(MintPress) – 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.
Today, it’s estimated that 3 percent of Thailand’s prostitution industry accounts for the nation’s economy, valued in 2008 at $4.3 billion — and that’s a conservative estimate.
Western men still account for the market’s clientele. In terms of child prostitution and sex trafficking, 25 percent of all arrests made related to the industry were made up of Americans — 18 percent were German, 14 percent were Australian and 12 percent were English, according to the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women and Children.
Currier, who has ties to Thrive Rescue Home, a Thailand-based sex trafficking victim rehabilitation home, told Mint Press News it’s not uncommon to see Western men in their 50s and 60s in the company of beautiful Thai woman in their teens, 20s and 30s.
U.S. ties with Thailand
Thailand’s government has largely turned a blind eye to the sex industry in Thailand, which is considered the international capital for the human trafficking industry. And yet the U.S. government continues to refer to Thailand as an ally, referring to the relationship between the two nations as a “longstanding friendship.”
“Today the United States and Thailand cooperate on a wide range of programs across a vast range of issues, including education and culture, public health, business and trade, democracy, as well as security and military operation,” it states on the Bangkok, Thailand, U.S. Embassy website.
So, where is the accountability on behalf of the United States — a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council — for the rampant human rights violations in Thailand relating to the sex trafficking industry?
The U.S. has addressed the issue of sex trafficking in Thailand, providing USAID to assist with, among other things, stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS, which has already impacted 750,000. However, this does not effectively address the eradication of the sex trade industry, which fuels the epidemic in Thailand, and is considered the fastest growing criminal industry in the world.
The U.S. has also acknowledged the problem. In a UNHCR report on sex trafficking, authored by the U.S. State Department, it calls out the Thai government for failing to combat the industry.
“The Government of Thailand does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking,” the report states. “The government has not shown evidence of increasing efforts to address human trafficking compared to the previous year.”
The report goes on to state that law enforcements efforts were “hindered by authorities’ failure to identify and adequately protect victims.”
A problem too big to solve?
The sex industry, at this point, poses a tremendous uphill battle for Thai law enforcement, akin to a small fire gone wild. Recommendations have been put forth by the UNHCR to eradicate the illegal sex trade and market in Thailand, yet pressure and sanctions seem to be missing from the equation.
According to the U.S. State Department, Thailand is its third largest bilateral trading partner, falling behind China and Japan. Trade in 2011 was valued at more than $35 billion. In terms of investing in Thailand, the U.S. tops the list — in 2011, it brought in more than $466 million in “foreign direct investments.”
So long as the U.S. considers Thailand’s relationship a “friendship,” without posing economic consequences for its failure to tackle the sex trafficking industry, what incentive is there for the Thai government, if not one based in morality?
In the global economic system, money speaks louder than compassion.
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