Human trafficking and forced prostitution are issues that are very close to home for me. I live near one of the largest human trafficking hubs in the country and you cannot drive down the interstate without seeing half a dozen billboards with hyper-sexualized "masseuses," who tend to be Asian or Hispanic, and promises that trucker parking is available. But of course, this is not just a local issues. Human trafficking is an international tragedy that affects men, women, and children alike. Many wind up in this situation because they are kidnapped, coerced, or traded by unsuspecting family members who are desperate to pay off their debts. The parents are promised that they will have a better life and will be able to send money back to the family in addition to the money they received from the trade. Instead of placing them in good jobs as promised, they usually end up in slave labor or forced prostitution, which is more often than not the case in Thailand. These individuals are highly prone to AIDS and other STDs which usually follow the sex tourist back home to infect their loved ones.
Those who come to Thailand specifically for sex often do so because they indulge in sex acts that would be frowned upon back in their home countries, including child prostitution. Many, if not most, are aware that these individuals have been trafficked and have no choice about being there. For the men who engage in sexual tourism, it is as much about the power as the sex. They revel in the fact that they have economic power that allows them to purchase anything, including a human being. This only reinforces the idea that men are the providers of money and women (and children) must succumb to that power.
Men looking for the best sex at the cheapest prices turn to the internet instead of lurking around dark alleys as they have in the past. There are even forums on these websites so they can report their experiences, discuss new areas to be explored and to warn about police crackdowns. While conducting research for this article, I came across several such websites. Of course, the same advantages that the internet provides to the offenders, also serves as a tool for police enforcement to combat this growing problem.
However, in far too many cases, the prostitutes are arrested as well. When their pimps come to bail them out, they must work off what they "owe" the pimp for the bailout, which is ofter added on top of "travel expenses" and "room and board." On the up-side, U.S. citizens who have sex with children under the age of 18 abroad will be tried at home instead of the country where it happened and can face up to 30 years in prison. This is a much harsher sentence than they would have faced in the country of the offense as their laws are often much more lenient or unenforced.
The women who are forced into this lifetime have the added shame of being harshly judged by their community. In Thai culture, a good woman is a chaste woman and are therefore marginalized. Additionally, the Thai people resent being associated with sex tourism and those who solicit those services are equally reviled.
Many organizations such as the Polaris provide opportunities to raise awareness, volunteer, as well as donate or organize fundraisers, or even report possible sex trafficking situation. Their hotline is 1-888-3737-888. You can call this number to report a tip, connect with social providers and shelters in your area, request information about volunteer opportunities. Other great resources include Humantrafficking.org, The Department of Homeland Security, and theIntercommunity Peace and Justice Center just to name a few.