The Red Light District, Pattaya, Thailand

Loneliness permeates the Red Light District in Pattaya, Thailand. Most of the young girls, boys and lady-boys conceal this with their heart-warming smiles. It’s no wonder how tourists could be easily fooled that these girls and boys enjoy being prostituted. A group of Russian girls being sold happily greeted me with a flyer for their cabaret show, “You should come!” they said, like a group of friends encouraging me to come to a party with them. Without really hearing what they said, my body responded with the same excitement and girly-ness they greeted me with. I responded so giddy, “Totally!” as I took a flyer. Moments later from a distance I watched the Russian girls beg men passing by to purchase them. These girls are my age and look like me. I’m a young woman, educating myself to cultivate the world… why aren’t they doing the same? More than likely, these girls were tricked into prostitution. It could’ve begun with a promise of a job overseas to help them pay for their college, to have a better life. But upon arrival their passports were confiscated and their bodies and souls were intentionally broken to prepare them for this work.

Our world views prostitution as a profession one chooses… but I know these young Thai girls and boys didn’t grow up dreaming of wrinkled, drunk tourists objectifying and raping them. So WHY does it happen?

. Their Thai family values the son. If they have a son, all money and efforts go towards his education to become a monk. They want their son to be a monk so they can go to heaven. They will prostitute their daughters, if necessary, to help pay for his schooling.

. Their Thai family has a debt. The Thai culture is very hierarchical, so children must go to great lengths to help their parents. To help pay off their debt, it’s become cultural for the daughter to be prostituted by her parents.

. They’re trafficked into the business. The traffickers are incredible businessmen and women. Forget drug trafficking, where you can only sell a drug once… if you’re a sex-trafficker, you can sell a person multiple times, and they can be a prime piece of merchandise for about 7 years. Another key factor these businessmen know is that many of the Pattaya tourists are porn-addicts. With porn skyrocketing in the past ~20 years, it’s a perfect time to create a place for porn-addicts, both porn and the Red Light District are fueled on arousal by exploitation. In fact, many sex-trafficked victims are conditioned with porn so they’re educated on how to best please their customers. As long as the demand for porn continues, the demand for sex-trafficking will follow.

I struggled with smiling at the johns, even though they’re just as broken. Their twisted interpretations that a smile means I want to be involved with them made my heart ache even more. How could I hate these men? They’re desperate for love, while the girls they’re buying sex from are desperate for survival. The cycle feeds itself.

I’ve been in this heart-wrenching city for less than a week, but my hope for this place and passion for justice continues to grow each day. No matter how many porn-addicted johns and sex-trafficked victims there are, through education, relationships and God, the light for this city is radiant.