Sex Workers in Thailand ("Land Term Paper

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[. . .] So much for the supply side of the causes behind prostitution in Thailand; now for the demand-side reasons:

Publicity and Tourism

When the U.S. soldiers descended on Bangkok as part of the official "R&R" deal between the governments of Thailand and the United States during the Vietnam War, they not only contributed directly to the development of the sex trade in Thailand but also laid the grounds for its continuance in the post-war era. This was done through enormous publicity about the licentious nightlife in Bangkok, and its glamorization as the "City of Angels," and "the sex capital of the orient." The stereotyped perception of the Thai women as "exotic and docile," "elegant and shy," and as "masters of the art of making love," were spread far and wide by the American soldiers who had been to Thailand during the Vietnam War. Add to this the fact that tourism was promoted internationally in a big way during the seventies, and the need of the Thai government to look for some other way to earn foreign exchange when the dollars spent by U.S. soldiers during the Vietnam War dried up. The only viable alternative at the time seemed to be the replacement of the departing U.S. GIs with "sex tourists" from Europe, United States and Japan. Thailand made concerted efforts to promote tourism in the decades following the end of Vietnam War and was successful in making its number one foreign exchange earner in the 1980s with a corresponding expansion in its sex industry.

Vested Interests number of people, both within and outside Thailand, have deep vested interests in keeping the sex-trade going. Hotel entrepreneurs, tour operators, travel agents, and the airlines industry are major beneficiaries of the billion dollar tourism industry. Moreover, a large number of local government functionaries including politicians and bureaucrats including the police stand to gain directly or indirectly from the "illicit" trade. It is an "open secret" in Thailand that that a number of policemen own some of the brothels in Northern Thailand and influential politicians are suspected of owning chains of brothels in Bangkok and elsewhere. The complicity is evident in several recorded instances in which police, especially in rural areas, have handed escaping girls back to their abusers.(Shahabudin, n.d.) according to one estimate, Bangkok's massage businesses pay a staggering 3.2 billion bahts a year in bribes to the police.

Local Male Attitudes towards Prostitution

The international aspect of the sex trade is no doubt important, but all prostitution in the country does not exist to cater for the foreigners. Most of the clientele, patronizing the cheapest brothels, are local Thai men. Prostitution in many cases has become integrated with initiation rights: "For many Thai men, a trip to the neighborhood brothel is a rite of passage, a tradition passed from father to son." (Hall, 2004) Most studies show that the majority of Thai men have their first sexual experience with a prostitute - the act is often a part of high school or university rituals in which a freshman is taken to a prostitute by his older colleagues. Other studies show that 95% of all men over 21 have slept with a prostitute. In addition to rites of passage, the activity of visiting a whorehouse has become a social activity in many cases: A night out with friends may include sharing drinks and food and ending with having sex with a prostitute. (Ibid.)

Profile of the Sex Worker in Thailand

The total number of sex workers in Thailand remains a matter of conjecture. Since prostitution in the country is illegal, the government remains in denial and "officially" no prostitutes exist in the country as massage parlors, tea houses and other hospitality centers do not "count" as brothels. Another problem that prevents an accurate estimate of prostitutes is that a number of them are "temporary" workers and the migratory nature of the profession in the country. Estimates of the numbers of women and children engaged in prostitution vary widely: according to the Public Health Department, there are approximately 75,000 prostitutes in Thailand; some estimates put the figure at over 2 million. Most nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) put the figure of prostitutes in Thailand, at any given time, in the one million range, which seems to be closer to the truth.

The majority of female Thai prostitutes come from the rural North and Northeast regions of Thailand, out of which the North is the predominant source (Lyttleton, 1994). Historically, young women from North Thailand have been valued for their light skins and softness of demeanor and in the old days were often chosen as court concubines. Statistics also show that beauty contests in Thailand are won by women from the North; and apart from their beauty their soft-mannered and soft-spoken nature are considered ideally suited for the profession. (Ibid.) Surveys of massage parlors in Thailand show that about 70% of them come from the poor rural families of Northern Thailand. Most of them enter the profession due to poverty, but many of them are forced, tricked or sold into prostitution by their families or recruiting pimps. Average age of new recruits range from 10-20 years, and the trend in recent years has been towards recruitment of younger girls despite efforts of crack-down against "child prostitution" by the government. One reason for this trend is the preference for younger girls by visitors to brothels who mistakenly believe that having sex with younger girls is safer with to regard to transmission of AIDS and other venereal diseases.

A typical recruiting procedure for roping in prostitutes from the North is as follows: Most village girls are recruited at the age of 12-13 years, soon after they finish primary school. The recruiting agent, who may be a resident of the local district or may travel from Bangkok to the area, is the key person in the recruiting process. After striking a deal with the parents of the girl, the agent takes the girl to work in brothels or massage parlors, usually in Bangkok or the South. The girls send part of their earnings to their parents, who put their new-found "wealth" on display, typically by "building ostentatious houses." (Lyttleton, 1994) The girls support their younger siblings through school and sometimes recruit them into the profession when they come of age.

It is not unusual for such village girls to return home after several years, and even marry to raise families. In some areas of northern Thailand, no social stigma is attached to prostitution and the women are often viewed "as successful and worldly-wise." (Ibid.) The returning women may even wash away their sins by contributing large sums of money to village temples. A common rationale for the acceptance of such behavior is the "merit" provided by the girls' earnings for their families which more than compensates for their transgression.

Other sources of sex workers in Thailand include Burmese refugees and girls from the Burma-Thailand border. According to figures cited in a 2001 study by anthropologist David A. Feingold, there were as many as 30,000 Burmese commercial sex workers in Thailand, and the number was believed to be growing rapidly. These "foreign" recruits are susceptible to even worse exploitation than the Thai girls as they are poorer and cater to the cheaper brothels frequented by the locals. Refugee girls are more likely to be kidnapped or tricked into the sex industry by promises of other jobs in the cities. The desperately poor families are sometimes given loans of as low as U.S.$100 and their daughters taken away and forced or cajoled into prostitution to pay off the loans. (Shahabudin, n.d.)

Health Issues

Sexually transmitted disease is a health hazard to which sex workers in Thailand are constantly exposed. Before the advent of the deadly AIDS epidemic in the 1990s, gonorrhea was already rampant with rampant, infecting over 70% of Thai prostitutes with an increasingly antibiotic-resistant strain. (Hill, 1993, p 142)

AIDS started to spread in Thailand in 1987. Apart from intravenous drug users, it spread at the fastest rate among the sex workers. In the early nineties, the epidemic was threatening to get out of hand and assume the catastrophic levels similar to that of the worst-hit African countries. Sex workers were most at risk, particularly due to the aversion of Thai males to the wearing of condoms. At the peak of the AIDS epidemic in Thailand in the mid / late nineties, over half of the sex workers in the city of Chiang Mai were ill with HIV / AIDS and 80 to 90% of the AIDS cases in the country were being transferred through unsafe sex with the prostitutes. Until 1995, the spiraling infection rate of HIV in Thailand was running at a hundred thousand a year. More than a million people have been infected with HIV / AIDS in Thailand so far and well over 300,000 have died of the disease.

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"Sex Workers in Thailand ("Land."  Essaytown.com.  May 4, 2004.  Accessed February 23, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/sex-workers-thailand-land/1605554.