Thailand anti-vice efforts target prostitution and corruption
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Thailand anti-vice efforts target prostitution and corruption

The beach resort city of Pattaya is known for being Thailand’s den of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, but the government is trying yet again to tone down the area’s reputation. Police shut down the Heaven Gentleman’s Lounge Club and Sport earlier this week, disrupting a night of partying for 100 foreigners and a number of Thai women, according to the Bangkok Post. The club is shuttered for 30 days, and authorities are investigating whether or not prostitutes were servicing customers there. There were several bedrooms in the club where police found used condoms but no patrons to arrest, the Bangkok Post reported.

The newspaper noted that the police raided 17 other Pattaya bars but didn’t turn up any evidence against bar owners for prostitution or human trafficking charges. In October 2014, Pattaya police went after transgender sex workers, blaming them for crime and other problems in the popular tourist city. The Wall Street Journal reported that police there took initiative to get tough on crime, or at least appear to be doing so, to prevent Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha’s government from intervening more harshly. Prayuth has spoken often about needing to reform or reinstate the moral fabric of the country.

That may prove difficult, considering that many foreign tourists, who bring with them millions in tourism dollars, come to Thailand seeking a chance to indulge their vices. Massive raves, an opportunity to score cheap drugs, plenty of cheap alcohol, and ample access to prostitutes attract many people to areas of Thailand known for their party scenes. The junta may have a tough time eliminating or downplaying these so-called vices while still remaining appealing to a certain segment of its tourist population.

Still, a reduction in crime would likely be welcome by locals and foreigners alike. Pattaya Pol. Col. Sukthat Pumpunmuang recently ordered police there to stop taking bribes and focus on preventing druggings and purse-snatching incidents. That Thai police elicit bribes is an open secret, and both Thais and foreigners often share stories of paying off the police or negotiating a bribe to be let off one minor offence or another. But Sukthat seems to want to put an end to that kind of corruption and to curb the high numbers of thefts seen in Pattaya. The city sees 30-50 bag snatchings each month, he said, according to the Pattaya Mail.

The anti-vice sentiment also affected Phuket, where police searched nearly 300 locations looking for underage workers and those trafficked and forced into prostitution, according to The Phuket News. But no trafficking victims were found during the raids, which were presumably conducted in an effort to combat Thailand’s sinking status when it comes to human trafficking prevention.

The Royal Thai Police issued a command for all officers to crack down on venues where prostitution likely takes place and where trafficked people might be working, such as nightclubs and karaoke bars.

Advocates for the decriminalization of sex work may take issue with the anti-prostitution raids. Some have argued that decriminalizing prostitution makes sex workers less vulnerable to contracting high-risk diseases such as HIV/AIDS and less vulnerable to abuse. Thailand does need to improve its record on human trafficking, as it had a particularly shameful year in that department. It was alleged that the Thai Navy was involved in trafficking vulnerable Rohingya people from Burma, and the country was downgraded on the U.S.’ 2014 Trafficking in Persons report.

But a serious crackdown on corruption within the police, and a reduction in thefts and druggings would be a boon to the country’s reputation. A spate of foreign deaths on Koh Tao put Thailand in a harsh light, and the country will need to prove that it’s serious about safety and a reduction in crime to stay competitive as a tourism destination in the region.