SPECIAL TO THE NATION March 6, 2012 1:00 am
Being a sex worker these days isn’t what it used to be, at least for those whose rights are backed up by the Empower Foundation. Much has improved – no more pimps or mamasans, and fewer punches thrown their way. Being “rescued”, though, causes them all sorts of problems.
Most people remain unaware of the dramatic new context in the flesh trade, Empower director Chantawipa Apisuk said at the recent release of a report, “Hit & Run: Sex Workers’ Research on Anti-trafficking in Thailand”.
“We have now reached a point in history where there are more women in the Thai sex industry being abused by anti-trafficking practices than there are women exploited by traffickers,” she said.
The government and the agencies that abet its efforts to “help” prostitutes have, in many ways, gone too far in enforcing the Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking Act.
The modern sex worker has work tools apart from makeup and condoms, said Chantawipa, who founded Empower in 1985 to safeguard their rights. They have cell phones and the Internet. Rather than greedy pimps, their support network is centred on a trusted tuk-tuk driver or the local motorcycle-taxi guy who takes them around and protects them.
These people have designated workplaces – restaurants, massage parlours, go-go bars, beer bars or karaoke clubs. Their work might also entail dancing for or drinking beer with the customers.
More than 20,000 sex workers make use of Empower’s contact points in 11 provinces in the North, Northeast and Central region, including several on the Burmese border.
Empower has seen the industry develop continuously through three decades and 10 governments. Sex work is now widely regarded as a quasi-legitimate profession, with its own form of employers and self-employed workers.
Inevitably, though, prostitution remains a crime in the eyes of many, and those plying the trade are treated accordingly.
But the kindlier view, that they are victims of human trafficking, isn’t a great deal of help either, Chantawipa said. Legislation aimed at stopping the trafficking of people has had a serious adverse effect.