ON Jan 12, officials from the Thai Department of Special Investigation (DSI) and armed military officers raided the “Victoria Secret” massage parlour in the Rama IX area of Bangkok.
They rescued more than 100 women who had been forced into prostitution, including numerous trafficking victims who were under the age of 18.
Bangkok’s Rama IX area is a well known nighttime entertainment area, notorious for its many karaoke clubs and massage parlours, many of which exploit vulnerable young women who have been deceived into working in Thailand’s billion-dollar sex industry. Although prostitution is illegal in Thailand, these businesses often operate in plain sight.
DSI officers are also investigating links between the brothel’s operations and human traffickers in Burma (Myanmar) and Malaysia who prey on young girls from ethnic minority communities.
— Nvader (@NvaderFreedom) January 15, 2018
This latest raid, the largest of its kind in recent years, was initiated after the DSI received information from Nvader, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) dedicated to combating sex trafficking, about the case of a Burmese girl who had been lured into prostitution at the “massage parlour” at the age of 12.
According to a special task force from the Department of Provincial Administration, which joined the operation, a total of 113 women were rescued, 96 were from Myanmar, 11 from Lao, two from China and four were Thai citizens.
DSI Deputy Chief Pol Col Songsak Raksaksakul said that only some of the females had any formal identification papers and it is believed the victims were trafficked illegally to Bangkok. According to Ratthawit Chitsurachitwong, of the PODA’s Criminal Investigation Division, the victims had been forced to have sex with three clients each day.
During the raid officials arrested Boonsab Amornrattanasiri, 55, also known as Sia Kob, who reportedly managed the brothel on a daily basis and worked as an “enticer”. The Criminal Court rejected the THB500,000 bail (US$15,650) offered by his relatives on the grounds that he was a flight risk.
Six other people were also arrested during Friday’s raid and there are arrest warrants for another seven people. The “massage parlour” has been shut down indefinitely and DSI’s deputy chief announced that the case’s investigators are now looking to discover the real owners of the business.
However, the DSI did not comment about investigators continuing their search for the paedophiles who had raped children at this brothel and it appears unlikely these offenders will face justice. Instead, they are more likely to continue raping and sexually abusing underage girls at other “massage parlours” situated around Bangkok’s entertainment areas.
During Friday’s raid, officials also uncovered a list of “special guests“, said to include police officers at the Metropolitan Police Bureau, and government officials from the Immigration Bureau and the Revenue Department. It is alleged these “special guests” were entitled to free services at the brothel.
Documents are said to show the positions and the units of law enforcement officials who visited the “massage parlour” last year. The DSI director-general, Paisit Wongmuang, said that all officials on the “special guests” list would be investigated, and if found to have colluded with the massage parlour’s managers, their cases would be referred to the Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission.
According to local media, the “special guests” lists also included a number of police officers from Bangkok’s Wang Thong Lang police station, which has jurisdiction over the Rama IX area.
A day after the DSI’s raid, five senior police officers at Bangkok’s Wang Thong Lang police station, superintendent Pol Col Thammanoon Bunruang, deputy superintendent for investigation Pol Lt Col Naren Kruengsanuk, deputy superintendent for suppression Pol Lt Col Phichai Toontham, suppression inspector Pol Lt Col Dechawat Khankasikam and investigation inspector Pol Lt Col Prachya Bunyuen were transferred to inactive positions to ensure transparency in the investigation of trafficking and prostitution at the massage parlour.
Given the size of the “Victoria Secret” massage parlour, it is impossible to believe that this huge brothel was able to operate for years without the knowledge of local police. It is also noteworthy that Friday’s raid, lead by DSI investigators, supported by armed-military personnel, was conducted entirely without the cooperation of local police, who it now appears were working in collusion with the brothel’s operators.
This wouldn’t be the first investigation to uncover collusion between Thai police and brothel owners in Bangkok. In June 2016, 15 children were rescued from the Nataree Massage Parlour in Bangkok when the DSI initiated a raid based on information provided by Nvader. Investigators discovered a ledger of bribe payments to government agencies and police units.
After Friday’s raid, Nvader’s chief investigator Ronnasit Proeksayajiva reiterated the challenge of rescuing victims from brothels protected by the police, explaining that Nvader never sought cooperation from the local police because they believe local officers are fully aware of the illegal activities taking place in these establishments.
Corruption among the police and local officials remains the greatest barrier to protecting children and vulnerable young girls from exploitation in Thailand’s US$6.4 billion sex industry.
Although the Thai government has made some progress in tackling human trafficking over the past three years, there is much more which needs to be done. Thailand remains on the US State Department’s Tier 2 Watch List for a second consecutive year because the country has failed to fully meet minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking.
While the rescue of over a hundred trafficking victims is an important achievement, it should be remembered that there are thousands more victims in similar “entertainment venues” who are being raped and sexually abused on a daily basis.
If Thai authorities are going to begin seriously tackling human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of vulnerable young people, law enforcement agencies will need to commit to rooting out local level corruption which allows “entertainment centers” to operate with impunity, begin proactively investigating the links between human traffickers and “entertainment venues”, while punishing those who are found to have facilitated trafficking and those clients who have sexually abused underage girls with long, dissuasive prison sentences.