Dirk Currier, an American pastor who has worked with Thrive Rescue Home, a Thailand-based sex trafficking victim rehabilitation organization, had a difficult time grasping the reality of the scene at Thailand’s Pattaya Beach. For as far as he could see, streets were lined with thousands of women, men and “lady boys,” all of whom were marketing themselves in Thailand’s ever growing and prosperous sex industry.
Currier attempted to count the numbers, but gave up when his tally quickly exceeded 100.
“There were too many to count,” Currier said in an interview with Mint Press News.
Currier’s experience reflects the reality in Thailand. In a country that outlaws prostitution on the books, the practice is rampant — and it’s fueling a sex trade devastating the lives of not only Thai women, but women and children across the globe who are bought and sold to fuel the demand.
Statistics regarding the number of prostitutes in Thailand vary greatly, as it’s an elusive, unregulated industry. Yet the Center for the Protection of Children’s Rights estimated there to be 2 million prostitutes in Thailand in 1996, 800,000 of whom were alleged to be younger than 11 years of age. Thailand’s Ministry of Health puts the number of sex-related establishments at 20,000, with a combined employee count of 700,000 in 1999.
The stories of those who entered the industry generally fall under two categories: forced trade or economic desperation.
“The majority of the trafficking victims identified within Thailand are migrants from Thailand’s neighboring countries who are forced, coerced or defrauded into labor or commercial sexual exploitation or children placed in the sex trade; conservative estimates have this population numbering in the tens of thousands of victims,” the UNCHR states in its 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report.
Thailand: international sex trafficking hub
The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) identifies Thailand as the world’s major source and destination of those who are victimized by the sex trade industry — this includes women, children and men.
“The majority of the trafficking victims identified within Thailand are migrants from Thailand’s neighboring countries who are forced, coerced or defrauded into labor or commercial sexual exploitation or children placed in the sex trade; conservative estimates have this population numbering in the tens of thousands of victims,” the report states.
The U.S. is not innocent in the plague of sex trafficking and prostitution that has permeated the culture of Thailand. While prostitution is a trade that dates back centuries, it rose to prevalence in Thailand with the arrival of U.S. soldiers stationed in the country during the Vietnam War.
Even then, prostitution was deemed illegal in the country, thanks to pressure from the United Nations. Provisions were enacted in 1966 for entertainment establishments featuring exotic dancers, which snowballed and fueled the prostitution and sex trade industry.
“… Military prostitution was transformed to cater to an expanding civilian market,” a 2009 Thailand Law Journal Report states. “Government encouragement of the prostitution and tourism industries fueled the demand for tourism-prostitution services.”When the soldiers left, prostitution in Thailand did not.