The summer issue of Ms. magazine (yes, I’m way behind on my magazine reading) was a great read. My favorite was probably the article about Hollaback, a website where you can post articles about and pictures of street harassers. I still remember how much I got harassed on the street in DC 30 years ago!

The articles that moved me the most, though, were “Ping-Pong Hell,” about Thailand’s sex industry, and “Jailing Girls for Men’s Crimes,” about how girls caught in the act of prostitution may be arrested and jailed even if they’re under the age of consent for sex. That’s just wrong.

Here’s a frightening quote from the article on Thailand’s sex industry:

Tiew prepared for her grand finale. Offstage, she implanted a wire tightly coiled with steel razor blades into her vaginal cavity. Tiew planned to extricate the wire as she gyrated around a pole in front of her inebriated audience.

But suddenly, the Royal Thai Police flooded the stage with light. … Completely naked, Tiew raced down three flights of stairs into Bangkok’s notorious Patpong District. The blades sliced her open like a gutted fish.

Lovely, isn’t it? I’ve wanted to visit Thailand for years. Travelers talk about how cheap it is to live there. But a downside of the affordability of the country for foreigners is a lower standard of living for citizens. In the last few years, many factories have closed, leaving women out of work. In addition, they can make much better wages in the sex industry.

I seriously doubt any of the people in the audience got arrested. It’s much easier to arrest the dancers and prostitutes than the people who create demand for them.

And that fits in with the second article, about a movement in the United States to stop arresting girls for sex work. Instead, the idea is to take them to a safe harbor. The idea is that the girls (and boys, of course) who are working as prostitutes are victims of sex trafficking.

In 2000, the federal government passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which included the sale of youth under 18 for sex in its definition of trafficking. It worked on the federal level but didn’t make much of an impression at the state or local levels. So this year, New York State passed the Safe Harbor for Exploited Children Act. Other states are also decriminalizing prostitution of girls.

How Is This Restoration?

If we can rescue children from prostitution and give grown women in the sex industry better options, then we’ll have restored people by giving them a chance to lead safer, healthier lives. I think a good first step, frankly, would be to legalize prostitution so that adult prostitution could be regulated. But even better would be to create living-wage jobs for women so that they have a choice.


Sources: “Ping-Pong Hell: Thailand’s Sex-Show Industry Is All About Pain,” Deena Guzder, Ms., Summer 2010; “Jailing Girls for Men’s Crimes,” Carrie Baker, Ms., Summer 2010

Leave A Comment

  1. Chanchao November 30, 2010 at 6:48 pm - Reply

    I see.. So instead of arresting girls, the crackdown will be on their customers. I can tell you right now that this will not be met with any more approval by sex workers, going after their livelihood.

    Indeed legalization, and the added standards that come with that are really a much better way forward. That would also ensure sex workers get standard labor benefits including social health insurance and protection against summary dismissal.

    As for Thailand, by and large police leave sex workers alone especially if they’re plying their trade inside some establishment like a bar, karaoke, massage parlor and so on.

    Police do occasionally crack down on street walkers, typically rounding them up, then fine them 500 Baht. ($15, roughly the amount a streetwalker would make from going with a customer one time.) Sex workers don’t typically get to court, never mind any conviction or actual jail time.

  2. Beth Partin November 30, 2010 at 8:47 pm - Reply

    No, Chanchao, I don’t think you DO see. When I spoke of legalization, I was talking about legalizing the sex trade for adults. Boys and girls who sell sex are not “sex workers.” They are sex-trafficked boys and girls who need to be protected. They are being sexually abused for the profit of adults. Sexual exploitation of girls and boys should never be tolerated, even if it is their “livelihood.”

  3. Chanchao December 2, 2010 at 7:07 pm - Reply

    Ehm, you may be the only one speaking of child sex / child sexual abuse. I most certainly was not.

    The main text, as well as your comments blur the line between adult commercial sex, sex tourism and child sexual abuse. (Far too many articles do that, even though scale, causes, harm and solutions are very different.)

    When you mentioned legalisation I assumed the topic was adult commercial sex. (Who in their right mind would want to legalize child sexual abuse.) Other things that hinted at the topic being adult commercial sex and sex tourism and not child sexual abuse: the reference of books about those ping pong ball shows and jailing sex workers. Again clearly nobody jails the victims of child sexual abuse, and nobody would use children for those shows, most of which are in tourist districts such as Patpong.

    (Almost by definition the ping pong shows are aimed at tourists because there’s only so many times you can see a show like that before they get old. Typically ‘once’ being MORE than enough. These shows are pretty degrading and un-eroctic, though I once had a longer discussion with a performer and she had a very ‘all in a days work’ kind of attitude to the whole thing. In a sense those shows are similar to a magician’s show in terms of preparation and then doing the performance seemingly effortlessly. Just more monotonous, boring and degrading to watch. In terms of danger and harm I also think it doesn’t compare to actual sex work, going with a total stranger to a hotel room. (Not saying that this makes it as cool a career as being a doctor or a lawyer of course; but it may just have the edge over low paying menial jobs in Thailand such as being a factory or construction worker but without all the safety standards.)

    It pays the bills and sends their kids through school.. I think that’s pretty much the only attitude such a performer can have and still stay sane. I’m more impressed by their mental capacity to deal with a job like this than with the actual performance.