Schmahmann. Part of the book deals with prostitution in Bangkok. This fictional Alfred Buber leads a rather interesting life. Maybe you’d like to read about it. It shows a very human side of an impoverished woman.

    • Hello A, I haven’t read about Al’s ‘fictional adventures’. I have lived in the third world as as a second rate character from the first for almost fourty years. I have witnessed all kinds of misery. Because I qualify as a starving artist I have always lived at street level amongst the people. I am never far removed from reality. No one who lives here needs the fictional third person experience to make believe that there is any dignity for the prostitutes in the ‘exotic east’. It’s a very ugly scene when a woman has only two choices in life…to have sex with some beer bloated loser….most times being forced at gunpoint or by other violent threat to do so by nasty pimps and other monsters…or face starvation for herself and her children.

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