The Tourism Authority of Thailand is looking to once and for all, end the country’s reputation among Europeans and other white majority nations as a so-called “sex-tourism” destination. While prostitution is illegal in Thailand, in practice, bordellos and street-walkers remain a common sight in areas with a high concentration of tourists.
In a new statement, the Tourism Authority has said that “its marketing strategy and policy to move Thailand forward as the ‘Quality Destination’ has stepped in the right direction… and strongly opposes any form of sex tourism”.
While Thailand’s move to clearly discourage unwholesome visitors should be applauded, it ultimately takes more than words to change a deviant culture, let along the international perception of a deviant culture. To understand this, one only needs to look at how Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte changed both the reality and international perception of the deviant drug culture in his country. No Filipino leader has ever openly supported a drug culture, in the same way that no Thai leader has ever endorsed “sex tourism”. However, in respect of The Philippines, years of poor leadership among successive Filipino leaders, has failed to tackle the drug problem while many in positions of power actively sought to enrich themselves with dirty narco-money.
Then, in 2016, came President Rodrigo Duterte, a man whose record as Mayor of Davao put fear in the mind of every individual associated with narcotics. While many thought that Duterte would not be able to impliment his anti-narco policies on a national level, he has proved the critics wrong by unleashing the power of the state and public opinion against a problem that had blighted The Philippines for far too long.
In addition to targeting the narcotic trade directly at all levels, Duterte has also waged a psychological war against the drug trade. Sick individuals from outside of The Philippines who in the past may well have considered travelling to the country in order to import drugs, sell drugs, buy drugs or take drugs, will now think twice, as they know that such a foolish decision could be literally deadly. For those who think that such tactics are “extreme”, it may be because such individuals are unaware of the culture of death, including and especially the deaths of innocent people, that sprung up as a result of the narcotics culture in The Philippines that Duterte has worked to eliminate.
If the Thai government, which along with The Philippines was historically among the most US friendly in ASEAN, is serious about clamping down on “sex tourism”, it will need to consider taking Duterte style measures against it.
Like the narco-trade, the “sex tourism” industry in Thailand is about far more than an innocent transaction that is “harmless”. It often involves the procurement, enslavement and psychological torture of minors by depraved foreign paedophiles, it often involves rape and other forms of violence and in the worse cases it involves homicide. The money generated in such industries is black money that only ever ‘trickles up’ in the form of bribes, pay-offs and other nefarious dealings. If Thailand wanted to take the route of legalising, taxing and regulating prostitution, that would be one thing, but clearly Thailand wants to kill off the “sex tourism” industry. But it would take more than words and PR campaigns for that to happen however. Thai police and patriotic citizens must be mobilised against the “sex industry” in the same way that Filipinos were mobilised against the narco-culture, if Thailand is to once and for all reform its otherwise positive tourism sector.
While the majority of tourists in The Philippines and Thailand come to engage in positive activities, so long as people think they can go to Thailand to abuse local women in the way they wouldn’t or couldn’t in their own land – the Thai government ultimately bears responsibility for bringing shame upon its nation and endangering the well being of its people.
The choice is ultimately up to Thai politicians and the people to whom they are supposed to be responsible. President Duterte has provided a fellow ASEAN member with a clear model for how to eliminate a dark industry while putting fear into the heads of those who would ever consider attempting to revive it.
In future decades when the Philippine economy is one of the leaders of South East Asia and Filipino children in all parts of the country can grow up in a healthy and positive environment, people will look back on the Duterte Presidency and say ‘thank you’. Thailand could do the same for its youth, but it will need to make the tough call and take a Duterte style of initiative from which there is no turning back.