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Discrimination Toward Lower Middle Class Sex Workers In Thailand

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Prostitution has been described as the oldest profession in the world (Phukaew, 2018; Simmons & McCarron, 2008). However, toward the global lens particularly in Thailand, it is not seen this career as a respectful “profession” as other occupations. This essay is going to discuss some perspectives of the job on how discrimination has occurred, how it functions with the lower middle class - which is the main focus of this article, and how it could be solved as well as reporting the current situation in Thailand by referred Thai and global sources. The paper includes with three parts: the first is historical review, which would confer about the background in Thailand and how the society, or to be precise, the leaders do for managing prostitution; the second is the discrimination and concerns of being sex workers in Thailand; third is that how the issue could be done to make a change for sex workers to achieve their rights as a human they should have been acquired.

Prostitution was documented for a long time since Mesopotamia as a part of religious rituals (Lerner, 1986; Phukaew, 2018). In addition, in the Buddhist Era, the occupation was accepted as honored. For Thailand, or Siam to be exact, there was stated that sexual service has already existed in the Ayutthaya Period. Paternalism society has defined women as males property. So it was normal that women were passed around amongst men as concubines or servants. There was a mention of a royal service position, Qc-ya Meen - an officer who is responsible for arranging women to serve other males in sex work, according to Simon de La Loubère. The record of the first established brothel at Sampheng revealed in Rama I, Rattanakosin Era. Prostitution also was mentioned in the Three Seals Law in the same period of time (Parnn, 2018). The concern about the sex trade was extremely concentrated when King Rama V declared the abolition of slavery. It indeed brought about freedom to the citizen; still, freedom without land, property, or money to support a family often left the uneducated slaves little choice but to turn towards prostitution. Brothels began to grow and spread along the length and breadth of the nation. To control the phenomenon, King Rama V then initiated the Control and Prevention of Venereal Disease Act of 1909. The law also was adapted and expanded in Rama VI from time to time due to his royal opinion seeing prostitution as a threat, downgrading citizen quality as same as alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking. Seeing from his royal publishing, prostitution has been considered as negative since then (Umpat, & Vongsayan, 2018).

Modernized Thailand, pushed by the different cause but resulting in the same move, was influenced by Western values in terms of monogamy, it means other mistresses except a principle wife would turn their status into prostitution. Besides, pressures from the United Nations and counties directed Thailand to launch the Suppression of Prostitution Act in 1960 which declared that prostitution is illegal. Even saying so, massive coming of multinational young and old soldiers and non-soldiers males in World War II and the Vietnam War combined with the social context there forced Thais both males and females struggling to make a living - and sexual commerce is a choice they made. The result was the sex trade become escalating (Naksut, 2016). Despite that the Thai government propelled the Prevention and Suppression of Prostitution Act in 1996 (Office of the Council of State, 2011) to shrink it down, the industry has been already rooted as deep, implicated in various dimensions of society, and more complex than could be easily solved (Eoseewong, 2017; Phukaew, 2018; Umpat, & Vongsayan, 2018). In addition, sexual service trade in Thailand nowadays is presented in many forms such as teahouses, nightclubs, massage parlors, barbers, including on the internet (Phukaew, 2018). While social context has been changing, however, the law and the lens society have toward this profession still stuck in the old pages (Thairath, 2019).

Discrimination toward sex workers can be roughly divided into two: legally and socially. In terms of the law, as already mentioned, selling sex service is illegal. It means that Thai sex workers have not acquired welfare and safety while working. There are reported of forcing by employers such as forcing to consume alcohol every day, reducing paid if gain weight, and forcing to consume Viagra; which if affecting the health, employers have no need to be responsible for it because they are not covered by the labor law (Chaited, 2019 as cited in Thairath, 2019). Moreover, penalty code stipulates the weight of punishment would be on sellers more than buyers, or even their employers (iLaw, 2013; Phukaew, 2018). Also, there are proclaimed that in many cases, sex workers are often violated by police through verbal harassment, public humiliation, excessive force, invasive searches, and unwarranted arrests (Boittin, 2013; Dewey & St. Germain, 2014; Lewis & Maticka-Tyndale, 2000; Lewis et al., 2005; Miller, 2002; Nichols, 2010; Wong et al., 2011 as cited in Benoit, Jansson, Smith, & Flagg, 2017). Police in multiple contexts have taken advantage of the power differential between themselves and sex workers, sometimes demanding money or bribes, or forcing them into unwanted sexual acts (Biradavolu et al., 2009; Boittin, 2013; Dewey & St. Germain, 2014; Ganju & Saggurti, 2017; Lewis et al., 2005; Miller, 2002; Nichols, 2010; Odinokova, Rusakova, Urada, Silverman, & Raj, 2014; Pettifor, Beksinska, & Rees, 2000; Rhodes, Simic, Baros, Platt, & Zikic, 2008; Williamson, Baker, Jenkins, & Cluse-Tolar, 2007 as cited in Benoit, Jansson, Smith, & Flagg, 2017). As being seen often in Chiang Mai, sex workers are treated unfairly by the police officers in legal service and many times they are arrested with no excuse - such as only seeing them buying condoms (Chaited, 2019 as cited in Thairath, 2019) This results in a feedback loop that sex services sellers, even though nature is considered as a high-risk job, will not trust in the police and justice system (Amnesty International, 2016; Murphy, 2015; Phosriwungchai, 2018). Laws on sex work should focus on protecting people from exploitation and abuse, rather than trying to ban all sex work and penalize sex workers.

Social discrimination is another form of obstacles sex workers have to face in life. The society values their job as a low line (iLaw, 2013) - which is understandable from an evolutionary perspective, the attention for the entire population to survive from communicable diseases (Hallgrimsdottir et al., 2008; Phelan, Link, & Dovidio, 2008 as cited in Benoit, Jansson, Smith, & Flagg, 2017). It reflects practically in being subjected to degrading treatment, for example through the media and social institutions, and expressly in public spaces. The negative attitude of the wide community treats them with harassed, humiliated, and ridiculed due to norm enforcement (Bernstein, 2007; Chipamaunga, Muula, & Mataya, 2010; Krüsi et al., 2016; Okal et al., 2009; Wojcicki & Malala, 2001 as cited in Benoit, Jansson, Smith, & Flagg, 2017). Sex workers so that response in subtle social interaction with their neighbors and community. This is an example of group competition and power struggle where community members wield their greater power to keep sex workers down, in, and away (Link & Phelan, 2014). Sex workers also have to encounter prostitution stigma in the social world. That makes them feel of isolation or hostility as well as creating mistrust on to others. Stereotype threat involves a self-confirming belief that influences them to accept the violence and discrimination they experience as well deserved (Benoit, Jansson, Smith, & Flagg, 2017). This belief creates formidable barriers to accessing appropriate and comprehensive treatment from others (Benoit, Ouellet, & Jansson, 2016; Benoit, Smith, et al., 2016; Ganju & Saggurti, 2017 as cited in Benoit, Jansson, Smith, & Flagg, 2017). Internalization of stigma is also linked to lower self-esteem (Benoit, Smith, et al., 2017) and to feelings of disempowerment (Dodsworth, 2014; Jiminez et al., 2011; Sallmann, 2010 as cited in Benoit, Jansson, Smith, & Flagg, 2017). The research also found out the positive correlation between discrimination, depression, and sex service trade (Benoit, McCarthy, & Jansson, 2015 as cited in Benoit, Jansson, Smith, & Flagg, 2017). This phenomenon of stigmatization also plays a role in fostering an environment where disrespect, devaluation, and even violence are acceptable responses to those who are stigmatized (Bungay et al., 2011; Shannon et al., 2008; Shannon & Csete, 2010 as cited in Benoit, Jansson, Smith, & Flagg, 2017). So many workers attempt to conceal their work activities from partners, family, friends, and their communities—not only to protect themselves from being stigmatized by these individuals (Closson et al., 2015; Ganju & Saggurti, 2017; Kong, 2006; Ngo et al., 2007; Roche & Keith, 2014; Zalwango et al., 2010 as cited in Benoit, Jansson, Smith, & Flagg, 2017) but also to protect those with whom they interact from courtesy stigma (Dodsworth, 2014; Murphy et al., 2015 as cited in Benoit, Jansson, Smith, & Flagg, 2017).

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A clear example of unfairness sex workers would be experienced is talking with a medical care setting. The fear of judgment and lower quality of care from health providers is what in their concern. There are many cases if they disclose their occupation, they would be looked down upon and treated poorly from medical care providers such as verbally abusive, lack of attention, and disrespectful and harmful behavior during physical examination (Prachatai, 2018). Negative experiences can have lasting effects on sex workers’ health care seeking and health outcomes. Therefore, sex workers often keep their occupation secret from health care providers which in many cases would obstruct the officers to choose the right medical treatment (Basnyat, 2015; Wong et al., 2011 as cited in Benoit, Jansson, Smith, & Flagg, 2017). Avoided seeking health care service reveals even worse outcomes not only for customers but for the sellers’ health. Thereby, there are foundations - for example, SWING (Service Workers in Group Foundation) established Human-centered design clinics or queuing systems to serve this social network, to prevent sex workers to face inappropriate, ineffective, or outright harmful treat based on stigmatizing notions that negatively impact their job and their health (Salforest, 2016).

So when it comes to interventions to lower discrimination toward prostitution among Thai society, there are many paths could be proposed. However, it is undeniable that all must be well considered as its complexity, practicality, and multiplies dimensions of consequence to overall society later on (Umpat, & Vongsayan, 2018; Vitooraporn, 2017). The following will present two suggestions in order to cope with the negative barriers among sexual service commerce (Wongpanya & Kraivichit, 2018).

First and foremost, society must change the way they view this career. For a long time, sex workers have to apply personal management strategies to deal with stigmatization. On the other hand, it might be time now to challenge society to empathize with them and reduce those walls for people in this kind of work. Destigmatization, reframing and resisting stigma, toward social movement. Thai must perceive sex work as a routine economic activity and reframing sex work in terms that emphasize its normality and acceptability as a facet of a business pursuit (Chaisa-ard, 2017). However, Reframing and resisting stereotypes sometimes occurs beyond the level of the individual (Benoit, Jansson, Smith, & Flagg, 2017). Therefore, it requires huge support through social movement. Sex worker organizations, activists, and voice of people should cooperate to develop a common front and tackle issues by including all the unique perspectives of sex workers in advocacy. Through this collective action, both in social media and the real world measures could make a wave in society.

Decriminalization is another step that has been discussed for a long time (Raphael, 2018; Umpat, & Vongsayan, 2018; Vitooraporn, 2017). It is the fact that part of the service workers is the victim of human trafficking which is considered as the main reason why sexual trade is still illegal (Abdul, 2019). However, there is another group of people that enters into sex work by choosing under social circumstances and individual responses to these conditions in life as their best solution and that is their free choice and autonomy (Phosriwungchai, 2018; Songsamphan, 2015 as cited in iLaw, 2015; Vitooraporn, 2017). It is stated that making commercial sex exchanges being legal is a way to show the society as acceptability of this occupation as a labor as well as decline human-trafficking as out-growth. Amnesty International (2015) does not believe that making everything related to sex service is illegal would help to protect the rights of sex workers. Finding practical measures to protect sex workers and helping them to access the rights they deserve, instead, is considered a true solution. Utilizing an occupational framework and normalizing this type of labor would provide sex sellers to access social welfare covered by labor law, at least similar to other forms of employment (Phosriwungchai, 2018; Prachatai, 2018; Thairath, 2019; Vitooraporn, 2017). Which means they will access social security, health care, communicable disease control, including day-off quota and other commitments (UNAIDS, 2017). At the same time, bringing this industry into the ground would provide the government to regulate and organize better such as workers minimum age restriction, condom use policy, and legal registered and status (Umpat, & Vongsayan, 2018). Those are not only beneficial for workers to be able to operate professionally as a protected occupation, but also for customers in terms of receiving secure service (Chaisa-ard, 2017; Parnn, 2018; Vitooraporn, 2017).

In conclusion, this article provides discussion leading to better understanding the causes and consequences of prostitution stigma and legal condition and suggest the way of promoting the human rights of sex workers through progressive social policy and law reform. These are two examples directly that could shield down the unfairness treat toward commercial sex sellers. Besides, scholars suggest there are more direct and indirect pathways to resolve this issue which requires the cooperation of empathy and understanding people since individual till all the society to make a change (Phosriwungchai, 2018; Umpat, & Vongsayan, 2018).

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Discrimination Toward Lower Middle Class Sex Workers In Thailand. (2022, Jun 29). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 1, 2024, from
“Discrimination Toward Lower Middle Class Sex Workers In Thailand.” Edubirdie, 29 Jun. 2022,
Discrimination Toward Lower Middle Class Sex Workers In Thailand. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 1 Mar. 2024].
Discrimination Toward Lower Middle Class Sex Workers In Thailand [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 29 [cited 2024 Mar 1]. Available from:
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