THAILAND’S sex industry is under fire after the country’s first female tourism minister vowed to shut down the country’s many brothels and go-go bars.
Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul wants future holidaymakers to flock to Thailand for its beauty and beaches and not its seedy red light districts and world-famous ladyboys.
“Tourists don’t come to Thailand for such a thing,” Kobkarn said.
“They come here for our beautiful culture.
“We want Thailand to be about quality tourism.
“We want the sex industry gone.”
Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul was educated in the United States, and she’s a successful businesswoman in her own right. She wants rich holiday-makers to visit Thailand for its culture and beauty, not its seedy red light districts.
With that in mind, she declared August to be “women traveller’s month”. Ostensibly, it’s about splashing the airports in pink, adding female-only immigration queues and parking spaces. Realistically, it’s about diversifying the pool of tourists, and attracting travellers more likely to hit the beach or sample the local food than indulge in sex tourism.
Prostitution is actually illegal in Thailand but the law is almost invariably ignored – mainly because of police corruption.
Those trying to promote the welfare of sex workers say Kobkarn’s goal is unrealistic.
‘SEX CAPITAL OF THE WORLD’ (from news.com)
Damien May has been living in Thailand for five years. Originally a plumber from central Queensland, he now spends his days rescuing underage sex workers.
“There’s no text book for a rescue, and a lot of it’s trial and error,” he said. “We found posing as a customer, as a paedophile, was the best way to get in and start building a relationship with the girls.”
He says it’s critical to earn their trust before offering them a way out.
He works as the International Rescue Manager at Destiny Rescue, an Australian charity that specialises in saving children from human trafficking and sexual exploitation. It operates in five countries across Asia, and has rescued an estimated 1400 children since 2011.
Based in Chiang Mai, most of his work is done in southeast Asia’s Golden Triangle.
“A lot of the kids come from hill tribes,” he said. “Most of them have no identification. They’re stateless. They have no way of making an income.”
He says a lot of them go to cities looking for work, and have no idea what they’re getting into.
“They’re told they’ll work at a restaurant, and serve drinks, but a lot of them get raped,” he said, adding that most feel compelled to stay so they can send money home.
“They take a bullet, so to speak, for the family.”
Once Damien and his team establish a connection, they offer a rehabilitation program — teaching children skills, and helping them find legitimate jobs. They also work with a range of authorities, including the Australian Federal Police, to help put the paedophiles behind bars.
“We’ve done a lot in five years,” he said.
Destiny Rescue is also making progress in other parts of the country.
“Pattaya is the sex capital of the world,” he said. “But we’re seeing a huge drop in underage workers because of what we do. People don’t want to hire them, and we actually struggle to find them now, in Bangkok and Pattaya. That’s good, that’s really good.”