I’ve always been unsettled by prostitution in Thailand. If you’ve traveled or lived here for any period of time you may also know this crippling sense of hopelessness when you begin to come to terms with the pervasiveness of the sex trade here. It’s not easy to articulate at first, but the ubiquity of sordid hot spots, along with Thai society’s dismissive, yet judgmental ‘move along, this is normal‘ attitude, formulate quite a queasy scenario. One that’s even less stomach-able if you’ve read horror stories on trafficking, indentured servitude, and child prostitution.
Despite the desire to help, it’s one of a list of issues in Thailand where feeling powerless, you resign to thrown your hands in the air in surrender. I certainly felt that way on occasion, until early 2013 when we received two grants. The first, an education grant, bolstered our volunteer pre-school project which I’ve written about recently. The second grant awarded supported the expansion of our work with women. The funds, which will run out this December, have allowed us to subsidize a small halfway house the past ten months for Thai women with a variety of challenging backgrounds including homelessness, substance abuse, and sex work.
Just as only a few of the city’s large slums get a lot of the attention for poverty, the over glamorized and often satirized red light districts are Bangkok’s higher end sex markets. These institutions overshadow the dimly lit streets and seedy places fueled by local traffic, where low level prostitution takes place in various forms. It’s on one of these streets, lined with girls, where our staff member makes regular visits. Each time she simply aims to befriend women working there and listens to their stories. She’s listening for a familiar mix of pain: loneliness, abuse, and financial ruin.
When women she meets are looking for alternative work opportunities, medical assistance, or safe shelter she directly assists them or refers them to larger organizations. Our halfway house currently has about eight women and their children. There’s another dozen or so women who visit the house to socialize and participate in our sewing initiative which trains and employs women making handicrafts and clothing. As they develop their skills I hope in the future the sale of their products will fund production and help cover the costs so the halfway house and the women there are self-sustaining.
So YES there are things you can do to make a difference. Find our donation page to give to this project and support the women in home as they rebuild their lives. Also be on the lookout for updates about how to purchase their hand crafted products. If you want to know more about prostitution in Thailand, women’s rights, anti-trafficking, and how to help, a list of organizations doing related work is below. (Note: There are likely more, I’ve mostly listed groups I have visited or met with personally.)
Women’s Empowerment & Sex Workers’ Rights Groups
Association for the Promotion of the Status of Women - Rape Crisis Center, Skills Training, & More
Empower - Political Activism & Advocacy
SWING - Advocacy & Vocational Training
Goodwill Foundation - English & Vocational Training
Faith Based Organizations & Initiatives
XP Missions - Child Rescue & Anti-Trafficking
Nightlight - Intervention, Rescue, & Jewelry Making
Rahab - Vocational Training, Jewelry & Other Products
Good Shepherd Sisters Bangkok - Women’s Self Help Center & Store
Human Trafficking Campaigns
MTV Exit - Human Trafficking Awareness Campaigns & Events
Freeland Foundation - Anti-wildlife and Human Trafficking Campaign