Common Myths of the Thai Sex Industry Debunked
Myth #2: The clientele of the industry is mostly foreign men.
Myth #3: The industry is limited to the red light districts of Bangkok.
Myth #4: The workers are sold into a sexual slavery.
|Sex Industry||Organization||Sex Tourism||Advertising||Workers||Conclusion|
Thailand, a country inhabited by an estimated sixty-four million people, consists of a predominantly Buddhist population (95%). The minor religions include Muslin (3.8%), Christianity (0.5%), Hinduism (0.1%), and others (0.6%). Three-fourths of the people are indigenous to Thailand, 14% are Chinese and 11% are of various ethnic backgrounds. Although agriculture is the nation’s leading occupation (54%), the service industry—which includes sexual services—accounts for 31% of all occupations, and industry follows at 15% (CIA Website: Thailand).
Sex Industry in Bangkok
Organization, Locations, and Businesses Involved
The organization of the industry varies. There are many local brothels, or prostitute houses, as well as other venues that offer sexual services. These include, but are not limited to, hotels, go-go bars, restaurants, karaoke bars, dance clubs, and organized sex tours. There are also streetwalking “free-lance” workers and those who work under a pimp. Much of this business is focused around Bangkok in the Patpong, Soi Cowboy, and the Nana Entertainment Plaza areas. However, there are also brothels in the countryside and other areas in Thailand, such as Chiang Mai, Phuket, Pattaya, and Hat Yai, which serve the local Thais (Belk 1998: 9).
Travel agencies design sex package tours as a type of work incentive for firms. These are convenient and include airfare, ground transportation, local guides, sightseeing, and an unlimited number of girls at one’s command. Hotels include meeting rooms for when “nightlife spills into the workday,” and rooms adjoin restaurants for customers who don’t want to take a waitress back to their hotel. Some hotels have personal prostitutes available upon order, and some even offer to rent out wives for their long-term guests (Truong 1990: 127).
Airlines and other tourist operators use scantily clad Thai girls and women in advertising campaigns, promoting the exotic beauty and servitude of Thai women that “feminism has corrupted in the West” (Bishop & Robinson 1998: 167). All tourism advertisements are paid for by the Thai government, as tourism is considered essential if the country is to continue to prosper economically. Although prostitution is illegal in Thailand and the police have started to crackdown on the brothels that local Thai men visit, the government actually encourages foreigners to partake in the sex trade, for then they support the economy (Boonchalaksi 1994: 17).
Advertising Sex Tourism
The commodification of the female body in modern marketing for commercial products has begun to overlap with marketing for the well-established industry of sexual services in Bangkok and other Thai cities (Mills 1999: 106). One example is the use of Miss Thailand to endorse products for beauty pageant promoters, while also being used in British telephone booth ads for call-girl services (Sakboon 2002). In a form of “discourse,” sex tours advertise the subtle, yet seductive aspects of Thai women that will tease and stimulate the fantasies of potential clients: female submissiveness, caring and warmth, and unrestrained sexual energy. Other, more overt means are also used to attract customers. Sex tour agencies will often provide specific information about the types of services offered and their prices. Pornographic videos and explicit web forums have become a medium for advertising the exotic Thai sex adventure and even pimping individual women to potential international tour clients (Truong 1999: 125).
The sex tourism industry takes an international focus in their advertising campaigns in order to appeal to Western and East Asian sex tourists. This clientele propels the economic powerhouse of sex tourism, an industry that has contributed significantly to Thailand’s urban growth and yet has stigmatized its global reputation. The government now recognizes the dichotomy in their situation: trying to strengthen tourism as a major source of revenue in the Thai economy, while simultaneously attempting to downplay the amount of negative publicity Thailand, and specifically Thai women, receive in the international media. The famous smile of the Thai woman, symbolic of Thai hospitality, is perverted into a selling tool for an odious institution. The advantages of this portrayal of the Thai woman and its ability to attract foreign tourists influence the Thai government’s actions. Because the economic prosperity of the sex industry depends on the choices made by Thai women to become sex workers, the government often neglects the welfare of the people in rural areas.
Class, Status, Geographic Origins, and NGO's
Studies also show that the women coming from these poor, rural families are mainly from the north and northeast of Thailand. A second study states that “Thai teenage girls and women choose to be in the business of prostitution in Thailand, specifically in the infamous sex trade in Bangkok…and come from the North of Thailand to make money in order to support themselves and sometimes to support their families” (Arnold and Bertone 2002: 33). Although there are some females, males, and even children that “provide sex work against their will,” (Skrobanek 200: 12) more often, they are not exploited because they make the decision to be a part of the industry. This includes males who come from different countries in Africa to enjoy the high wages they earn from gay clientele. However, males have “become increasingly popular with women, particularly Japanese tourists” (Rahman 7). Males participating in the sex industry include these foreign male prostitutes and those who own the bars, brothels and other establishments where sex services are provided. Because of their high demand and management positions, they generally have a higher status, class, and earn higher salaries than women.
In order to help and protect sex workers forced into the industry and even those who aren’t, several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have formed, such as Project Hope International and EMPOWER. These organizations strive to make improvements for prostitutes by getting involved in Thailand’s government and fighting for laws to protect sex workers. It is important for the leaders of NGOs to form relationships with government agencies and police, because laws regulating the sex industry are leniently enforced (Arnold and Bertone 2002: 27-37).