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Sex Laws in Thailand Part 2: Laws Regulating Commercial Sex and Entertainment Places
by Jon Fox

30 November 2009

This article is part two of a three-part series entitled Sex Laws in Thailand.  This second installment explores Thai sex laws and their application to the local sex industry including go-go bars and saunas.  Part One deals with US sex crime laws under the Protect Act and the prosecution of US citizens engaging in illegal sexual activities in Thailand.  Part Three addresses the activities of civil society and international law enforcement in Thailand working to enhance and strengthen sex crime laws and bring offenders to justice.

Sex Laws in Thailand Part 1: US Laws Abroad: The Long Arm of Uncle Sam

Sex Laws in Thailand Part 3: Civil Society and Law Enforcement

There are a number of attractions that Thailand offers to residents and visitors alike: a booming medical tourism business, eco-tourism, friendly people and delicious food.  Nevertheless, like many destinations, Thailand has an x-rated side that is—depending on whom you talk to—infamous or famous.

Some observers of Thai society have noted that it is simultaneously both promiscuous and conservative, tolerant and prejudice. This seeming contradiction is evident in Bangkok’s nefarious Pat-Pong entertainment district:  shady touts lurk in the corners selling illegal yet standard pornographic DVDs while wild sex-shows are openly advertised next door. Watching certain sex acts in the privacy of your home in Thailand is considered a social vice, but seeing them committed in flesh at a public venue is a standard, somewhat social event.

The tradition of married men keeping "mia noi" or "minor wives” has existed in Thai society for generations. Such practices have played an important part in the shaping of local attitudes towards prostitution, helping to create an ambiguous view towards extra-marital relations, as well as prostitution in its broadest terms.

While many imagine foreign men dominating the notorious Thai go-go bars and massive massage parlor complexes, that is not necessarily the case. According to surveys, the vast majority of those that frequent prostitutes are Thai men and that on any given day at least 450,000 Thai men partake in the services of prostitutes.1 In Thailand, it is domestic “consumption” that drives and sustains the booming sex industry.

Over the years, the Kingdom’s vibrant sex-industry has received varying levels of protection from its most loyal of customers, Thai men. Both the international and local media reported widely on the close relationships between brothel mangers, local police, businessmen, and politicians.2 Without going into the sordid and at times sensational details, it is sufficient to say that while technically illegal, prostitution in Thailand has thrived for a multitude of reasons, often under the protection of various state actors.

A rose by another name

Prostitution in Thailand is clearly illegal.  However, there may be some sections of Thai law that are ambiguous, making it difficult to prosecute those charged under these laws. The Prevention and Suppression of Prostitution Act, B.E. 2539 (1996) (the “Prostitution Law”), is the central legal framework prohibiting prostitution. The law defines prostitution as any act done to gratify the sexual desire of another in exchange for money or any other benefit, but only if it is done “in a promiscuous manner”. The Prostitution Law does not define what exactly a “promiscuous manner” constitutes. The crime of solicitation is equally ill defined. A “Jon” soliciting the services of a prostitute is liable under the Prostitution Law only if the solicitation is done “openly and shamelessly or causes a nuisance to the public”, the penalty being a fine of up to 1,000 baht.

The Prostitution Law bars one person from associating with another in a “prostitution establishment” for the purpose of prostituting themselves or another.  The penalty for violating this part of the law is up to one month imprisonment, a fine of up to 1,000 baht or both. For the purposes of the Prostitution Law, a prostitution “establishment” is a place established for the purpose of prostitution, and includes a place used to solicit an act of prostitution. These provisions are based on the definition of prostitution and thus the requirement that the activity be done in the vaguely termed “promiscuous” manner.

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[1] [2]

1. This figure does not take into account the number of males working as prostitutes for female customers. Shih J., A plague in prostitution: HIV and AIDS in Thailand, Rhode Island Medicine, 77(5): p.145-9, May 1994.

2. See for example The Nation, Chuwit avoids conviction, 14 Jul 2006; The Guardian, The brothel king's revenge, 21 Feb 2004; Asia Times, Thai sex tycoon rubs cops the wrong way, 23 Jul 2003.

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