Learning the Thai Sex Trade

Sorting the fact from fantasy in Thailand's sex industry
Alex Renton Prospect
May 5, 2005
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Every year, hordes of Western and Asian men flock to 'the brothel of the world' to take their pick of pliant young women with the famous, demure 'Thai smile.'

The women's wages -- pocket money to many clients -- offer income above and beyond what's available in the impoverished countryside. As a saying there goes, 'The land a girl child ploughs lies between her legs.'

But Thai prostitutes aren't just economic engines for their families back on the farms. As a Thai economist points out to writer Alex Renton, there are 'many people beyond the prostitutes themselves who make a living on the back of Thailand's sex trade.'

They include the predictable folks like police eager for bribes and the slimy 'sexpatriates' who've set up shop as purveyors of women free from the influence of 'feminazis.' The government, through taxes, gets a cut too.

Perhaps most unsettling though is the industry that's sprung up to study and combat prostitution and human trafficking. 'The books on why people have sex in Thailand line the bookshop shelves next to those on how to have sex in Thailand,' Renton writes.

Some 21 UN agencies and nongovernmental organizations concerned with trafficking are based in Bangkok, which seems to play host every few weeks to a new conference, seminar, or forum on the issue. Human trafficking is considered a cash-cow cause, and funders like to see figures. That means a lot of statistics have been tossed around with little care or attention to reality -- adding to the fantasies generated by the Thai sex trade, Renton writes.

Renton admits to taking a liberal view of prostitution. But as someone who lives with his family in a Bangkok neighborhood dense with Thai women and their groping Western patrons, he's not blind to its deleterious effects either. To assuage them, he argues, takes honesty from the NGOs flush with millions for the cause, and action from the government when it comes to combating poverty, corrupt police, exploitation of the underage, and trafficking.
-- Hannah Lobel

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