Prostitution laws 'in need of overhaul'

Prostitution laws 'in need of overhaul'

brothel raids 'more harm than good'

Police raid a coffee shop in Bangkok which operates as a front for a brothel. (Photo by Patipat Janthong)
Police raid a coffee shop in Bangkok which operates as a front for a brothel. (Photo by Patipat Janthong)

One of Thailand's leading sex worker support groups is calling for an overhaul of prostitution laws, saying police raids targeting sex workers were doing more harm than good.

Surang Janyam, the director of Service Workers in Group (Swing), said the raid on Nataree massage parlour in Bangkok last month has created a climate of fear for sex workers, who are now too scared to access even basic health and education services.

Ms Surang said the raid, which uncovered underage and foreign sex workers allegedly employed at the venue, had deprived the women of income, while most of the foreign workers have been detained in government shelters for "rehabilitation" while their cases are before the courts.

Ms Surang told the Bangkok Post Sunday that since the raid on Nataree, sex workers in Bangkok have been too afraid to access health care and sex education programmes offered by Swing due to fear of arrest.

"We set up a centre offering health consultations for sex workers around the Sanam Luang area after the raid on Nataree," Ms Surang said.

"While the women were queuing up to access the service, a group of policemen pulled up in a truck and arrested these sex workers. Since then our work has become almost impossible.

"The Thai sex workers can at least come to our centre in Soi Patpong, but the foreign sex workers won't come here any more since they are too scared to go out in public.

"These foreign sex workers need access to health care. I know many of them are living with HIV, and if they don't get antiretroviral drugs, their symptoms will get worse and it increases the chance of the virus being transmitted."

Ms Surang said a similar trend was being seen across the country, especially in Isan, where local public health offices have reported a drop in the number of women accessing their services.

"All [the police] do is target the end of the problem. These sex workers are just the smallest part of a bigger picture," Ms Surang said.

"I want the government to seriously look at the issue, especially the issue of bribery, to prevent more serious problems."

She said Swing had also been turned away from major Bangkok brothels in the wake of the Nataree raid, and Ms Surang fears that sex workers may be cut off from access to proper health care.

Ms Surang is planning to hold a public forum on prostitution in Thailand, but rather than a group discussion in a meeting room she wants to speak on live television in order to grab more public attention.

"It's time to talk about our prostitution laws, which were written a long time ago and are no longer relevant to helping solve the problem.

"We should consider amending and adjusting the law to make it relevant to the current situation. Then we can solve a lot more problems, such as HIV and even chronic police corruption.

"Sex workers also have their rights and deserve to be protected under the law."

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