The red light district in South Pattaya, Thailand.
Grimy, neon-splashed Walking Street, populated largely by young hookers and pie-eyed Western men, is the main attraction of a Thai beach town called Pattaya. Sex for hire there was most certainly what drew Ben Bartanyi, the 49-year-old American real estate broker recently arrested for allegedly performing a sex act on a 20-year-old dancer in one of Pattaya’s many strip clubs as other patrons cheered him on.
Some people may have been surprised by the outrageousness of it all. I wasn’t. Ten years ago I visited Thailand to do a story on the commercial sex trade there. By all accounts, nothing has changed.
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It was a raunchy scene where women were readily available. Most of them came from the poor northern part of Thailand. They moved to Pattaya or Bangkok to earn money to send back home. As one girl wearing a skin-tight knock-off T-shirt that read J’Adore Dior, explained to me, “I need to make money for family. They grow rice and raise buffalo, but they are very poor. They need money for tools. You can get very hungry in Isan [the northern, rural region from which she comes].”
Of course, many of the naive family members thought their daughters and sisters were working in the big cities’ department stores. Surely, family members would be horrified to know what comes with making the money they receive.
[. . .]
These days the girls earn as little as $28 per hour. It’s a pittance for the work involved, but a lot more than the $10 per day that they could make with factory jobs at home. Still, they sacrifice a lot by being in Thailand’s sex trade, where diseases run rampant (according to one 2007 study in the International Journal of STD of AIDS up to 20 percent of Thai working girls are HIV positive) and drugs can be the only thing that gets the girls through shifts.
“I have few friends and no life outside of work,” a Bangkok bar-girl told me, standing on the fringe of Nana Entertainment Plaza, a three-story mall of sorts, where hundreds of prostitutes work out of strip clubs with names such as Play School and Bottoms Up. “It is bad what I do, and I cannot have a Thai man. Now I look for farang [Thai slang for Westerners] to support me. Someday I will be a good person.”
[. . .]
As the Thai government seems to turn a mostly blind eye to the trade, — it’s not technically legal but it is widely tolerated — the beat goes on. Westerners keep coming for the thrills they can’t afford at home, and Thai women who are caught up in the sex biz grimly endure.
“I miss my family, my baby girl,” a young mother, six months into the trade, told me and started to sob. “This is not the life for me. It’s a bad life.”
Inside the Thai sex scene — where women are sold like meat
By Michael Kaplan
New York Post
April 24, 2016 | 7:20am