Sex workers in Thailand are rejecting the “raid and rescue” model used by authorities to crack down on human trafficking, which inadvertently snares sex workers who are not victims of trafficking. Many of the women arrested are then told to learn vocational skills like sewing and baking.
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“People say we should stop doing what we do, and sew or bake cookies instead – but why are only those jobs considered appropriate?” said Mai Chanta, who has been a sex worker for about eight years.
“This is what we choose to do, and we feel a sense of pride and satisfaction that we are just like other workers.”
Although prostitution is technically illegal in Thailand, it is widely tolerated. Yet in recent years there have been a growing number of police raids on brothels.
Thomson Reuters Foundation reports:
“Raid and rescue” operations by the police and charities often use laws related to migrant workers and trafficking to fine, detain, prosecute and deport sex workers, said Liz Hilton at Empower Foundation.
“The authorities justify the raids saying there is trafficking, but most sex workers in Thailand are in it because it pays more than many other jobs that are accessible to them,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
A government official said the raids are meant to check trafficking of migrants and underage prostitution and that authorities have provided sex workers with healthcare and vocational training.
“We have discussed legalizing prostitution, but it is not an option, as we do not want to be seen as encouraging it,” said Pornsom Paopramot, inspector general at the social development ministry.
Still, as Anna Olsen from the International Labour Organization in Bangkok pointed out, “Trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation is a serious issue, but it is distinct from sex work. The conflation of the two fails to recognize that working in the sex industry is a practical decision for many.”
Thai sex workers in Chiang Mai say they will continue to fight. They’ve already managed to set up the Can Do Bar, which they own as a collective, benefitting from health insurance, fixed hours and time off — things typically denied to sex workers.