Rights advocates urge end to discrimination against sex workers

A civil society group for sex workers is urging the Thai authorities and media to stop discriminating against sex workers, saying although the sex industry contributes substantially to the Thai economy, sex workers suffer stigma and a lack of protection.

Representatives of Service Workers In Group (SWING), a group advocating sex worker rights, on Tuesday, 30 August 2016, held a press briefing in response to a recent police raid on two brothels in the southern province of Phuket, which were open after hours and without official permits, Transborder News reported.

According to Surang Chanyaem, SWING Director, the police tactic of raiding brothels and other red light establishments has been used for decades, but it has not reduced the scale of the sex industry in the country.  

She said that these raids are against the objectives of the 1996 Prevention and Suppression of Prostitution Act, which aims to protect sex workers and provide them with education and skills to improve their quality of life rather than prosecute them.

“After the raid, certain media put up headlines like ‘Phuket police raid obscene establishments opened after hours’ and published improper images to condemn the workers,” said Surang. “This is another issue which reflects the direction of arresting and prosecuting sex workers who are powerless to bargain.”

She urged the Thai media and authorities to stop discriminating against sex workers in ways which infringe upon their dignity.

Chamrong Phangnongyang, Deputy Director of the group, said that prostitution should not be viewed as an undignified profession because it is an occupation of choice. 

He added that the sex industry brings substantial revenue to the country annually, but sex workers continue to suffer persecution from the state authorities.  

Surasak Niamthanom, SWING’s Project Manager, said the current legal framework prohibits prostitution, but allows the operations of entertainment establishments where prostitution may take place. Therefore, Thai sex workers suffer from a lack of labour protection and social welfare.

Despite the ubiquitous presence of the sex industry in the country, Thai law bans acts of prostitution, which pushes the industry into the shadow economy.

Under the Prevention and Suppression of Prostitution Act, persons who solicit sex "in an open and shameless manner" or who are "causing nuisance to the public" are subject to a fine of no more than 1,000 baht while persons mingling in a "prostitution establishment" may face a jail term of up to one month and/or a fine of up to 1,000 baht.

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