There are an estimated 610,000 people living in conditions of modern slavery in Thailand (GSI 2018). The country is a source, destination and transit country for men, women and children subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking. Thailand’s commercial sex indusrty remains vast, increasing vulnerabilities for sex trafficking. Children are victims of sex trafficking in brothels, massage parlours, bars, karaoke lounges, hotels and private residences. People are trafficked from other Southeast Asian countries, Sri Lanka, Russia, Uzbekistan and some African countries. It is also a transit country for people from China, North Korea, Bangladesh, India and Burma.
Ratree left her home village in Thailand at the age of 13 to look for work. She found a job working for a woman in a hotel, however the work turned out to be not how she had imagined. Ratree was forced to have sex with older men, subjected to sexual violence and rape daily. Ratree’s exploitation was finally ended when undercover police performed a raid on the hotel.
My name is Ratree*. I am fourteen. I left my parents’ home in the hill tribe villages of Thailand when I was thirteen to look for work. I was hungry and my parents could not provide. There never seemed to be enough rice. I heard about a woman who owned a hotel. She said she had work for me and that I could live there too. It sounded like a dream - I felt proud to find a real job. I was a little scared, being away from my family, but excited. I wanted to earn a living and make my parents proud.
It didn’t turn out like I had imagined. The woman had jobs for me that I cannot speak of. Men came to the hotel - they came asking for girls. They paid her money and forced themselves on me. I knew I brought shame on my family, and I was glad that my parents didn’t know where I was.
The hotel felt like a prison. The woman was greedy. She had other girls, like me. Phueng* is fifteen. She lived there with me. She often cried when she thought no one was looking and didn’t talk much. And the other girls, Kohsoom*, Milivalaya* and Phawta*, were kept in an apartment nearby. She brought them to the hotel for the work. We hated what we did but we couldn’t run away. The woman and her husband threatened to hurt us if we tried to leave. We were afraid of what she and her husband would do. And I didn’t have money to travel; everything I earned I had to pay to the woman for room and board. Besides, there was nowhere to run.
One night, two men arrived. Phueng and I couldn’t look at each other as the woman bargained over our price. They decided on 600 baht**. I dreaded what would come next. The other girls were already upstairs with customers. The men paid the money, and the woman gave them keys to rooms. Phueng and I followed. Phueng went into her room first, her head down, with one of the men. I tried not to think of what would happen; I’d lived this nightmare hundreds of times. I followed the other man into a room. He closed the door behind me. Then he just stood there. He looked down at his watch and said in Thai, “I don’t want to have sex with you. Just wait, you are safe now.” I didn’t understand.
Suddenly, I heard loud voices. I knew something wasn’t right. I looked around, panicked, and he said again, “It’s ok. You are safe now.” The door opened, and it was the police - men in swat uniforms. Now I was terrified. I was going to be arrested for the things I had done. A woman slipped in past the police and put her arm around me and said, “It is going to be ok. You are not in trouble. You are safe.” They led me out into the damp night air where the other girls were standing with Phueng. She was crying, she was afraid that her parents would find out about the things that had happened here. So was I. But the woman assured us again, “You are safe now. We are here to help you.” And I believed her. I’ll never forget that moment. Someone had come for us.
Narrative provided by The Exodus Road, ‘Someone Came for Us: 3 Sex Trafficking Survivor Stories