Prostitution, one of the most lucrative businesses in the world, can be found in almost every location of the world. Thailand, "Land of the Smiles" home to the "City of Angels" is no exception. "From the sublime island sunsets to pristine mountain hikes, Thailand is a country blessed with natural beauty, warm hospitality, and serene images of the Buddha at every turn. Beneath the beauty, hospitality, and the Buddha' watchful eyes, however, a very unique ugliness resides (Kara 152). " This direct quote from Siddharth Kara's Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery accurately epitomizes the dual state of Thailand. Hidden behind the tropical fruits and the exotic Thai lurks the ugly face of prostitution. The steady growth of prostitution is a result of various different factors, Western influence being one of them. However, the main source behind this growth is found not in westernization, but in the country itself. Due to the cultural norms that define Thailand and the prominent force of corruption, prostitution and sex trafficking continues to thrive despite the efforts of anti-trafficking organizations.
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Thailand has become known worldwide as the home of one of the fastest growing red light districts.
"Ever since the Vietnam War, Thailand has gained international notoriety among travelers as a sex tourism destination (Hall)." No longer does the fame reside in the clean beaches and warm smiles of the native Thai people as it once did. That fact is reinforced by the alarmingly escalation of women falling victim to the sex business. During the 1980s, there were about 700,000 prostitutes in Thailand. In 2004, that number jumped to 2.8 million. Koh Samui, a popular island tourist vacation spot not usually associated with prostitution, is home to as many as 10,000 prostitutes (Thailand: Sex Tourism). Pattaya, once known for its exotic beaches, is more renown now for its low prices and exotic women prostitutes. Places like Patpong and Soi Nana 4 are well known not only with the locals but internationally as well. Patpong is infamous as a center for sex tourism in Thailand and is visited mostly by foreign men and women. It consists of two small streets located in the heart of downtown Bangkok. "It is quiet by day and pulsating with neon signs, loud music, and hundreds of brothels by night" (Thailand). It is estimated that each night over 4,000 women work there.
Much of the prevalence of prostitution is a direct result of the Thai economy and the lifestyle of the locals. Many women working in Patpong and Soi Nana come from poor families in the rural areas of Thailand. They come to Bangkok to earn money to support their families. They work out of a sense of obligation to their parents, to share the family's economic burden. These families barely make minimum wage which is approximately 203 baht per day which is the equivalent of $6 (Cost of Doing Business). A bar girl can make anywhere from 2,000 to 6,000 baht a month. A study of households in northern Thailand found that on average 28% of household income came from these wages. When the family is in great debt, the eldest daughters are asked to "sacrifice" for their parents and their younger siblings. There are cases where fathers sold and resold their daughters into prostitution to buy extra cows for farming. This is done in the belief that children must show "gratitude" to their parents.
More than just out of obligation to the family, young women, tired of living in rural poverty with no future, find themselves ready and willing to take a chance at a new promised life by agents. These women have already been exposed to the dream of living in luxury as fed to them through television and other mass media. They want beautiful things and an easy lifestyle. Prostitution seems to them the only means available to actualize their dreams. These girls have no other choice. That is what they are made to believe. These girls have very little formal education and few employable skills. At first they do not realize that working in the bars involve prostitution, but by that time they have already been sucked into the sex business. Women come to work in the bars to escape from their povershed lives and to meet and marry a foreign husband. What they get instead is prostitution. Standing on the street or sitting in bars trying to lure men in to drink and have sex.
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Although prostitution in Thailand is widely believed to exist because of the lack of employment opportunities for large numbers of uneducated rural women, the truth is that widespread prostitution existed in this part of the world for thousands of because of the cultural norm of the Thai society. Prostitution in Thailand has been around for centuries and not just as a result of western influence or media. The source of the problem was found in the people themselves. As Justin Hall mentioned in his article, "domestic prostitution has been for centuries a part of Thai tradition." It has become acceptable and almost expected. In his research and experiences, Hall found that almost 95% of Thai men have been to a local brothel. . Every day at least 450,000 Thai men visit the brothels. Prostitution has simply become a way of life for the Thai people. "For many Thai men, a trip to the neighborhood brothel is a rite of passage, a tradition passed from father to son." From his studies, a majority of Thai men have their first sexual experience with a prostitute with most acts having part in hazing rituals. 95% of all men over 21 have slept with a prostitute.
Prostitution has become a social activity as well. It is often a part of a night out with friends who share food, drink, and sometimes even sexual partners. In Thailand, having sex with a prostitute is a completely accepted form of recreation of Thai males. One study estimated that 80-87% of Thai males had sex with a prostitute at some point on this life. This number is quite staggering when you compare it to the 22% in Netherlands and 18% in the United States. But it all goes back to the cultural norm. Teenage virgin males are ridiculed by their peers. It is considered normal for a man's first sexual contact to be with a prostitute usually accompanied by some friends. Moreover, visits to commercial sex workers are still considered as part of a group leisure behavior. In 1989, the Thai Ministry of Public Health estimated that 4.2 million men visited sex workers. 75% of Thai men have had sex with prostitutes at some point in their lives and 48% experience their first sexual encounter with a sec worker. It is a common practice for Thai men to visit brothels to prove their virility. Men who do not do so are considered strange and suffer ther possibility of becoming social outcasts. Many men say that they can not break the habit of going to prostitutes because they are so readily available and are a cheap source of entertainment. Polygamy is a practice very common among the wealthy even Thai royalty.
The Thai women view prostitutes in a different light but still with the same net result. Many women in Thailand believe that prostitution protects "good" women against rape. Wives actually prefer their husbands visit commercial sex workers rather than take a minor wife, which is perceived as a greater threat to family stability. Too many Thai women accept prostitution as a commonplace practice and some who do not wish to have a sexual relationship with their husbands have even encouraged them to see prostitutes. Being with a prostitute is not only uncommon but is also quite acceptable. 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.
Commercialization plays a huge role in the increase of prostitution. As Kevin Bates pointed out in his novel, "Thailand has become completely commercialized." Those in leadership, with the power to change the fate of these women look the other way all for the sake of bribes and revenue from sex tourism. At least 10% of tourist dollars are spent on the sex trade. Thai prostitutes working abroad send home as much as 1.2 million dollars each year. Thailand's economic miracle was success because tourism heavily dependent on the sex industry brought in $4 billion per year. The sex business in Thailand makes almost $27 billion a year which is approximately 14% of the national income.
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Not only does polygamy of the men affect prostitution, but the lack of rights for women also increases the rate of prostitution. In Thai society, women hold very little power and have almost no rights. Girls from the rural parts of Thailand are sold into bondage by their families to cover the debts. Bales estimates that one out of every twenty prostitutes in Thailand are enslaved in this way. Most women in the sex business are not there willingly. Due to the lack of education many are tricked, trafficked, or forced into the business to pay off debts. Often victims migrate willingly, responding to fraudulent offers of employment. The majority of prostitutes have had only four year of compulsory education. Farms that have to struggle to survive economically will not be able to provide higher education for the children, especially the females. Many farmers, being poor and uneducated themselves do not have proper knowledge of family planning an as a result have large families which created an added economic burden so serious that it falls to the eldest daughters in the family to help out. A high percentage or prostitutes fall under this scenario. Economic factors cause further problems. Husbands desert their wives and children thus leaving both without a source of income. They move to Bangkok in hope of a job but come out with little success due to their limited education.
As Peter Singer mentioned in his book, we create the demand for these things. Less demand means less production. In this case it means less need for prostitution. "4.6 million Thais and more than 1 million Malayan and other Asians are demanding sexual services. 400,000 Germans, which after the Brits and the US-Americans, come in third in the "country-ranking" of sex tourism meet their need for love services in Thailand ever year." If the demand only lessened a little, the results would be perceivable.
Singer also mentions how there are consequences to all actions. Neglect and indifference are also actions. We choose not to take action and yet the consequences are still there. In the government, the politicians and offers that turn a blind eye to the brothels and take in the bribes cause the women to suffer. Thai leaders prefer to keep prostitution out of sight as much as possible if not out of mind. This attitude of sweeping the dirt under the rug creates the illusion that prostitution is a marginal, dismissible by product of society. It lessens the importance and impact of it. Sex is an established income generating industry in Thailand. It took root in tradition practices, grew through the number of male migrant worksers and military (wars) and blossomed in the 1970s due to promotion for both mass tourism and sex tourism. Raids on brothels and other lucrative sex businesses are highly publized when successful, but are very random and irregular. Even in those cases, the owners are likely to pay off the police and other government officials and other police officials to avoid being prosecuted. "Brothels operate with the protection of local government representatives and police." Even corrupt Thai police and other government officials participate in this lucrative industry and facilitate the opportunities for prostitution to continue, without enforcing the laws which they are representative of.
Although prostitution in Thailand is illegal, it is tolerated and regulated. Today prostitution is illegal in Thailand but this law is generally not enforced. The law banning the practice was made in 1960 under pressure from the United nations. However the prohibition is 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. It is not that Thailand lack laws against prostitution, but that they are not implemented,. Without a legal precedent, other police officers will rarely agree to arresst someone charged with prostitution.
However, the main reason that prostitution is a lasting industry in Thailand is the 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. 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 who he also claimed to have paid over a decade more than 1.5million pounds in bribes so that his business could thrive. Both politicians and police have been supporting and indulging in the prostitution industry openly. "To have a mistress is an individual's right. There should be no problem as long as the policitican causes no trouble to his family or society." Politicans and policemen, the symbols of lawfulness and justice, have both been supporting and indulging in the prostitution industry openly. Khun Tavich, a verteran polititioan at 76 years was under fire in 2005 for impregnanting a 14 year old girl, who worked across the street from the o After a police raid on some Bangkok parlors where policemen had sex with prostitutes, acting police chief defended the police action, saying that the officers involved needed to have sex with the masseuses to gain evidence for the arrest. Apparently, this is standard practice as a separate police force did the same in Pattaya in May 2007. Obviously, this is quite reasonable and sound explanation. It was absolutely necessarily and essential for the officers to sleep with the prostitutes in order to confirm the fact that they were indeed prostitutes.
Each year thousands of women from rural villages all over Thailand flock to the cities to work in bars and brothels. Some are sold outright by their families as slaves and may end up spending their entire lives locked in closed brothels. Others are sent by their families to work in the lucrative sex business and return a good portion of their incomes back home. Some have children of their own that they are hoping to give a better life. But in far too many cases, the dreams never come true. The dreams are crushed because they live in a male dominated society where those sworn to justice turn a blind eye on prostitution. They live in a culture that accepts prostitution as a way of life. They live in a society so blinded by greed that they no longer care about the well being of those less fortunate. They live in Thailand, a country fast becoming renowned for its sex business, a city of bright lights and broken dreams. "Prostitution is a byproduct of unjust economic and social structures and the most obvious form of gender oppression."
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