All of us must have heard from news reports, via TV and newspapers, about sexual exploitations of boys or underage male prostitution before. It has been reported, for example, that a procurer brought a 14-year-old boy to Thai and foreign homosexuals for sex services. If the boy refused to yield, he would be subject to physical assaults. Also in news reports were how boys aged below 18 sought customers via online platforms. Underage male prostitution has long existed in Thai society though its form has changed over time in response to changing context. The main reason behind boys’decision to provide sex service is that they want to get out of poverty and difficulty.
“We have interviewed 20 boy sex workers. Of them, 18 want to quit if they find other means of livelihoods”.
The quote comes from an online event held to release findings from research on the sexual exploitation of boys in late April.
The research on “Sexual Exploitation of Boys and SOGIE Youth in Thailand” by the ECPAT International and the Thailand Institute of Justice, conducted in-depth interviews with 20 boy sex workers aged between 15 and 24 years old in Chiang Mai and Bangkok. Interviewees are from “SOGIE” group (SOGIE is abbreviated from ‘Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression’. Findings show more than half of them started providing sex services in return for something from a young age. The youngest age was just 12. Sometimes, sex services were provided because they wanted a roof over their head, safety, or a small amount of cash. Common causes of their entry into the flesh trade were poverty, domestic violence, and gender-based discrimination.
Mark Kavenagh, Head of Research and Policy, ECPAT International, said the research took one and a half years to complete. “Findings show young SOGIE sex workers are not seen as victims of sexual exploitations due to prevailing biases. Due to prejudices, many people believe SOGIE boys have engaged in sex services to fulfil their own sexual needs. But the truth is that youth are victims, no matter what their gender, in prostitution. Aside, 18 out of 20 young persons whom we interviewed said they would definitely stop providing sex services if they had other means to support themselves”.
According to the research, “frontline welfare service providers” or officials of organizations with close contact with children have had problems building the trust needed for them to work for the causes of young male sex workers. Due to the lack of trust, they have been unable to reach out to these sex workers’ community and to provide counselling to this SOGIE group. Importantly, “frontline welfare service providers” may inadvertently have prejudices against young male institutes as they tend to believe that “boys offering sex services are not victims of sexual exploitations”. Such prejudices threaten to deprive such boys of access to legal protection. Officials, therefore, should receive additional training in order to deliver better performance.
The research, most important of all, recommends legal amendments. Under current laws, sexually-exploited youth may still face criminal actions for “engaging in prostitution” when they should have been considered damaged parties. Aside, Thailand does not have any law to criminalize the seduction of children via online platforms or LIVE Streaming. The research also suggests that the 15-year statute of limitation for sexual exploitation of children be cancelled on grounds that in many cases, information related to the crimes was disclosed long after they happened. However, in this aspect, Thai laws have a good point in that they have no sexual discrimination. Both males and females have equal protection under laws.
Dr. Phiset Sa-ardyen, Executive Director of TIJ, said the findings are interesting because they include frontline welfare service providers’ viewpoints and address the vulnerability of sexually-exploited “boys” who have received less attention than girls. He believes this research will mark the first step for Thailand to develop greater understanding of the issue. Cases mentioned in the research involve boys and SOGIE youth, who are often sexually abused through online media. The proper understanding will pave the way for laws researchers to design a process that better addresses the problem.
Today, the judicial process must deal with a new threat like a technologically-enabled sexual threat against children. As technologies have played a bigger role in the COVID-19 era, children also face bigger risks. In addition to poverty, other economic problems, and domestic violence, children may struggle to adapt to tech-driven society. One of TIJ’s missions is to "combat violence against children" in pursuit of sustainable development goals (SGDs). TIJ, therefore, has promoted the legal structure that promotes children’s rights and facilitates their social participation.
Maia Mounsher from Chiang Mai-based Urban Light Foundation Thailand said a SOGIE boy had suffered from domestic violence to the point that he was sent to an orphanage. At the age of just 12, he dropped out of schools as friends dragged him to alcohol and narcotics. After staff at the orphanage found that he abused alcohol and narcotics, he received severe rebukes. He at that point decided to leave the shelter and became a street kid. He ends up supporting himself and drug consumption by offering sex services. Mounsher pointed out that several adults, namely parents, teachers, and orphanage staff, on several occasions could have prevented this boy from entering the flesh trade, but they missed those opportunities due to the lack of tools and understanding of his needs.
Santanee Disayabutr, Director, Secretariat Office of Nitivajra Institute, Office of the Attorney General said society generally cares more about girls than boys due to sexuality myths from the past. While there are much fewer cases of sexual crimes against boys than those against girls in Thailand, boys’ cases have seen more violence. Santanee, too believed that laws should be improved to resonate with the United Nations’ strategies that call for equal legal protection for all genders. Laws should protect, not prescribe criminal punishments to, damaged parties. The attitudes of “frontline welfare service providers” and laws enforcers should also be adjusted to ensure operations are conducted in the best interests of children.
Pol Captain Khemachart Prakaihongmanee, Deputy Director of the Department of Special Investigation’s Bureau of Foreign Affairs and Transnational Crime, said from his over 15-year-long experience in handling cases of sexual crimes against children at DSI that the number of sexually-abused boys is higher than that of sexually-abused girls. He also disclosed that in addition to being abused, boys’ pornographic materials are always released online. According to him, boys have less tendency to tell others – even those in their close circles – about their ordeals when compared to girls because of the shame involved. These boys, as a result, tend to develop mental health issues and a higher inclination towards narcotics.
Recommendations for Relevant Authorities…Solution to Thailand’s Boy Prostitution
The research has recommended the followings, which include proposed legal framework:
• Criminal punishment against persons involved in prostitution should focus on protecting boys who are sexually exploited. Without such focus, sexually-exploited boys risk being identified as laws offenders.
• Laws about the online sexual exploitation of children should be compiled and amended, with criminal punishments be stipulated against such exploitation including the online seduction of children for sexual purposes and the live broadcast of sexual abuses against children.
• Data collection and storage should be done based on proper principles in the best interests of children to ensure digital evidence can be kept. Collaboration with laws enforcement agencies that handle internet service providers (ISPs), mobile operators, social-media firms, Cloud Storage providers, and tech industry should be fostered;
• Civil law should be amended to set the minimum age for marriage at 18, without any exception;
• Sexual exploitations of children should have no statute of limitation;
• Laws-enforcement agencies should be provided with guidelines and training so that they have more knowledge and skills needed to help sexually-exploited children; and
• Laws and policies should be formulated in a way that ensures sexually-exploited children’s rights to optimal rehabilitation and remedy.
While the problem cannot be fast solved by any single agency or person, the research is prepared in hopes that it is useful and will foster collaboration among agencies, society, and people in a way that leads to concrete solutions in the future.
The research has been done with support from TIJ. The Rainbow Sky Association of Thailand), the Urban Light Foundation Thailand, the SISTERS Foundation, CAREMAT and V-power have also helped with data collection. The full copy of the research can be downloaded from https://knowledge.tijthailand.org/th/publication/detail/thai-global-boys-initiative-thailand
Published : May 25, 2021