(A Journey of a Leap of Faith)
There are a lot of white men in Bangkok. Old, young, married, single, fat, skinny, ugly and handsome. Ones who look you in the eye as they notice you watch them ‘flirt’ with Thai women and ones who don’t. There are some who stare belligerently and dangerously back, daring you to say something as they paw at the women around them.
For something which is not legal in this country- prostitution sure is out in the open.
Rachel (the President of SOLD) and I are staying in Nana Plaza, otherwise known as the Red Light District. SOLD’s partner Home of New Beginnings (an outreach home which provides income and housing to women who choose to leave the sex trade. Their focus is on education which would allow these women to sustain themselves outside of the trade) is located down the street from here.
The stories of the women who live there are even worse than you would imagine. One girl recounted being snatched off the back of a motorbike and thrown into a van where several other young crying girls sat. It was all she saw until the bag went over her head too. In her case, a policeman saw this and actually intervened. He saved her but allowed the truck to continue. She was rescued from that situation to only end up trafficked several years later by her ‘boyfriend’.
Last night Rachel and I wove around the loud bars, drunk men and heavily made up women heading towards dinner. At a crowded intersection a short, old, grizzled drunk foreign man stopped in front of the two women in front of me. Breathing heavily into her face, he was muttering under his breath looking her up and down as if she was an object and not a human being. As I continued to cross the street I turned around to watch. And realized she wasn’t a woman at all but a young girl, her cheeks round with baby fat. She wriggled her hand into his, shooting a sideways look to her friend for support. The light changed and they were gone, disappearing into a taxi.
As a woman I could just sense that man would be mean.
Being in this area has provided me with an up close and disturbing insight into the mindset here. Early yesterday morning as I slouched around the hotel lobby sipping on my coffee, I watched a stunningly beautiful tiny Thai woman stride towards the doors. Her stilettos clicking hard against the tile. She turned giving a smile to the middle aged frumpy British man whose beet red face smirked into a moony grin. He gazed at her long after she left and then turned and caught me staring. He was one who couldn’t keep eye contact.
I see women sitting on bar stools in daylight hours, waiting for a client and calling to men as they pass: “Massage? Massage?”. I see men who are old enough to be my grandfather, drunk at midday, pulling women onto their laps and fondling them. I see preteen girls, their eyes heavily coated in bright blue eyeshadow, buying juice in 7-11 and then walking down the street responding to any man who calls to them. I see cute young backpackers wearing T shirts which mimic McDonalds logo. As in the “M” is actually a woman spread eagle with the words “I’m Loving It” written underneath.
Despite these womens smiles and solicitations and laughter they are not here by choice. ‘“Choice” implies active enthusiastic consent. It also implies multiple alternatives. Prostitution in Thailand is circumstance-created sex work. If poverty is a choice, then, yes, they have a choice. While most workers are “free” to leave the trade and are not bound to their bedpost, they are bound by lack of education, gender inequality, family debt, and poverty. One of our English students was the sole support of ten members of her family: Her mother and grandmother, her three children, her younger school-age brother, her sister who had been paralyzed in an accident and her husband and their two young children. She needed to take one customer a day in order to support them all.” (Home of New Beginnings).
To anyone who is under the misguided impression partaking in the sex trade in Thailand helps these women economic position please read here. To give you the cliff notes and succinctly drive the point home-”having women rent out their vaginas has never been a path to economic prosperity for any individual or a collective nation.”
I wonder if the men who perpetuate this slavery and exploitation, men who have to pay women to have sex with them, think about the life these women lead and where it ultimately ends for them (1 in 100 people in Thailand is HIV positive). I don’t understand how so many males discount the humanity of a women simply because she is a woman. I don’t understand how so many hundreds and thousands of men are under the impression being bought for sex by sweaty, smelly, and drunk ‘faruang’ men is something a woman would genuinely want to do with her life. I don’t understand how they can tell themselves their behavior is acceptable and honorable.
And day after day, night after night these women wake up, put on their dresses and make up and smiles and go out to endure it all again.
“ I am haunted by my past every sleeping and waking hour. I want to sever my mind from my body…If there had been an alternate path for my survival, I would have jumped for it. My country intentionally provides no other path. All other roads lead to poverty.”
Former Sex Worker (began at the age of 13)