Reflections by Empower Chiang Mai on the 2012 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report

The 2012 TIP report has totally ignored all findings and data supplied by migrant sex workers of Thailand about trafficking in the Thai Sex Industry. Shame Shame Shame

TIP claims that there are tens of thousands of trafficking victims, including children in the sex industry – however yet again no data is given to support this claim. These numbers are NOT verified by empower research and do not reflect the every-day lived reality of sex workers in Thailand. In fact the TIP report itself cannot support this exaggerated claim – with only 392 victims of trafficking found in Thailand in 2011 – about the same number in fact over the last few years.

The issue of Thai children in the Thai sex industry is constantly alleged in the TIP report but no data is given to back up claims of an increase in children in the sex industry. Again this is NOT verified by empower research and does not reflect the modern context of sex work in Thailand. Empower research identifies a common situation where women in the sex industry are often misidentified as victims of trafficking because they do not have ID papers to prove their age. Both NGOs and Police in the anti-trafficking consistently fail to use basic administrative processes to enable women to get proof of age documentation from their home countries – and instead use unreliable age testing methods to allege that the women are under-age – resulting in women falsely being classified as “child victims of sex trafficking.”

Anti trafficking approaches in fact also add to the risk of young women being forced to sell sex – via use of entrapment by police in their raid and rescue approach in Thai entertainment venues..

The TIP report consistently attacks Thailand for not doing enough to stop the demand for “commercial sex and sex tourism” – which is of course in line with the US government anti-prostitution approach worldwide but has nothing to do with trafficking.

TIP alleges that there is a problem in victim identification by officials despite thousands of dollars being spent on training. Could it be however that in fact officials are identifying correctly – and in fact people are not children or trafficked? Empower found this in our research. Sex workers who were detained and identified as victims of trafficking – where in fact they were women who independently chose to work in the sex industry to make money to support their families.

The anti trafficking hysteria often confuses exploitation, forced labour and debt bondage and lumps it all under the name of ‘trafficking’. But the Thai law is a little more sophisticated than that – and requires specific criteria for a trafficking offence:

1. To include exploitation

2. To involve movement or trading humans beings and

3. To involve force or non-consent or victims except if under 18 years.

So in Thailand most migrant workers are working in exploitative conditions, and may have used a labour broker to get work here – however they are not forced to do this work against their will. Instead they often choose to borrow some money to get here and start work, and are only offered work where poor wages and bad working conditions are allowed to prosper. This is not a trafficking problem but a problem of labour rights and economics and can better be tackled through supporting workers rights to unions and safe working conditions etc – rather than spending literally millions of dollars to prosecute less than 100 traffickers and deport another 390 men, women and children who need an opportunity to work and earn money.

TIP report states – there only 2 sex trafficking convictions – out of 67 sex trafficking prosecutions were in fact upheld – about 3% of alleged trafficking cases.

Lastly despite $2.2 million USD being spent on trafficking in Thailand- less than 1% actually reaches those affected. Out of 103 people each one got just over USD100 – (actually even this sum is more than the women detained for 15 months and then denied a sewing machine by an NGO that is funded up to 8 million baht per year to support women who are trafficked.)

We place this year’s TIP report on Tier 3

For the TIP report, please click here.