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In Thailand, a tourist with money is tourist with unchecked power. Women and girls from poor rural families make up the majority of sex workers in Thailand. As a result of the current economic downturn, hundreds of factories and projects have closed across Thailand, leaving thousands of workers—both Thai and non-Thai—unemployed, according to the Far Eastern Economic Review. Unemployment is rising at a rate of about , workers a month, and may climb to 1.
Even if a migrant laborer secures an increasingly elusive unskilled factory job, the paltry salary is typically ten to twenty times lower than that paid to the lowest level sex worker employed at "beer bars," according to the nonprofit organization Ashoka. The women trapped in the freakish sexual circus of "ping pong shows" often worked in factories before the economic downturn.
Left with no alternatives after being laid off, many women migrated to Thailand's most notorious tourist hotspots such as Pattaya, Phuket, and the Patpong District of Bangkok. Once lost in Thailand's seedy underbelly, these women are further robbed of their individual agency, economic independence, and bargaining power by domineering pimps who keep tabs on debts owed for room and board, and deliberately foster discord among workers who may otherwise attempt to unionize.
Even if language barriers and calculating brothel managers did not prevent women from collectively demanding more rights, most women accept their conditions silently since a stream of even poorer migrants are steadily available to replace any dissenters.
If history repeats itself, the situation for poor Southeast Asian women will only further deteriorate with the global economic downturn. During the Asian financial crisis, many Thais lost their jobs in the manufacturing, finance and tourism sectors. Siddharth Kara , a board member of Free the Slaves , an NGO based in the United States, notes in his recent book, Sex Trafficking , that the International Monetary Fund's interest-rate policies and cuts on social-welfare programs not only contributed to the economic problems but also made poor migrants more vulnerable to changing market forces.