Thailand is a country typically known for its sex tourism and bustling red-light districts. What many don’t know, however, is that sexual slavery is deeply rooted in Thailand’s history. Polygamy — the cultural practice of having multiple wives — has influenced cultural attitudes surrounding purchasing sex and pleasure. These attitudes can be traced back to early Thai dynasties, when it was common for kings to practice polygamy and frequent brothels. 


During the Ayutthaya period (1351- 1767), Thailand’s military became very powerful. At this time, women were commodified and men could earn additional wives through military achievements, social prestige, and wealth, according to Seabrook. Having multiple wives was an indicator of higher social rank, property ownership, and prosperity. Many Thai monarchs also practiced polygamy. Purchasing sex became a popular method of establishing social status and wealth, because the cultural perception of women as symbols of status was widely held. 

In the modern era, trade and communication with the West influenced the present Thai dynasty. King Rama V abolished slavery in 1905, and Rama VI advocated for monogamy and compulsory education. Still, the outlawing of slavery in 1905 did very little to stop the selling of sex. 


Thailand’s sex industry formally developed during the nineteenth century, when the economy was growing due to rice exports and Chinese migrants were heavily influencing local culture. 

Through a blend of consumerism and modernism, women began to hold positions of economic responsibility. The presence of US military bases in Thailand during the Vietnam War also contributed to the growing popularity of brothels and sex-buying according to Luepue. The industry even catered specifically to these military bases, bringing sex workers to the locations. 


Today, Thailand’s laws surrounding prositution are contradictory. Prostitution itself is legal and buyers are not subject to punishment. Still, any person involved in arranging or profiting from the exchanges (including the sex worker) can be prosecuted. Penalties are often light and inconsistently enforced. The perceived freedom for sex buying has made Thailand a popular destination for those seeking it out. The casual and popular nature of sex-buying in Thailand pushes the reality of sex trafficking deeper in the shadows — the normalization creates a facade of universal consent, when the reality is slavery and exploitation are still very present. Unfortunately, tourism, including sex tourism, is a huge part of Thailand’s economy and those who want to keep the economy thriving are not motivated to take stricter action against the sex industry.


Sex buying and sex trafficking are closely linked but often misunderstood. Sex trafficking, a form of human trafficking, involves manipulation, coercion, force, and emotional abuse. Even if a person willingly chooses to become a sex worker, any presence of manipulation, abuse or coercion, pushes their circumstances from chosen work to trafficking. Sex work and sex trafficking thrive in Thailand because of a strong presence in the country’s history. Additionally, many families are living in extreme poverty, struggling to provide for their loved ones with little economic opportunity. Free for Life and other similar organizations recognize the culturally-embedded vulnerability in this region, and are providing support, care and assistance to those who have escaped the reality of trafficking and abuse. 

You can support Free for Life’s Safe Home in Thailand today, where there is no time limit on the length of a woman or girl’s stay. Say yes to freedom for all! 


You can help FIGHT SLAVERY.

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