Prostitution in Thailand, by Wikipedia

Prostitution in Thailand, by Wikipedia

Postby admin » Tue May 24, 2016 12:56 am

Prostitution in Thailand
by Wikipedia
May 23, 2016



Sex workers in Pattaya

Prostitution is not strictly illegal in Thailand, though solicitation and public nuisance laws are in effect. In practice it is tolerated and partly regulated. Prostitution operates clandestinely in many parts of the country.[1] Local officials with commercial interests in prostitution often protect the practice. The precise number of prostitutes is difficult to assess; estimates vary widely and are subject to national and international controversy.[2] Since the Vietnam War, Thailand has gained international notoriety among travellers from many countries as a sex tourism destination.

Extent of prostitution

A go-go bar, Soi Cowboy, Bangkok

Estimates of the number of prostitutes in Thailand vary widely and are subject to controversy. A 2004 estimate by Dr. Nitet Tinnakul of Chulalongkorn University gave a total of 2.8 million sex workers, including 2 million women, 20,000 adult males, and 800,000 minors under the age of 18, but the figures for women and minors were considered to be grossly inflated by most observers, and to have resulted from poor research methods. According to a 2001 report by the World Health Organisation: "The most reliable suggestion is that there are between 150,000 and 200,000 sex workers."[3][4] In its annual human rights report for 2008, the US State Department noted that, "A government survey during the year found that there were 76,000 to 77,000 adult prostitutes in registered entertainment establishments. However, NGOs believed there were between 200,000 and 300,000 prostitutes."[2] The state department's 2013 Human Rights Report for Thailand made no estimates of the extent of prostitution,[5] but in 2015 Havocscope, a database providing information about the global black market, gave a figure of about 250,000 for the number of prostitutes working in Thailand.[6][7]

It has been suggested for example that there may be as many as 10,000 prostitutes on Ko Samui alone, an island resort destination not usually noted for prostitution, and that at least 10 percent of tourist dollars may be spent on the sex trade.[8] An estimate published in 2003 placed the trade at US$4.3 billion per year, or about three percent of the Thai economy.[9] In 2015 Havocscope said that about $6.4 billion dollars in annual revenue was being generated by the trade, a figure which accounted for 10 percent of Thailand’s GDP. Sex workers in Thailand send an annual average of US$300 million to family members who reside in more rural areas of Thailand.[6][7]

In 1996, the police in Bangkok estimated that there were at least 5,000 Russian prostitutes working in Thailand, many of whom had arrived through networks controlled by Russian gangs.[10]

Location of prostitution

Beer bars, Pattaya

Centres such as Bangkok (Patpong, Nana Plaza, and the red-light district of Soi Cowboy), Pattaya, and Phuket (Patong) are often identified as primary tourist "prostitution zones", with Hat Yai and other Malaysian border cities catering to Malaysians. In Bangkok, the so-called Ratchadaphisek entertainment district, running along Ratchadaphisek Road near the Huai Khwang intersection, features several large entertainment venues which include sexual massage. Lumphini Park in central Bangkok is well-known as a prostitution spot after dark.[11] Prostitution also takes place in nearly every major city and province in the country.

Prostitution takes place in a number of different types of venues, including brothels, hotels, massage parlours, restaurants, saunas, hostess bars, go-go bars and "beer bars".[12] In some karaoke bars there are women who, in addition to singing and playing traditional Thai music, sometimes engage in prostitution. Many other service sector workers offer sexual services as a sideline. Straightforward brothels, which offer no services aside from sex, represent the lower end of the market. These are most common outside Bangkok, serving low-income Thai men.

Ab ob nuat

Ab ob nuat establishments ("bathing and massage" in Thai) typically provide either an oil massage, nude body massage, or a bath treatment which includes sexual services.[13] In this type of establishment, male clients can engage in sexual activity with female prostitutes, similar to soaplands in Japan.[11] Prostitution establishments targeted at locals are usually "bathing-sauna-massage" parlours of this type.[14]

Massage parlours

Although Thailand is also known for its non-sexual, traditional style of massage, known as nuat phaen boran, some massage parlours provide customers erotic massage at additional cost including handjobs, oral sex, and sexual intercourse. The difference between this type of massage and ab ob nuat is that not all massage parlours are involved in prostitution.

Bars catering to foreigners

Women ("bar girls"), or men, in the case of gay bars, or transsexual ("kathoeys") are employed by the bars either as dancers (in the case of go-go bars) or simply as hostesses who will encourage customers to buy them drinks. Apart from these sorts of bars, there are a number of other sex trade venues. In most of these establishments the prostitutes are directly employed, but in hotels, some bars and discos freelance prostitutes are allowed to solicit clients.[15][16]


Bar girls in Pattaya waiting for customers

The documented history of prostitution in Thailand goes back at least six centuries, with overt and explicit references by the Chinese voyager Ma Huan (1433) and subsequently by European visitors (Van Neck, 1604; Gisbert Heeck, 1655 and others). It is certainly not a new phenomenon, though it may have been exacerbated by the Japanese occupation during World War II and by the extensive use of Thailand as a "Rest and Recreation" facility by US forces during the Second Indochina War (c. 1963 - 1973)[17][18]

Thailand has an ancient, continuous tradition of legal texts, generally described under the heading of Dhammasattha literature (Thai pron., tam-ma-sat), wherein prostitution is variously defined and universally banned. The era of traditional legal texts came to an end in the early 20th century, but these earlier texts were significant in regard to both the writ and spirit of modern legislation.[19]

In the twentieth century a variety of laws relating to the sex industry were passed, including the Contagious Diseases Prevention Act of 1908 and the Entertainment Places Act of 1966.[15] Prostitution itself was made illegal in Thailand[2] in 1960, when a law was passed under pressure from the United Nations.[20] The government instituted a system of monitoring sex workers in order to prevent their mistreatment and to control the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.[1] The 1960 law was repealed by the Prevention and Suppression of Prostitution Act, B.E. 2539 (1996).

Current legal situation

As of June 2012, the legal framework governing prostitution in Thailand is based upon three acts:

The Prevention and Suppression of Prostitution Act, B.E. 2539 (1996)

The Prevention and Suppression of Prostitution Act is the central legal framework prohibiting prostitution. Under the act, a definition of "prostitution" is provided: "Sexual intercourse, or any other act, or the commission of any other act in order to gratify the sexual desire of another person in a promiscuous manner in return for money or any other benefit, irrespective of whether the person who accepts the act and the person who commits the act are of the same sex or not." However, a clear definition of the phrase "in a promiscuous manner" is not provided.[21]

Under the act, persons who solicit sex "in an open and shameless manner" (a phrase that is not clearly defined), or who are "causing nuisance to the public" are subject to a fine of no more than 1,000 baht, while persons mingling in a "prostitution establishment" face a jail term of up to one month and/or a fine of up to 1,000 baht. The term "prostitution establishment" is not clearly defined, although it may be broadly interpreted to include any place where prostitution takes place, especially in regard to cases involving child prostitution that carry heavier penalties (up to six years if the prostitute is younger than 15 years of age)—otherwise, the law is not usually enforced against prostitution in private places. The act also imposes heavier penalties against owners of prostitution businesses and establishments: A jail term of three to fifteen years, or longer in the case of underaged or forced sex workers.[21][22][23][24] The criminal code also stipulates penalties for procuring or using money earned from prostitution.[25][26]

The Prevention and Suppression of Prostitution Act was written with a particular focus upon child prostitution and trafficking. Section 8 penalizes customers who engage in sexual intercourse with sex workers under the age of 15 years with a prison term of two to six years and a fine of up to 120,000 baht. For sex workers between the ages of 15 and 18 years, the prison term is one to three years, and the fine is up to 60,000 baht.[21]

In regard to trafficking, Section 9 of the act states:

Any person who procures, seduces or takes away any person for the prostitution of such person, even with her or his consent and irrespective of whether the various acts which constitute an offence are committed within or outside the Kingdom, shall be liable to imprisonment for a term of one to ten years and to a fine of twenty thousand to two hundred thousand Baht.[21]

Additionally, any offense under Section 9 that is committed "by means of fraud, deceit, threat, violence, [or] the exercise of undue influence or coercion,” results in a penalty that is “one-third heavier."[21]

The Penal Code Amendment Act

The Act does not explicitly state that prostitution in Thailand is illegal, but Title IX, Section 286 of the Penal Code states: “Any person, being over sixteen years of age, [sic] subsists on the earning of a prostitute, even if it is some part of her incomes [sic], shall be punished with imprisonment of seven to twenty years and fined of fourteen thousand to forty thousand Baht, or imprisonment for life.” While penalties are not specified, the same section of the act penalizes any person who (i) is found residing or habitually associating with a prostitute, (ii) receives boarding, money or other benefits arranged for by a prostitute or (iii) assists any prostitute in a quarrel with a customer.[21]

The Act was also written to address child prostitution, but lacks complete clarity, as it does not define what an "indecent act" is. Title IX, Section 279 of the Penal Code states: "Whoever, commits an indecent act on a child not yet over fifteen years of age, whether such child shall consent or not, shall be punished with imprisonment not exceeding ten years or fined not exceeding twenty thousand Baht, or both."[21]

The Entertainment Places Act

The Entertainment Places Act places the onus upon the owner of certain types of entertainment establishments if prostitution occurs on the premises, thereby making them criminally liable. According to the act, sex workers must also undergo rehabilitation for one year at a reform house upon the completion of punishment for practicing prostitution.[21]

Legalization attempt

In 2003, the Ministry of Justice considered legalising prostitution as an official occupation with health benefits and taxable income and held a public discussion on the topic. Legalisation and regulation was proposed as a means to increase tax revenue, reduce corruption, and improve the situation of the workers.[9] However, nothing further was done.


In 2008, 532,522 Thais were suffering from HIV/AIDS.[27] The prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Thailand, and especially among sex workers, has been the subject of significant media and academic attention, and Thailand hosted the XV International AIDS Conference, 2004.

Mechai Viravaidya, known as "Mr. Condom",[28] has campaigned tirelessly to increase the awareness of safe sex practices and use of condoms in Thailand. He served as minister for tourism and AIDS prevention from 1991 to 1992, and also founded the restaurant chain Cabbages and Condoms, which gives free condoms to customers.

After the enactment of the Thai government's first five-year plan to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the country, including Mechai's "100% condom programme", as of 1994 the use of condoms during commercial sex probably increased markedly. No current data on the use of condoms is available. The programme instructed sex workers to refuse intercourse without a condom, and monitored health clinic statistics in order to locate brothels that allow sex without condoms.[1]

Thailand was praised for its efforts in the fight against HIV/AIDS during the late 1990s, but UNAIDS estimates that in 2013 from 380,000 to 520,000 Thais are living with HIV.[29]

Reasons for the prevalence and toleration of prostitution

Social views

Thai society has its own unique set of often contradictory sexual mores. Visiting a prostitute or a paid mistress is not an uncommon, though not necessarily acceptable, behaviour for men. Many Thai women, for example, believe the existence of prostitution actively reduces the incidence of rape.[1] Among many Thai people, there is a general attitude that prostitution has always been, and will always be, a part of the social fabric of Thailand.[1]

According to a 1996 study, the sexual urge of men is perceived by both Thai men and women as being very much stronger than the sexual urge of women. Where women are thought to be able to exercise control over their desires, the sexual urge of men is seen to be "a basic physiological need or instinct". It is also thought by both Thai men and women that men need "an occasional variation in partners". As female infidelity is strongly frowned upon in Thai society, and, according to a 1993 survey, sexual relationships for single women also meets disapproval by a majority of the Thai population, premarital sex, casual sex and extramarital sex with prostitutes is accepted, expected and sometimes even encouraged for Thai men, the latter being perceived as less threatening to a marriage over lasting relationships with a so-called "minor wife".[30]

Another reason contributing to this issue is that ordinary Thais deem themselves tolerant of other people, especially those whom they perceive as downtrodden. This acceptance has allowed prostitution to flourish without much of the extreme social stigma found in other countries. According to a 1996 study, people in Thailand generally disapprove of prostitution, but the stigma for prostitutes is not lasting or severe, especially since many prostitutes support their parents through their work. Some men do not mind marrying former prostitutes.[31] A 2009 study of subjective well-being of prostitutes found that among the sex workers surveyed, sex work had become normalized.[32]

Government politicians and prostitution

Chuwit Kamolvisit was the owner of several massage parlours in Bangkok and considered by many a "godfather of prostitution" in Thailand. In 2005 he was elected for a four-year term to the Thai House of Representatives, but in 2006 the Constitutional Court removed him from office. In October 2008 he again ran for governor of Bangkok but was not elected. He revealed in 2003 that some of his best clients were senior politicians and police officers, whom he also claimed to have paid, over a decade, more than £1.5 million in bribes so that his business, selling sex, could thrive.[33][34]

Although Thailand's sex trade aimed at foreigners can be considered overt, the industry that caters exclusively to Thai men had never before been publicly scrutinised, let alone the sexual exploits of Thailand's unchallengeable officials.[34]

Support of prostitution is pervasive in political circles, as BBC News reported in 2003. "MPs from Thailand's ruling Thai Rak Thai Party are getting hot under the collar over plans by the party leadership to ban them from having mistresses or visiting brothels...." One MP told The Nation newspaper that if the rules were enforced, the party would only be able to field around 30 candidates, compared to its more than 200 sitting MPs."[35]

Attitudes towards women were exemplified by MP Thirachai Sirikhan, quoted in The Nation, "To have a mia noi (mistress) is an individual's right. There should be no problem as long as the politician causes no trouble to his family or society".[35]

After a police raid on some Bangkok parlours where policemen had sex with prostitutes, "Acting Suthisan Police chief Colonel Varanvas Karunyathat defended the police action, saying that the (police) officers involved needed to have sex with the masseuses to gain evidence for the arrest."[36] Apparently, this is standard practice as a separate police force did the same in Pattaya in May 2007.[37]

Interview with a Thai human rights activist

Kritaya Archavanitkul, a Thai human rights activist, interviewed by UC Berkeley Institute of International Studies, said,

This is sad to say, that the Thai social structure tends to accept this sort of abuse, and not only to accept – we have laws, we have bills that vitally support the existence of these sex establishments. That's one thing. And also, we have a Mafia that is also involved in the political parties, so this keeps the abuse going. The second reason is a cultural factor. I don't know about other countries, but in Thailand the sexual behaviour of Thai men accepts prostitution. Every class of Thai men accept it, although not all Thai men practise it. So they don't see it as a problem. So when it comes to the policymakers, who are mostly men, of course, they don't see this as a problem. They know there are many women who are brought into prostitution in Thailand. They know that some are treated with brutal violence. But they don't think it's a terrible picture. They think it's just the unlucky cases. And, because of the profit, I think there are many people with an interest involved, so they try to turn a blind eye to this problem.[38]

Organized crime

According to a US government report published in 2003, "...the red-light districts of Thai cities are home Chinese-owned brothels, casinos, and entertainment facilities...." The report states that a number of the entertainment facilities are operations centres for human and narcotic trafficking and extortion, in addition to their function as sources of income for their owners. The Chinese organised crime groups engaging in human trafficking are called “Piglet Gangs” by the Thai police.[39]


In the book Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy, Kevin Bales argues that in Thai Buddhism, women are viewed as naturally inferior to men, and that Buddha told his disciples that women were "impure, carnal, and corrupting."[40] This is also supported by the belief that women cannot attain enlightenment, although this view is disputed by other Buddhist scriptures such as the Vinaya Pitaka in the Pali Canon.[41] The current Dalai Lama has repeatedly asserted that women can attain enlightenment and function as equals to men in spiritual matters, but his branch of Buddhism is not the one practised in Thailand, which has its own particular agglomeration of beliefs. Bales also points to the fact that ten kinds of wives are outlined in the Vinaya, or rules for monks. Within these rules, the first three are actually women who can be paid for their services.[40] In present day Thailand, this is expressed as a tolerance by wives for prostitution. Sex with prostitutes is viewed by wives as empty sex, and thus women may allow their husbands to have meaningless sex with prostitutes rather than find a new spouse.

Buddhism also prescribes "acceptance and resignation in the face of life's pain and suffering",[40] in accordance with belief in karma and the expiation of sins from previous lives. Women may choose to believe that suffering as prostitutes is the result of their karma.

Prostitution and crime in Thailand

Child prostitution

The exact number of child-prostitutes in Thailand is not known. According to the US-based research institute “Protection Project”, estimates of the number of children involved in prostitution living in Thailand ranges from 12,000 to the hundreds of thousands (ECPAT International). The government, university researchers, and NGOs estimated that there are as many as 30,000 to 40,000 prostitutes under 18 years of age, not including foreign migrants (US Department of State, 2005b). Thailand’s Health System Research Institute estimates that children in prostitution make up 40% of prostitutes in Thailand.[42]

The reasons why and how children are commercially sexually exploited by include:[43]

• Poverty: a high proportion of the population lives in poverty.

• Ethnic hill tribe children: these children live in the border region of northern Thailand. They suffer from disproportionate levels of poverty in relation to the general population and most of them lack citizenship cards. This means that they do not have access to health care or primary school, which limits their further education or employment opportunities.

• Trafficked children: Many children are trafficked into or within the country through criminal networks, acquaintances, former trafficking victims and border police and immigration officials who transport them to brothels across Thailand.

• Sense of duty: According to traditional customs, the first duty of a girl is to support her family in any way she can. Due to this sense of duty and to pay off family debts, many girls have been forced into prostitution.

Children are exploited in sex establishments and are also approached directly in the street by paedophiles seeking sexual contact.[44] Child sex tourism is a serious problem in the country. Thailand, along with Cambodia, India, Brazil and Mexico, has been identified as a leading hotspot of child sexual exploitation.[45] Paedophiles, in particular, exploit the lax laws of the country and attempt to find cover to avoid prosecution.[46]

Human trafficking

Thailand is listed by the UNODC as both a top destination for victims of human trafficking and a major source of trafficked persons.[47]

A 2004 report from the US Department of State indicates that human trafficking—for sexual exploitation and forced labour—originates in Thailand, as well as being a destination, and is also used for transit.[48] There are also reports of bribe-taking by some low- or mid-level police officers that facilitates the most severe forms of trafficking in persons.[2] A human trafficking gang was intercepted in the southern city of Pattaya in October 2014.[49]

Women of Thai and other nationalities have been lured to Japan and sold to Yakuza-controlled brothels, where they are forced to work off a financial debt. It is easy to lure these women from neighboring countries because Thailand has 56 unofficial crossover points and 300 checkpoints, where people can cross the border without paperwork.[1] In a landmark case in 2006, one such woman, Urairat Soimee, filed a civil suit in Thailand against the Thai perpetrators, who had previously been convicted in a criminal court. The woman had managed to escape from the Yakuza-controlled prostitution ring by killing the female Thai mama-san and spent five years in a Japanese prison.[50]

Support organisations for sex workers

Numerous support organisations for sex workers exist in Thailand. Most of them attempt to discourage women from taking up or continuing the trade.

SHE Foundation (Self Help & Empowerment) is a Christian charity organisation that works with women and children involved in the commercial sex trade in Phuket. SHE offers a prevention programme that provides women with free hotel training, free housing and paid employment making jewellery within the SHE Center.

EMPOWER is a Thai NGO that offers health, educational and counseling services to female sex workers. The organisation seeks to empower sex workers and has been operating since 1985, with offices in Patpong (Bangkok), Chiang Mai, Mae Sai and Patong Beach (Phuket).[51]

SWING (Service Workers in Group) is an offshoot of EMPOWER, offering support to male and female sex workers in Patpong and Pattaya. It offers English classes, teaches safe sex education, distributes condoms, and promotes health and safety with an in-house gym and discounted medical examinations. The newly formed organisation SISTERS works with transgender sex workers in Bangkok and Pattaya.[52][53]

The work of the Destiny Rescue organisation is focused on preventing girls from being involved in prostitution in Thailand, as well as the assisted removal of girls from the industry.

FACE is an organisation that focuses on child prostitution and trafficking, and is the main partner of the United Nations in the country.[citation needed] DEPDC is another organisation that works to prevent the trafficking of women and children.

The Population and Community Development Association (PDA), headed by Mechai Viravaidya, pioneered family planning and safe sex strategies in Thailand over thirty years ago. The organisation no longer focuses expressly on safe sex issues, but continues to provide information, condoms, and prevention programmes throughout the country.

International Justice Mission is a US-based Christian human rights organisation that operates in Thailand to rescue brothel workers who are held in sexual slavery.

The Fr. Ray Foundation in Pattaya provides care and housing for vulnerable children at the Children's Home, and the Drop-In Centre for Street Kids for homeless children. Exploited women and their children are provided with education and care at the Fountain of Life facility.[54]

The Well, a US-based Christian service that is part of the Servantworks organisation, has been working with sex workers and at-risk people in Thailand since 2004. The Well provides alternative employment, educational opportunities and social services to assist women and families.[55]

The SOLD Project began in 2007 and is committed to stopping child prostitution through education. The organisation's mission is "to prevent child prostitution through culturally relevant programmes for vulnerable children and to share their stories to empower creative, compassionate people to act".[56]

Books and documentaries

• Jordan Clark's 2005 documentary Falang: Behind Bangkok's Smile takes a rather critical view of sex tourism in Thailand.

• David A. Feingold's 2003 documentary Trading Women explores the phenomenon of women from the surrounding countries being trafficked into Thailand.

• Travels in the Skin Trade: Tourism and the Sex Industry (1996, ISBN 0-7453-1115-6) by Jeremy Seabrook describes the Thai sex industry and includes interviews with prostitutes and customers.

• Cleo Odzer received her Ph.D. in anthropology with a thesis about prostitution in Thailand; her experiences during her three years of field research resulted in the 1994 book Patpong Sisters: An American Woman's View of the Bangkok Sex World (ISBN 1-55970-281-8). In the book she describes the Thai prostitutes she got to know as quick-witted entrepreneurs rather than exploited victims.

• Hello My Big Big Honey!: Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews by Dave Walker and Richard S. Ehrlich (2000, ISBN 0-86719-473-1) is a compilation of love letters from Westerners to Thai prostitutes, and interviews with the latter.

• For an informative caricature of the contemporary sexual norms and mores of Thailand (and its Sex Industry) versus the West see the fiction novels of John Burdett including Bangkok 8 for the comparative anthropology of his half Thai-Western (son of a 'Bar-Girl') protagonist detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep.

• Dennis Jon's 2005 documentary travelogue The Butterfly Trap provides a realistic and non-judgmental first person viewpoint of sex tourism in Thailand.


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52. "HIV Prevention among MSWs in Pattaya" (PDF). UNESCO Bangkok. Retrieved 6 Jan 2015.
53. "Swing and Sisters: HIV outreach to sex workers in Thailand". Retrieved 2013-06-24.
54. "Father Ray Sponsor-a-Child Foundation". Retrieved 2013-06-24.
55. "The Well @ Servantworks". 2013-01-24. Retrieved 2013-06-24.
56. "Stand 4 Freedom". The SOLD Project. Retrieved2013-06-24.

External links

A modern form of slavery: Trafficking of Burmese Women and Girls into Brothels in Thailand, 1993 report.
• Asia's sex trade is 'slavery' - BBC
• Prostitution in Thailand and Southeast Asia, by Justin Hall, 2004.
• Fight Against Child Exploitation (FACE) "The Coalition to Fight Against Child Exploitation (FACE) was founded in 1995 to monitor the legal/justice mechanism in Thailand."
• Patpong Sisters. Urban Desires, Volume 1, Issue 1, Dec 1994. Excerpts from the 1994 book Patpong Sisters (ISBN 1-55970-281-8) by anthropologist Cleo Odzer.
• "The brothel king's revenge" Guardian UK
• UC Berkeley Institute of International Studies, Interview with Thai Human Rights Activist Kritaya Archavanitkul
• The Diplomat: Sex, Lies, and Visa
• Overview of Thai prostitution and red light districts
• Child protection in Thailand TAT article
• Learning the Thai sex trade - Prospect (magazine)
• The Prevention and Suppression of Prostitution Act, B.E. 2539 (1996)
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Re: Prostitution in Thailand, by Wikipedia

Postby admin » Tue May 24, 2016 1:23 am

Asia's sex trade is 'slavery': A United Nations official has described the trafficking of women and children across Asia as "the largest slave trade in history".
by BBC News
February 20, 2003



The victims are usually teenage girls

The transfers are made using "even more cruel and devious means than the original slave trade," Unicef's Kul Gautum told an International Symposium on Trafficking of Children, being held in Tokyo.

He said in Asia and the Pacific alone, more than 30 million children have been traded over the last three decades.

A combination of poverty, globalisation, organised crime and discrimination against women encouraged the trade.

The victims are usually teenage girls who end up working in sweat shops or brothels, he said.

But ending the trade in humans is virtually impossible given the level of corruption among government officials, Mr Gautum said.

Police protection

"In some countries, police, who are supposed to stop these crimes, are involved in crimes by offering protection to criminals. Pimps and middlemen get protection from the police."

Mr Gautum said officials needed to be trained and made more accountable.

Japanese parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs Shinako Tsuchiya urged more co-operation between non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working in the field.

"There are many NGOs in the nations that ship our children, in places that are used as transfer points... but the truth is these NGOs' efforts lack co-ordination."

Educating women and children who run a high risk of being trafficked was also cited as crucial in preventing the trade.

In Bangladesh, Unicef is training 600,000 people to teach their peers about child trafficking.

More than 100 delegates attended the conference sponsored by Unicef and the Japanese foreign ministry.
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Re: Prostitution in Thailand, by Wikipedia

Postby admin » Tue May 24, 2016 1:27 am

Prostitution in Thailand and Southeast Asia or How to keep millions of good women down
by Justin Hall
May, 1994



The twentieth century has seen the rise of the world marketplace. In this new world market, Thailand and the Philippines have recently stepped in to play the role of whorehouse to the world. This is facilitated by developing agents having disregarded the development of women's opportunities for economic independence, leaving prostitution as the highest paying job available to many of the women of Southeast Asia.

While these countries have benefited from the tourist presence and the resulting foreign exchange, the women who actually put themselves out for their countries development process are to a large extent victims of threefold oppression on the basis of gender, class and the particular role of their homeland in the games of international political economy.

International Political Economics

"Ja, I like Bangkok very much. It's the last place in the world where you can still be a white man." - a German Bar Owner1

The idea of creating designated areas for sex tourism in Asia dates back at least as far as pre-Communist China, where "[b ] rothel trains, given the euphemism of 'comfort waggons' were a long accepted part of social life... . Once lusty Europeans could book a ticket to erotic pleasure on some of the specially chartered trains out of Shanghai."2
But it was to be the Japanese who set up the most comprehensive network of "comfort waggons" staffed by forced prostitutes, or "comfort women." Many women "lived as captives of the military beginning in 1932, when Japan invaded China, to the end of the war in 1945."3 Forced to have sex with Japanese soldiers, the women were drawn from the Asian countries conquered by Japan, and included "Japanese, Chinese, Koreans, Filipinos, as well as Dutch women captured in Indonesia, then a Dutch colony."4

While the Japanese had fostered prostitution on a limited scale to serve their own needs, "the boom in Southeast Asia started with the U.S. presence in Vietnam. There were 20,000 prostitutes in Thailand in 1957; by 1964, after the United States established seven bases in the country, that number had skyrocketed to 400,000."5 It was this boom, and the resulting slack after the war that was taken up by tourism, that introduced prostitution as a large-scale business to the region.

This whole process was overseen by the governments of both countries. In 1967, Thailand agreed to provide "rest and recreation" services to American servicemen during the Vietnam War, which the soldiers themselves called, "I&I, ... intercourse and intoxication."6 How did the governments of these countries respond to becoming, in the words of Senator J. William Fulbright, "an American brothel"? One South Vietnamese government official responded, "The Americans need girls; we need dollars. Why should we refrain from the exchange? It's an inexhaustible source of U.S. dollars for the State."7 In fact, the Vietnam war was responsible for "[injecting] some $16 million into the Thai economy annually, money that tourism would have to replace after the war was over."8

Whereas traditionally, the military forces of foreign powers have utilized women of Southeast Asia as prostitutes, or "comfort women," now the soldiers of the countries themselves have taken over. In a survey of Thai students, soldiers, store clerks and labourers, "[a]mong the respondents who have ever patronized prostitutes, the soldiers are the most likely to have visited a prostitute recently: 81% respond that they have visited a prostitute within the past six months."9 In addition, "[t]he median number of visits during the past six months ranges from two for the students to five for the soldiers..."10 A survey of military conscripts from the north of Thailand yielded that "73% of them lost their virginity with a prostitute and 97% regularly visit prostitutes."11

Current government complicity in the "illegal" trade of prostitution can be seen on many fronts. From the soldiers to the politicians, the tourism bureau officials to the police forces, every sector of the powers-that-be have a vested interest in the continuation of prostitution; "many politicians, officials and policemen invest in the sex trade or benefit from it. In the northern province of Phrae, a senior Thai official says, policemen own some of the brothels. Thai newspapers sometimes suggest that certain politicians own chains of brothels."12 Indeed, in a pernicious twist to the idea of official complicity, taken to the point of collusion, "there are several recorded instances in which police, especially in rural areas, have handed escaping girls back to their abusers."13 One story in particular illustrates the forces arrayed against women caught up in this enterprise:

When a group of prostitutes managed to escape from a brothel in Thailand earlier this year, they were reportedly caught by the police in Burma, lock up, assaulted and raped, and then released. They were almost immediately picked up again by the racketeers and returned to Thailand.14

In Thailand, the official position on prostitution is that "prostitution does not exist because it is illegal,"15 which is explained by the fact that "massage parlours, restaurants, motels and tea houses may well offer sexual as well as other services, but they do not count as brothels."16 This side-stepping the issue "is a severe handicap to campaigns that seek to provide safeguards for prostitutes and to limit the spread of AIDS."17 But this doublespeak is vital to maintain a supposed clean bill of health for foreigners considering Thailand for their next sexcapade.

Ultimately, much of official complacency with prostitution is tied to the view of prostitutes as a national resource. During a South Korean orientation session for prostitutes, the women were told: "You girls must take pride in your devotion to your country. Your carnal conversations with foreign tourists do not prostitute either yourself or the nation, but express your heroic patriotism."18 These women play a vital role in the tourism industry which, "including group sex tours, is Thailand's largest single source of foreign exchange."19 Ultimately, what it comes down to, is that "young Thai country women are just another kind of crop."20

During the Vietnam war, the World Bank recommended that Thailand pursue mass tourism as an economic strategy; and the

economic initiatives consequent on the bank's report led to what is routinely described today as a $4-billion-a-year business involving fraternal relationships among airlines, tours operators and the masters of the sex industry. In this sense, sex tourism is like any other multinational industry, extracting enormous profits from grotesquely underpaid local labour and situating the immediate experience of the individual worker - what happens to the body of a 15-year-old from a village in Northeast Thailand - in the context of global economic policy.21


Looking at the problem of prostitution from the perspective of class yields a dichotomy between the wealth and opportunity available to the city-dwellers and the poverty that is the legacy of the rural sector, the source of the vast majority of prostitutes in Southeast Asia ("One study of 1000 Bangkok massage girls found that seventy percent came from farming families"22). This is reinforced on multiple levels, including education, rate of development, development resources allocated and economic statistics: while "only 15% of the population of Thailand lives in the Bangkok area, [it] accounts for half of GDP. Income levels in Bangkok are nine times higher than in the north-eastern part of Thailand, where one-third of the population lives."23 The example of Thailand's development strategy serves best to illustrate this phenomena:

the burden of Thailand urban industrial growth has been borne by the peasantry. In the first place, the much needed foreign exchange earnings for Thailand's initial industrial development were derived from agricultural exports, particularly rice. Secondly, Thailand's ability to attract foreign investors has depended upon its ability to guarantee low labor costs.24

This policy of artificially lowering the price of rice to encourage exports, and maintain low food costs for urban labourers, "...operates to transfer income from the countryside to the city..."25 Thus the perpetuated poverty of the rural areas encouraged migration to cities; and "[w]ith this migration process, the peasantry made its third contribution to Thailand's industrial development. It was now sending its sons and daughters to comprise Bangkok's swelling labor force."26 In the 1950s, these immigrants were men, but "comparison of the 1960 and 1970 census data on migration shows that the most notable change has been the increased proportion of females migrating to Bangkok, especially single migrants 10-19 years old."27

These women, once in the city, are then cajoled, coerced and condemned to take up prostitution as the highest paying job available. Then, once they have begun to make some money, in most cases, they send large portions of those earning home. An International Labour Organization study "found that of fifty prostitutes interviewed, all but four send money home. Most remit one-third to one-half their earnings, sums essential to their rural families' survival."28 That, or the women start off indentured to prostitute themselves to pay off loans their families accept from their daughters's future employers.

It has been established that "access to education is an important indicator for establishing the extent to which a community is benefiting from the changes that accompany economic development."29 In the case of rural Thai women, that access has been severely limited, due in part, it seems, to their rural placement and not their gender. At a very basic level,

[w]here countries such as the Philippines and Malaysia have concentrated on a quantitative expansion of education to expand and meet human capital requirements, Thailand has maintained a strong tradition of making educational opportunity highly competitive and taken an elitist approach to higher education.30

Not only does this attitude translate into fewer schools, but also "this emphasis on quality, up until the 1980s at least, saw Thailand concentrate the bulk of its higher educational institutions within and around Bangkok. By implication, this saw educational opportunity largely confined to this one major urban region."31 In the rural sector, figures from 1986 bore out 7,157,713 children enrolled across the six years of primary school in 1986, and 1,277,619 enrolled across the first three years of secondary.32

But while these systemic shortcomings effect all of the students in the rural districts, male and female,

the shortage of government schools and teachers in rural areas has meant the continuation of traditional pagoda education conducted by monks and therefore not available to girls. Today, 30,459 temples still provide the main opportunity for schooling, and thus social mobility, for Thailand's rural poor - males, that is, not females.33

Evidence of this educational inequality can be found in illiteracy rates after a half a century of compulsory education, 6.3% for men and 17% for women.34


Once the problem is reduced to gender differences and inequality, some clear trends emerge. The most prevalent of these being that the continuing success of the prostitution trade rests on the perceptions of the clients seeing the women as both desirable in their exoticism and willing participants in the exchange.

The women of Southeast Asia are subject to age-old, deeply ingrained stereotypes and pre-conceptions; "[s]ex tours primarily market Asian women, described as exotic and docile..."35 There's the perceived "mystique of the Asian woman - beautiful, obedient, available..."36 Some descriptions are even more overt: "[a] Swiss tour operator describes Thai women as 'slim, sun-burnt and sweet ... masters of the art of making love by nature.'"37 These are the qualities that appeal to the foreigners; take, for example, this testimony by a "sexile" or a "sexpatriot," an aging European foreigner who went to Southeast Asia looking for sexual adventure:

Now, ... he is reduced to buying himself a bit of affection, some excitement, illusions of comfort and consolation. He has contempt for Britain, where, he says, everyone has gone soft, men are no longer men and women have got too assertive. This is a recurring subtext in the testimony of the sexiles: Filipinas are anxious to please, they don't ask questions, are docile and submissive. "What d'you expect in a woman," says Mike defiantly.38

Even, when you approach the subject of development programs that might offer some hope of redemption, some opportunity " create viable income producing alternatives in poor villages that can compete with the earning powers of prostitution,"39, women are denied solely on the basis of their gender; "Aid programmes and information, when available, are almost invariably channeled through men."40

In the midst of this analysis of political economy and gender and class, and the effects they have on prostitution, a moment must be taken to examine the deleterious effects of prostitution on the women who work it. Disease is a constant threat to these prostitutes, some of whom have sex with upwards of eight or nine men a day. Studies have shown that in some locales, more than forty per cent of the prostitutes have venereal disease.41 Also, when, as is often the case, they are started young, "boys and girls are more vulnerable to infection because they are prone to lesions and injuries in sexual intercourse."42 And risk is also increased when the women continue prostituting through their menstrual cycle, as they are wont to do, to avoid the fines levied by bars for taking time off for their periods. Besides those risks, the women often "go deaf because of the incessant loud music in the bars and suffer intestinal disorders because they are forced to throw up so as to keep ordering expensive drinks."43

The physical suffering borne by these women is often unbearable without the aid of drugs. Take, for example, this story of a young prostitute:

After having my body ravaged by several customers in a row, I just get too tired to move my limbs. At times like this, a shot of heroin is needed. This enables me to handle five or six men in a single night. I can't help but take the drug in order to keep myself in working condition.44

A United Nations study of a thousand Thai prostitutes revealed that a quarter were regular users of speed, barbiturates, and heroin. All these serve to keep the women indebted to and dependent on yet more unhealthiness.

Finally, the question begs itself: "How does a young Thai woman, normally very shy, dance naked in front of strangers or sleep with them? 'You make yourself very empty,' says Noi, a former prostitute..."45 And after they have been through this experience of prostituting themselves, often there is a need for "counselors for the girls who had been mentally affected by their ordeal"46 - a need, of course, which remains unmet for the vast majority of Southeast Asian prostitutes.

The men, on the other hand, ride the other end of the equation. Whether foreign or local, the men are willing to use the women to satisfy their sexual needs at an incredible rate. This often without regard to disease or any common moral restraints, including age: prostitutes as young as seven are often bartered alongside their older counterparts.

While the foreign aspect of prostitution in Thailand and the Philippines may garner the most attention and money, most of the customers, patronizing the cheapest establishments, are native: "[a]ccording to reliable surveys of sexual behaviour, every day at least 450,000 Thai men visit prostitutes"47 (emphasis mine). Thus, much of the impetus sustaining the incredible rate of prostitution in Thailand is cultural; "Thai men think it is their right to have cheap sex, ... and there are enough poor Thai women to make it possible."48 Prostitution in many cases has become integrated with initiation rights: "[f]or many Thai men, a trip to the neighborhood brothel is a rite of passage, a tradition passed from father to son."49 Certainly, prostitutes play a large part in forming the sexual identity of young Thai males; "a demonstration of heterosexual orientation by having sex with a female prostitute is an important rite of passage for some groups of Thai men."50 This is borne out by the available statistics: "[s]tudies show that the majority of Thai men have their first sexual experience with a prostitute - the act is often a part of high school and university hazing rituals - and that 95% of all men over 21 have slept with a prostitute."51 In addition to rites of passage, the activity of visiting a whorehouse has become a social activity in many cases, "'Sex with prostitutes seems to be a way for men to enjoy each other's company,' notes Barbara Franklin of Care International, ... 'It is often part of a night out with friends who share food, drink and sometimes even sexual partners.'"52

This fosters a deep imbalance in the attitudes most Thai men have towards women and sex; "[m]ost men consider women to be either sexual objects of obedient homemakers."53 And the rift between the sexes deepens when one considers the sexual roles prescribed each:

And while it is perfectly acceptable for men to visit prostitutes, premarital sex between men and women who are dating is strictly forbidden. Many Thais believe that this double standard has helped create the thriving sex trade. "In Thailand, women are supposed to be chaste until marriage and monogamous afterward," says writer and social critic Sukanya Hantrakul. "Men are supposed to be promiscuous."54

Indeed, a survey of both sexes by the Deemar Corporation in 1990, bore out that "80% of males and 74% of the females responded that it was 'natural for men to pursue sex at every opportunity."55


The forced migration of rural women, girls in many cases, to the cities cannot be solely explained in terms of coercion. Many women "find their way with open eyes, drawn by the prospects of much higher rewards than they could ever earn even in a government job, let alone doing unskilled work in industry or agriculture."56 In the Philippines, "Hospitality girls can make as much as [US$49] a night, almost the average monthly salary in the Philippines."57 In a 1982 study by Pasuk Phongpaichit, a Thai sociologist, for the International Labour Organization "[estimated] the income of sex workers at twenty-five times that attainable in other occupations. Entire families in the countryside are supported on the earnings of one daughter in Bangkok, and entire rural villages are made up of such families."58

The International Labour Organization in Geneva surveyed 50 women who had made the migration to Bangkok to work in massage parlours to examine the women's rationale behind their work in the sex trade. Their findings summarize the economic thinking behind their decisions:

The migration gave them an earning power which was simply astounding relative to normal rural budgets. A couple of years of work would enable the family to build a house of a size and quality which few people in the countryside could hope to achieve in the earnings of a lifetime...They were engaging in an entrepreneurial move designed to sustain the family unites of a rural economy... Our survey clearly showed that the girls felt they were making a perfectly rational decision within the context of their particular social and economic structure.59

Prostitution, in some sense, allows the women that are able to take advantage of it the opportunity to live the American dream, to enjoy and extend increased consumerism to their families: "[m]odernization and sophisticated advertisements have also brought new desires for consumer goods to villagers and a shift towards a cash economy."60 On the other end of the motivation spectrum, there are student prostitutes at the University of the East, in Manila, who "are putting themselves or their siblings through college"61 by prostituting themselves, primarily to other students.

In perhaps the most sad permutation of the prostitution situation, for some Filipino women, an

almost religious belief in the promised land - America - adds to the attraction of the hospitality business. Many of the girls pin their hopes on prostitution as a way of achieving their ultimate dream: marriage to an American. For these young women their customers are people who can give them things, like blue-eyed kids and a condo, not AIDS.62

This scenario, however unlikely, was plausible during the existence of active U.S. bases on the Philippine islands. A 1989 article in The Economist reported that "around half of America's young, single servicemen leave their posting with a Philippine bride"63 - which, of course, left most of the rest of the women to be "rewarded only with sexual diseases... and unwanted babies."64

Now with the bases gone, there are few customers who stay around long enough to develop this sort of relationship with the women, in fact, there are far fewer customers overall, leaving the women without clients, and without skills, hence without jobs.

The Advent of AIDS

Perhaps what will be the final arbiter in the struggle over prostitution is the advent of AIDS to the brothels of Thailand and the Philippines. AIDS is spread rapidly and efficiently by the brothels because, basically, "[m]en do not like to use condoms, and the women can ill afford to refuse a customer who will not."65

The rapid onset of the disease is imminent, if not already in progress, simply because, "[m]ost of the men visiting prostitutes reported having nonprostitute partners as well. Of those men who had both types of partners (prostitutes and nonprostitutes), most men who had unprotected intercourse with prostitutes also had unprotected intercourse with nonprostitutes."66 Without a hint of irony, "[w]hile Thai men will wear condoms for family panning, ... they object to them with girlfriends and prostitutes"67 - meaning that the men that patronize prostitutes bring the disease home to their wives, and ultimately, their children.

The brothels also serve to export AIDS internationally as well. When foreign prostitutes become infected in the brothels of the cities of the Philippines or Thailand, they are often sent home to Burma, or Cambodia, or Laos, where they continue to spread the disease. In addition, "returning sex tourists have probably imported HIV to Japan, South Korea and Taiwan."68

This is an area where women can no longer endure their second-class status in silence; "women have a 10 times greater risk of contracting the AIDS virus from men than men do from women."69 According to one estimate, "at the current rate, at least 1.5 million Thai women will be HIV-positive by the year 2000, and so will one third of their children."70 U.S. News and World Report provides an economic breakdown, predicting that "AIDS could mean $8.7 billion in lost income - $2 billion a year in foreign funds is at risk - AIDS health costs could jump by a factor of 65"71 all of this meaning that prostitution could end up exacting a higher human toll than was ever estimated - leading to speculation that perhaps AIDS is some sort of retribution for the wholesale abuse and expliotation of the women of these countries.

Ironically, "no sector of the Thai economy has more to fear than the $5 billion tourism industry."72 In fact, sex tourists are already beginning to shy away from some of the hot spots of Bangkok and Manila. The combined human and economic costs of AIDS should soon jar the governments of these countries out of their complacency and denial, or else they could very well have a catastrophe of epic proportions on their hands.


Perhaps what best sums up the reasons for the continuing willing participation of many prostitutes is this remark of a 28-year-old Filipino prostitute: "Of course, I hate this, but there is no other way to make this much money."73 A young Thai woman asks, "Why work in a factory for 2,000 or 3,000 baht a month [$80 to $120], when one man for one night is maybe 1,000 baht?"74 As long as there are no other high-wage jobs available for those women, and as long as prostitution continues to pay more than the less detrimental alternatives, women will continue to choose prostitution in Southeast Asia.
And meanwhile, the official attitude of coercion and condonement is currently fixed because too many people make too much money off the prostitutes. I have spoken of prostitution as among the highest earning jobs a women can get in Southeast Asia, but in fact, "Korea Church Women United estimates that prostitutes receive less than one-thirtieth of the fees their patrons pay."75 Indeed, "Airlines, travel agencies, hotels, madams, pimps - all take a chunk of the prostitutes' earnings"76 - not to mention paid-off policemen and politicians. In one particularly astonishing case, it was reported "in 1979 that the Manila Ramada made forty per cent of its income from extra fees for prostitutes."77 If one can ignore the egregious human costs, the toll that is exacted on the young women involved, prostitution, simply the commodification of a basic human, basic male, desire, is profitable for all persons involved. In this world marketplace, taking into account our unrelenting pursuit of mammon, prostitution, as practiced in Southeast Asia, is merely an efficient, unrelenting articulation of our modern market values applied to male sexuality.


"The price of Thailand's prosperity," The Economist, 15 May, 1993: pages 35-6

"Protecting the tarts of Thailand," The Economist, 25 February, 1989: page 30

"Sense about sex," The Economist, 8 February, 1992: page 32-3

"A view from the bases," The Economist, 26 August, 1989: page 28

Balfour, Freddie, "Looking for AIDS, Joe?," Far Eastern Economic Review, 9 April 1987: page 112-3

Duggan, Stephen J., "Education and Economic Development," Journal of Contemporary Asia,volume 21, number 2, 1991: pages 141-151

Erlanger, Steven, "A plague awaits," The New York Times Magazine, 14 July, 1991, page 24-26, 49, 53

Gay, Jill, "The 'Patriotic Prostitute," The Progressive, February 1985: pages 34-6

Gooi, Kim, "Cry of the Innocents," Far Eastern Economic Review, 9 September, 1993, pages 36-7

Handley, Paul "Catch if catch can," Far Eastern Economic Review, 13 February, 1992: pages 29-30

Hantrakul, Sukanya, "Dutiful daughters on society's lower rungs," Far Eastern Economic Review, volume 123 (January 5, 1984): pages 39-40

Hitchens, Christopher, "Minority Report," The Nation, 29 November, 1986: page 598

Hornblower, Margot, "The Skin Trade," Time, 21 June, 1993: pages 45-51

Ladd, Ginger, and Hiebert, Murray, "'Flower Sellers' Bloom," Far Eastern Economic Review, 8 July, 1993: page 36

Lamont-Brown, Raymond, "No Compensation for the Comfort Women," Contemporary Review, volume 262, February 1993, pages 80-82

Lintner, Bertil and Hseng Noung, "Immigrant viruses," Far Eastern Economic Review, 20 February, 1992: page 31

Moreau, Ron, "Sex and Death in Thailand," Newsweek, 20 July, 1992: pages 50-1

Neumann, A. Lin, "Scandal in Manila: The X-rated Business Trip," Ms., volume 12, February 1984, page 99-102

Porpora, Douglas and Lim, Mah Hui, "The Political Economic Factors of Migration to Bangkok," Journal of Contemporary Asia, volume 17, number 1, 1987: pages 76-89

Rhodes, Richard, "Death in the Candy Store," Rolling Stone, 28 November, 1991, pages 62-70, 105, 113-4

Robinson, Lillian S., "Touring Thailand's Sex Industry," The Nation, 1 November, 1993: pages

Seabrook, Jeremy, "Cheap Thrills," The New Statesman & Society, 31 May, 1991: pages 12-13

Serrill, Michael S., "Defiling the Children," Time, 21 June 1993: page 53-5

Sterngold, James, "Japan admits army forced women into war brothels," New York Times, 5 August, 1993, late New York edition: A2

Tice, Carol, "Love for Sale," Utne Reader, January/February 1992: pages 37-8, 40

Tiglao, Rigoberto, "Students for sale," Far Eastern Economic Review, 6 July 1989: pages 46-7

"Selling sex does not pay," U.S. News and World Report, 27 July, 1992: page 52

VanLandingham, Mark J., Suprasert, Samboon, Sittitrai, Weasit, Vaddhanaphuti, Chayan, Grandjean, Nancy, "Sexual Activity Among Never-Married Men in Northern Thailand," Demography, volume 30, number 3, August 1993: page 297-313

Waller, Andrew, "A fight on all fronts," Far Eastern Economic Review, 13 February, 1992: page 28-29


1 Rhodes, Richard, "Death in the Candy Store," Rolling Stone, November 28, 1991, page 69

2 Lamont-Brown, Raymond, "No Compensation for the Comfort Women," Contemporary Review, volume 262, February 1993: page 80

3 Sterngold, James, "Japan admits army forced women into war brothels," New York Times, August 5, 1993, late New York edition: A2

4 Ibid., page A2

5 Gay, Jill, "The 'Patriotic Prostitute," The Progressive, February 1985: page 34

6 Ibid., page 67

7 Ibid., page 34

8 Rhodes, Richard, pages 66-67

9 VanLandingham, Mark J., et al, "Sexual Activity Among Never-Married Men in Northern Thailand," Demography, Volume 30, Number 3, August 1993: page 305

10 Ibid., page 305

11 "Sense about sex," The Economist, 8 February, 1992: page 33

12 Erlanger, Steven, "A plague awaits," The New York Times Magazine, 14 July, 1991, page 53

13 Hornblower, Margot, "The Skin Trade," Time, 21 June, 1993: page 49

14 Lintner, Bertil and Hseng Noung, "Immigrant viruses," Far Eastern Economic Review, 20 February, 1992: page 31

15 "Sense about sex," The Economist, 8 February, 1992: page 32

16 Ibid., page 32

17 Ibid., pages 32-3

18 Gay, Jill, page 34

19 Rhodes, Richard, page 65

20 Ibid., page 113

21 Robinson, Lillian S., "Touring Thailand's Sex Industry," The Nation, 1 November, 1993: page 496

22 Rhodes, Richard, page 69

23 "The price of Thailand's prosperity," The Economist, 15 May, 1993: page 35

24 Porpora, Douglas and Lim, Mah Hui, "The Political Economic Factors of Migration to Bangkok," Journal of Contemporary Asia, volume 17, number 1, 1987: page 78

25 Ibid., page 80

26 Ibid., page 78

27 Hantrakul, Sukanya, "Dutiful daughters on society's lower rungs," Far Eastern Economic Review, volume 123, January 5, 1984: page 39

28 Gay, Jill, page 36

29 Duggan, Stephen J., "Education and Economic Development," Journal of Contemporary Asia, Volume 21, Number 2, 1991: page 141

30 Ibid., page 145

31 Ibid., page 145

32 Ibid., page 146

33 Hantrakul, Sukanya, page 40

34 Ibid., page 40

35 Tice, Carol, "Love for Sale," Utne Reader, January/February 1992: page 38

36 Neumann, A. Lin, "Scandal in Manila: The X-rated Business Trip," Ms., February 1984, page 101

37 Robinson, Lillian S., page 496

38 Seabrook, Jeremy, "Cheap Thrills," The New Statesman &Society, 31 May, 1991: page 12

39 Moreau, Ron, "Sex and Death in Thailand," Newsweek, 20 July, 1992: page 51

40 Hantrakul, Sukanya, page 40

41 Gay, Jill,page 36

42 Serrill, Michael S., "Defiling the Children," Time, 21 June 1993: page 54

43 Hitchens, Christopher, "Minority Report," The Nation, 29 November, 1986: page 598

44 Gay, Jill,page 36

45 Erlanger, Steven, page 26

46 Gooi, Kim, "Cry of the Innocents," Far Eastern Economic Review, 9 September, 1993, page 37

47 Erlanger, Steven, page 26

48 Ibid., page 26

49 Moreau, Ron, page 50

50 VanLandingham, Mark J., et al, page 299

51 Handley, Paul "Catch if catch can," Far Eastern Economic Review, 13 February, 1992: page 29

52 Ladd, Ginger, and Hiebert, Murray, "'Flower Sellers' Bloom," Far Eastern Economic Review, 8 July, 1993: page 36

53 Moreau, Ron, page 50

54 Ibid., page 50

55 VanLandingham, Mark J., et al, pages 298-9

56 Hantrakul, Sukanya, page 40

57 Balfour, Freddie, "Looking for AIDS, Joe?," Far Eastern Economic Review, 9 April 1987: page 113

58 Robinson, Lillian S., page 495

59 "Protecting the tarts of Thailand," The Economist, 25 February, 1989: page 30

60 Erlanger, Steven, page 49

61 Tiglao, Rigoberto, "Students for sale," Far Eastern Economic Review, 6 July 1989: page 46

62 Balfour, Freddie, page 113

63 "A view from the bases," The Economist, 26 August, 1989: page 28

64 Ibid., page 28

65 Balfour, Freddie, page 112

66 VanLandingham, Mark J., et al, page 311

67 Erlanger, Steven, page 26

68 Waller, Andrew, "A fight on all fronts," Far Eastern Economic Review, 13 February, 1992: page 29

69 Moreau, Ron, pages 50-1

70 Ibid., page 51

71 "Selling sex does not pay," U.S. News and World Report, 27 July, 1992: page 52

72 Ibid., page 52

73 Neumann, A. Lin, page 102

74 Erlanger, Steven, page 26

75 Gay, Jill, page 36

76 Ibid., page 36

77 Ibid., page 34
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Re: Prostitution in Thailand, by Wikipedia

Postby admin » Tue May 24, 2016 1:30 am

The brothel king's revenge: He's the godfather of the Thai sex industry -- and what he knows about corruption could bring down the government
by Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy
20 February 2004



If you want to drive to the heart of a political scandal that has shaken Thailand, just tell the taxi driver to head for "Soapland", a 5km stretch of neon that slices through north Bangkok. Every night, thousands of Thai punters flock to this garish highway flanked by high-class sex clubs, spending (according to one recent academic study) an incredible £1.5bn a year. But as prostitution is illegal in the kingdom, the signs above every doorway say Ap Ob Nuat, Thai for "steamy hot shower massage". It's hardly a sophisticated front, but until last summer this vast sex industry prospered without attracting unwelcome attention.

Then in July last year, Soapland's most powerful jao phor, or godfather, broke the unwritten code of silence. Chuwit Kamolvisit, who was estimated to have made between £50m and £100m from the district's six most exclusive clubs, went on nationwide television to announce that Soapland sold sex and everyone knew it. Chuwit revealed that some of his best clients were senior politicians and police officers, whom he also claimed to have paid, over a decade, more than £1.5m in bribes so that his business, the real business of selling sex, could thrive.

Motivated by what Chuwit described as the Royal Thai Police's persistent attempts to extract ever increasing bribes from his sex empire, he then launched a series of allegations that today threaten to pull down the Thai government. Calling newspaper reporters to the front entrance of his Copa Cabana club, the millionaire pimp revealed that he had kept a diary in which was detailed every one of his company's commercial and sexual transactions. As a taster, Chuwit alleged that days earlier (on July 7 2003) four senior police officers had used the services of his masseurs, numbers 103, 130, 137 and 299.

The Thai media was gripped by Chuwit's claims and the headlines ran: Top Cops Got Free Sex And Drinks. Although Thailand's foreign sex trade, with its ping-pong girls, pole dancers and £3 hand jobs, is overt and raucous, the enormous industry that caters exclusively for Thai men had never before been publicly scrutinised, let alone the sexual mores of Thailand's unchallengeable officials. But now, in downtown Bangkok, General Sant Sarutanond, Thailand's commissioner general of police, was forced to act and reluctantly ordered an investigation into Chuwit's claims.

No one publicly berated the Royal Thai Police. With its tanks and military ranks, the police is a paramilitary force that has demonstrated a hardline attitude to those it sees as enemies of the state. An inquiry is currently under way into claims by human rights groups that the Royal Thai Police was complicit in the deaths of 2,849 people, killed last year in a 12-week government campaign to eradicate drugs.

Days after Sant's bribery investigation was launched, Chuwit called reporters back to the blacked-out doors of Copa Cabana and claimed that police station "H", commanded by Superintendent "T", had been bought off by him for 355,000 baht (£4,900) a month for 10 years. Officers at Huai Khwang precinct (half a mile down the road) were placed under investigation and its commander, Colonel Thitipong Settisombat, suspended. "Transfer The Entire Station," one broadsheet demanded.

Smelling blood, Chuwit described a "tall police general" with the initial "S" who had secret stakes in two massage parlours. Thai papers gleefully reported: Officer Has Shares In Sex Venue Firm. Sant himself was called before the House Committee on Police Affairs, where he admitted that he had a four million baht (£55,000) investment in a hotel in Soapland, but maintained that he had nothing to hide (and launched a libel action against Chuwit).

As the Thai public anticipated further revelations, a rumour spread that the jao phor of Soapland had vanished. For two days no one could find Chuwit. There was no sign of him at Copa Cabana or at any of his five other clubs. Wild speculation filled newspaper columns. Had he been abducted by rogue police officers attempting to shut him up? Maybe Chuwit was dead. Then, on July 11, a dazed man was found by a taxi driver wandering on the hard shoulder of the Bangkok-Chon Buri motorway. He was driven to hospital where he was identified as Chuwit. After being checked over, Chuwit called a bedside press conference in which he claimed that he had been taken hostage, drugged and beaten by men he said were in the pay of the Royal Thai Police. Even though the police strenuously denied responsibility, the headlines the next day reported:

"Chuwit saga: payback time."

Once discharged from hospital, Chuwit held an impromptu rally outside Government House and warned the crowd, "I am now a man with no future. I may be shot dead at any time." The morning papers all covered the event: "Huge Media Circus Follows Sex King."

The Thai prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, blanched. Before becoming a politician, he had served as a lieutenant colonel in the Royal Thai Police and had appointed many of his former police colleagues to senior positions in the cabinet and civil service. He needed the support of the police to stay in power. However, Thaksin had been elected in January 2001 on a populist mandate to curb institutionalised corruption and here was a pimp demonstrating that, midterm, bribery was still endemic and its exponents were the police.

Thaksin had to be seen to act. On July 12, the prime minister announced that all of Chuwit's allegations would be investigated. Within days, four police major generals were suspended, as were nine colonels, six lieutenant colonels, one major, 20 deputy station chiefs and crime suppression inspectors, and 11 lower-ranking police officers.

But Chuwit would not stop. He announced dab krueng chon, a declaration of all-out war against the establishment. Describing himself as "a weapon of mass destruction", he claimed in public that three cabinet ministers with the initials "S", "P" and "P" had received expensive gifts from him, and that one was a regular at Copa Cabana. Pracha Maleenont, the deputy interior minister, went on record to say he had visited massage parlours, but "that was long ago". For the second time in less than a month, the prime minister was forced to act. Thaksin announced that he would conduct a moral purge of his party, sacking any MP found to have a mistress or patronise brothels.

Still it was not enough for Chuwit. In September, he registered his own political party, Ton Trakul Thai (First Thai Nation, or TTT), launching the most unorthodox political movement Thailand has seen. The pimp claimed he could do a better job than the government at ending institutionalised corruption. Promising to sell his sex business to fund his bid for election (claiming he would throw in a free personal tutorial on "how to buy off the police"), marching to the slogan of "Brave To Think, Brave To Talk, Brave to Do", Chuwit and his TTT party experienced a groundswell of support. Within weeks of his taking to the hustings, 50,000 had registered with the party.

The government changed tactics. The country's Anti-Money-Laundering Organisation (AMLO), a quasi police body, attacked Chuwit as an itthipon meut, or "dark influence", on society, and froze a number of his bank accounts. The police shut down two of his six bathhouses, raiding the ones that remained open, charging Chuwit with pimping underage girls and procuring women for sex. The Empire Strikes Back, one headline read (although the government denied malice).

But it was too late. Chuwit Kamolvisit, a man from the margins, someone who admitted to having been "born bad", had already been transformed from a smut peddler into an unsung patriot. He had exposed the kingdom's rawest nerve, talking about what the Thais call suay and the west calls bribery, the giving of tribute money, a factor in everyone's daily life. Professor Sungsidh Piriyarangsan, an economist at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University who has studied the nation's black economy, said, "Chuwit's fight is brave and will help us understand the dark side of our society."

In December, Thailand's leading English-language daily named Chuwit "Person of the Year". Declaring that suay was as "common in Thailand as cockroaches", The Nation wrote: "It now follows for the Thais to decide if they are willing to tolerate injustice or turn out strongly to demand what they really deserve." The Thai people will be able to make that decision imminently. Elections are due to be held in the country's 74 provinces on March 14, and a general election follows in February 2005. But when the authorities are accused of being criminal and the criminals present themselves as just, who should the voters believe?

Chuwit has five mobile phones, six bathhouses, a general office, two wives and at least two homes, one of them called Sea Of Love. We are trying them all. "Is Mr Chuwit there?" No one answers at his massage parlour, Victoria's Secret. We call another, Emmanuelle: "Not here." We call Honolulu, Chuwit's "Love Boat Club". Nothing. It's the same story at the Hi-Class, Barbara and Poseidon (where the foyer is shaped like an ocean liner). For a man so much in the public eye, Chuwit is nowadays remarkably difficult to pin down. Perhaps he always was.

Finally, we reach him. "Oh," he says, when we explain who we are. "Well, I'm trying to keep a low profile. Get on with election business. Not make too much heat." Pause. "From London, you say? Oh. A newspaper?" A very long pause. "Come to my office now." He gives us an address in Soapland.

We find Chuwit's campaign headquarters nestling smugly down a discreet lane at the Copa Cabana entertainment complex. Up a marble staircase flanked by cement Landseer lions are the much-photographed blacked-out doors above which is Chuwit's old slogan from the days when he was simply a pimp: "Work For Living, Love For Life."

Inside, we are bustled into a windowless karaoke room. After an hour's wait, a man in shiny trousers, a day-old white shirt and drooping black moustache strolls in. Chuwit is slightly disappointing in the flesh and through chipped teeth he mumbles an apology for his tardiness. He stares at us and then launches into a well-rehearsed offensive: "I am a bad person. You're thinking it. But at least I am honest about what I do." We hear water swishing around a bathtub in a nearby room.

"Take sex," he continues, lighting a Mild Seven cigarette. "We have more sex in Thailand than in any country in the world, but politicians pretend brothels don't exist." Chuwit starts scribbling figures on the back of a 10% discount voucher for Copa Cabana. "I pay three million baht [£41,000] in taxes every month. The permit issued to my bathhouses by the government is calculated on a room-by-room basis, that's 500,000 baht [£7,000] for every room, so with six clubs it means that I pay the Thai exchequer 18 million baht [£247,000]. What do they think we do here? As for the police, I threw away five million baht [£69,000] a month giving them free services. I paid them 12 million baht a month [£165,000] in bribes. I had a delivery boy whose only job was to drive around on a little Suzuki scooter distributing cash." He motions to a notional mountain of money on the table. A falsetto laugh echoes down the corridor. "You see, you can ask me anything," Chuwit says.

Why should anyone vote for a pimp?

He scratches his ear with a long, manicured fingernail and then his pockets begin to trill with polyphonic tones. One by one, he fishes out a succession of identical silver flip-top Motorola phones. "Sorry," he shrugs. "My campaign managers. Why vote for me? Because I don't lie. Everything I have said has been proved correct. And I have lots more to say."

Chuwit explains why he decided to go public. "I inherited the system of bribery from the man who sold me my first club - the Love Motel," he says. The sound of bare wet feet slaps around a neighbouring bathroom. "I understood the police. And they understood me. Our relationship was like the body and the coffin. We went together. Silently. But then it started to go mad." Chuwit contemplates his mobile phones: "Senior officers began ringing me all the time. 'My son, he's just graduated - he needs a new house.' I couldn't say no. Never get too close to the police or they will pull you down. I decided to talk out to end the corruption."

Chuwit glances at his watch. "Sorry, I have to go," he says. "I am off to a campaign rally. I already have tens of thousands of party members, but I need more. Today, it's the north-east, where the people are really poor and understand my anti-corruption message. Thais are quiet. They like to compromise. I am saying don't be quiet. Be loud like westerners."

Does Chuwit see himself as a Thai-style Larry Flynt, Hustler's show-all pornographer who took the moral majority all the way to the US supreme court and won (despite an assassination attempt)? "I'm an original," is all he says, ushering us out.

A Mercedes with tinted glass pulls up at the VIP entrance and deposits a customer. Chuwit smiles. "At first they stayed away. Wary of the scandal. But where there are men, there will always be the business of sex," he says.

Police spokesman Major General Pongsaphat Pongcharoen isn't taking calls. His mobile phone is switched off. We send text messages. Several a day. "Dear Major General, etc, etc." No response. Up the ladder we go, faxing the four police stations under investigation, sending messages to the nine colonels, six lieutenant colonels and one major suspended, calling round at the homes of the four major generals facing investigation. Mercedes cars in the drive. Golf clubs by the steps. Faces at the windows. But, apparently, no one at home.

At the downtown office of the police general, Sant Sarutanond, a secretary says, "Send a fax."

We do. "You can have an interview. Call back in four days."

We do. "Ah, he's gone to Vietnam for a week. Call back."

We do. "I'm sorry but he cannot possibly talk to you at the moment." He has been ordered to investigate police collusion in the 2,849 death toll in the government's war against drugs.

However, the secretary-general of Thailand's AMLO agrees to meet us in his office, decorated with orchids and copies of his four university degree certificates. Police Major General Peeraphan Prempooti is leading the campaign against so-called "dark influences". He immediately downplays the pimp's significance. "Why all this fuss over Mr Chuwit?" he says. "He's small fry. I would like to believe Mr Chuwit, but when I called him here to give evidence on his bribery allegations, he refused to name names." The major general says the government planned to target corruption long before the Chuwit saga began. "It's the prime minister who is gauging levels of corruption, not Mr Chuwit. Our PM asked all agencies to join hands and fight drug trafficking and 'dark influences'. And, as it happens, Mr Chuwit is one of our 'dark influences'. Next Monday, my 100th money-laundering case will be listed in the civil court and it is against Mr Chuwit. We have frozen six of his bank accounts."

Some parliamentarians have accused the government of running a vendetta against Chuwit. The major general says this is untrue. "No one will escape the net," he adds. "I personally conduct money-laundering probes. They are all genuine. Already we have seized three billion baht [£41m] from a plethora of 'dark influences'. If you want to know more about the nature of Mr Chuwit, then I suggest you look at the beer bar scandal of January 2003."

He is referring to an episode in the early hours of January 26 last year, when a 400-strong demolition team encircled Sukhumvit Square, a plot of land in downtown Bangkok that had become a makeshift tourist night market of bars, restaurants and shops. Within minutes, the site had been fenced off and over the next nine hours it was levelled, causing more than 140 million baht (£1.9m) damage to the small businesses that had sprung up on it. News footage of the destruction caused a public uproar. Prime minister Thaksin paid a flying visit and vowed to punish those responsible. It was eventually established that only weeks earlier the land had been sold to Chuwit, who had lodged a planning application to build a five-star hotel.

AMLO's chief sighs. "Chuwit was charged for the demolition. Thailand's 'dark influences' are devious and manipulative people," he says. "Did you know that I went to the same Christian school as our prime minister? We were both educated by white-robed brothers. We will make Thailand cleaner than clean."

Outside the AMLO office, we hail a taxi and the driver starts chatting about Chuwit. "I'll vote for him for sure. He's not the straightest guy in the world but we are sick of paying off the police and politicians."

After a morning's calling, we reach Chuwit on his mobile phone and put it to him that the Thai government is alleging that his police bribery and abduction stories are concoctions intended to obscure his role in the Sukhumvit Square demolition. Chuwit agrees to meet us at one of Bangkok's plushest new hotels, a stone's throw from the square.

Guarded by familiar cement lions, the Davis hotel is low-lit, understated and geometric. Inside the lobby, Chuwit is waiting, twiddling with a silver-topped cane. "This was my dream," he says. "The flagship of my legitimate empire. I spent two billion baht [£27.5m] building this hotel. My bid to be respectable. Anyhow." Chuwit closes his eyes. "You wanted to talk about Sukhumvit Square."

Chuwit denies that he did anything wrong. "Yes, I bought Sukhumvit Square in December 2002. I paid 500 million baht [£6.9m] for the plot and I wanted to build another hotel. But the land was occupied with squatters."

Chuwit claims that the Royal Thai Police offered to clear the site for him in return for a bribe. "These officers received 10 million baht [£137,500]. But when they started to get the blame in the newspapers, a big officer rang and said, 'Paytwo million baht [£27,500] or we will arrest you for the demolition.' I told him, 'No. You did the demolition. And I paid you. No more money.' He said: 'The wind, cloud and rain are coming. We will not help you.'"

Chuwit was arrested in May 2003. When he appeared in court, he argued that even though there was a police station only 200m away from Sukhumvit Square, no officers intervened for nine hours. However, he was held on remand for a month and, while in jail, was further charged with pimping underaged girls and procuring women for sex. One week after he was released on bail, Major General Peeraphan Prempooti, of AMLO, began to freeze his accounts.

Chuwit drums his cane on the floor. "After I got out of jail, I was furious and started to name names. I told the Thai people who took bribes and who got sex for free. Now the government accuses me of being a 'dark influence'. But here, look." He shows us a letter he has just received from AMLO. "Among the accounts they froze are my two-year-old son's and my wife's. They had 2,100 baht [£29] in them. They are just out to get me."

Shortly after Chuwit's accounts were suspended, his clubs were raided. He says: "The police had sex with my girls and then came out waving their used condoms in the air, shouting, 'Mr Chuwit, you're the bad guy. You're a pimp. Your girls are whores and they will be prosecuted. Here is the evidence.'"

Although General Sant defended the unconventional operation, Wuthipong Chaisaeng, a Thai MP and spokesman for the House Committee on Police Affairs, said, "Many of us see the raids [on Chuwit] as a discriminatory enforcement of the law."

A phone rings and Chuwit scrabbles in his pockets. "I'm sorry. I have to go to Hat Yai now [a town in the southern Gulf of Thailand] to raise more political support." He mulls over an idea. "Everything I have done is about transparency. So I have made a decision. Go to Copa Cabana and unlock any door you like."

The Copa's front-of-house manager is waiting for us at the blacked-out front doors and introduces himself as Khun Kom Sa - "Mr Handsome". He leads us over to the "fishbowl", a large window behind which sit young Thai women in evening dresses. Forty pairs of heavily made-up eyes swivel in our direction. "Those girls on the left, with numbered badges but no stars, are 1,700 baht [£23] for two hours," says Mr Handsome. "The ones on the right with stars and numbered badges are 1,900 baht [£26]." What do the girls do, we ask. Mr Handsome looks bemused. "Have sex, of course."

Beside the "fishbowl" is a cash desk. "Money or credit before 10.30pm," says Mr Handsome. "After 10.30pm, cash only." Where are the rooms, we ask. He leads us down a carpeted corridor. It could easily be a five-star hotel. A door is ajar on the right and inside we see a woman in a towel sitting on a bed watching television. A man's hand reaches out and pulls her back by the shoulder. Another door opens on the left. Two maids knot dirty sheets and throw an empty tube of lube into a bulging binbag. A woman in a powder-blue strapless evening dress sways towards us, her glass-heeled stilettos in one hand and a clutch bag in another.

We pick a door, stopping at room 2157. We'd like to go in here, we say. Mr Handsome laughs and knocks. He pushes the door open and sitting on the bed are two girls in fluffy white towels. The bed-sheets are pulled back. The bath is draining. The customer is gone. We perch on the bed between May and Ay, and ask Mr Handsome to leave us alone.

May explains how she ended up in Copa Cabana: "I used to be a hairdresser, but I got divorced and my business went bust. What I do now is just another job. I am not ashamed, but I cannot tell my mother. The money I earn helps pay for my sister's education."

What does May think of Chuwit's decision to tell all? "It's none of my business. But he's brave. We used to get a lot of police clients. They would never pay. They were called VIP guests. But Mr Chuwit would always make up the difference so that we were never out of pocket. I'm glad the police don't come any more." Ay nods: "No one would do this job unless they had to. It's tiring having to be nice all the time. Having to smile and make conversation. And then having to do it for free for the police. Mr Chuwit is an OK guy." We wonder if they would have told a different story if we had interviewed them outside Copa Cabana.

Mr Handsome is waiting for us at the cash desk and he takes us into a small office. "This is where we assess the newcomers. We never have a shortage of applications," he says. "Girls that do well are rewarded with gold jewellery. Those that turn up on time win bonuses. On a good night they take home 5,000 baht [£69]," he says. It's an attractive salary in a country where the poverty line is £14 a month.

Behind him on the walls are dozens of house rules. "You must wear nylons between 1pm and 8pm. You must not scratch your crotch [in public]. If you owe money, contact the company for a loan. Drug-takers will be sent to the police." At the staff entrance is a large board of clocking-out cards. Beside it is a poster for Chuwit's TTT party and a pile of newly printed campaign T-shirts with the slogan: "Stop The Government Corrupting Our Country Now!"

The newspapers are full of bad news. Two seers have picked up cosmic signs that Thailand's economy and government are in for a rough ride. One, the chairman of the International Astrology Association, says "the PM should watch his back", warning that "he has made enemies, executing drastic policies such as the anti-drugs campaign". A specialist in political astrology says the prime minister should brace himself for an "unexpected happening in March". So jittery is the country that prime minister Thaksin has had to issue a calming statement.

We try again to elicit comment on the bribery scandal from the Royal Thai Police. Lieutenant General Damrongsak Nilkhuha, Bangkok's metropolitan police commissioner, recently told one Thai newspaper that the police should not feel guilty for accepting bribes from Chuwit because such payments were only an expression of "closeness and sincerity". But the lieutenant general does not have time to explain his views to us. Instead, we try a more direct approach and take a cab into Soapland, toSutthisarn police station, whose officers raided Chuwit's clubs (and allegedly took hush money).

"Police for the people" reads the sign inside the station house. But the desk officer claims that there is no one qualified to talk to us: "There are no senior officers left here. Our first superintendent walked after Chuwit began to speak. Colonel Varanvas has been transferred. Our new boss is on sick leave and, between you and me, he won't last another fortnight."

As we leave, the justice ministry calls to say that its permanent secretary is willing to be interviewed. Somchai Wongsawat has overall responsibility for investigating the allegations made by Chuwit, as well as most of those levelled against Chuwit by the police. He is also the prime minister's brother-in-law.

At his office on the 38th floor of a tower block, Somchai is waiting at the end of a long conference table. "Mr Chuwit is not a big deal," he says, firmly, not wanting to discuss the details of the ongoing investigations. "His case is distracting attention from our campaign against 'dark influences'. All people outside the law will be punished, whether the police or Mr Chuwit." China teacups arrive, embossed with golden scales of justice. A silent stenographer in a petrol blue suit records all that is said.

Like AMLO's secretary-general, Somchai Wongsawat insists that it is the prime minister who is reforming society: "Our current government had been thinking about the issue of corruption for many months before Mr Chuwit came along. Our prime minister is trying to eradicate the big problems of the past. It is the prime minister who is making the difference. Transforming Thailand into a developed nation."

We drop 38 floors back down to street level and hail a taxi. The traffic snarls into a jam. The cabbie huffs and puffs. "Everyone got their wages this week and so they are out collecting again," he says, pointing ahead to police officers in chocolate-brown uniforms, their penalty notice books fluttering in the breeze. One hundred baht extracted here, 100 baht squeezed from there. Every driver forced to pay off the Royal Thai Police. "Yuen moo, yuen maew," the taxi driver sighs, summing up the quid pro quo happening ahead of us. "You give me a pig, I'll give you a cat." The Royal Thai Police serve the people and the people demonstrate their gratitude.

Facts are hard to come by in the Chuwit saga. There are his allegations that caused a herd of policemen to fall on their swords. And then there are the government's counterclaims that show Chuwit as a cut-throat property speculator. Some facts may be established when the welter of charges surrounding Chuwit eventually come to a head in court in three or possibly four years' time. But it is not facts that will decide the forthcoming elections. It is money.

The pimp calls. "Meet me at home." We expect a white stucco mansion, but he lives in the penthouse of a 15-storey block behind Soapland's Tesco-Lotus supermarket. The only other tenants are girls. This is Chuwit's Sea Of Love.

In a small office, he is slumped before a map of the world. "Today I have received another letter from the money-laundering people," he says. "More of my assets frozen. I'm in court on Monday. What will my children and wife do? I will soon have nothing in the bank.

"In July, I began to talk because I was getting angry with the bigots. The more I talked, the more they lied. I became possessed. I lost control and said too much. Now I feel like I'm walking in a desert. I can see a mirage: success in the polls, me the respected politician."

This doesn't sound like the ebullient entrepreneur who promised to avenge the Thai people. Surrounded by piles of well-leafed porn magazines and shelves of books on the world's hippest hotels, Chuwit seems like an adolescent: angry, impetuous and vulnerable.

He says: "In Hat Yai yesterday, when I met the local officials, all they wanted from me was money. Three million baht [£41,000] before they would even shake my hand or support my party. What am I doing? Having to pay all over again."

How could this arch practitioner of paying backhanders have ignored the fact that the practice is just as deep-rooted in the Thai electoral system? Until Thailand reformed the way it votes in 1997, it was commonplace for aspirant politicians to staple banknotes to election leaflets; it is a tradition that is proving difficult to eradicate. During the country's first ever poll in 2000 to elect members to its parliament's upper house, 40% of newly appointed senators were disqualified for electoral fraud. During the 2001 general election that brought Thaksin to power, politicians campaigning in 62 of the 400 constituencies were accused of vote-buying.

It takes bottomless wealth and uncommon resilience to succeed in Thailand's political arena. And although Chuwit still claims that he will field candidates in key provinces in the forthcoming provincial elections, he is already exhausted and out of pocket - his prized Davis hotel was quietly placed on the market on December 28 last year.

Chuwit turns off the main light and switches on an Anglepoise. The hustler's face is greasy in the golden glow and he no longer resembles the people's champion. "I am just a little man," he says quietly. "With me or without me, it's always going to be the same."

© Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy, 2004
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