Downtown Bangkok has finally stopped smoldering, but a curfew is still in effect after anti-government protesters looted and burned downtown for over two months. The shaky calm has both Thai officials and millions of men all over the world asking: Is it safe enough for sex tourism yet?
Thailand's sex trade, which pumps millions of dollars into the Thai economy, has taken a big hit since the protests began this spring. Thailand was once paradise for these men—among them fetishists and pedophiles—but the spell has since been broken. No one really wants their exotic intercourse interrupted by machine-gun fire or beer runs inconvenienced by police checkpoints, although some are, of course, willing to live with it if that's what it takes. Frustrated sex tourists are now being forced to cancel their vacations or wait it out in their cheap rented rooms until the party starts up again. . .
Thailand "sexpat" forums are full of speculation on what will become of the country and how it will affect their lives of debauchery. Many of them are living on pensions and retirement. They don't want to move, but the violence seen over the past weeks and the unpredictability of the situation have left them uneasy and looking for alternative locations. Finding another place in Southeast Asia where sex is so easy and the locale for it so accessible is a tricky task. Thailand is a perfect blend of cheap, nonthreatening, and permissive. Thai people are extremely accommodating. As the men like to tell me, they will make your food "not too spicy," and they will giggle at your jokes even if they have no idea what you are saying. By comparison with surrounding countries, Thailand is more developed and has until recently always been considered quite safe. . .
I met a man named Terry who has been retired in Thailand for two years but isn't sure that he wants to hang around much longer. It's become kind of a pain in the ass, he explains. "You never know when the situation may make a turn for the worse, and then what? Go to Laos?" He gestures at the direction of the Mekong River. At about midnight, an adorable little girl who looks like she might be about 6 years old comes into the bar selling flowers. "Where else in the world," says Terry, "could I give that girl 1,000 baht, take her outside and do whatever I wanted to her?"
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I have written in the past about the relationship between human trafficking, the environment, and natural disasters. As the devastation in Haiti demonstrated earlier this year, human traffickers can easily exploit situations of unrest. While the situation in Thailand is human made, many of the same dynamics are at work. This article demonstrates the complex relationship between unrest and human trafficking. Whenever there is a natural or human made disaster, we should consider the ways it is impacting human trafficking.