The economic impact of sex work in Thailand

Sammenfatning: Sexindustrien har enorm økonomisk betydning for de fattige i Thailand. Millioner av mennesker høster økonomiske og sosiale fordeler av den, direkte og indirekte. Uten sexturisme og uten sexindustrien vil deler av den thailandske økonomien kollapse fullstendig.

Kilde: Thomas M. Steinfatt. Working at the Bar: Sex Work and Health Communication in Thailand (Civic Discourse for the Third Millennium)


Consider the effects of foreign customers on the general economy. Before the customer goes to a bar to seek out a sex worker, he spends money on things other than sex. He hires a taxi or takes a bus. He pays airline fares and perhaps entry and exit fees to the government. He purchases food, buys drinks, pays for lodging, buys newspapers and other reading materials, makes long-distance telephone calls, sends faxes, rents a car or motorcycle, buys gasoline, and shops in stores for gifts and necessary items.

Each of these expenditures supports areas of the service- and production-sector economies that would he less healthy without the effects of this customer. Since there are many such customers, the effects are large. Each of the businesses outside the sex sector that are patronized by the customer supports many employees, most of whom support families, who in turn support other businesses. Much of this effect of tourism, of the foreign military, of expatriates, and of international business is felt within the middle- and upper-income section of society, and some trickles down to the poor.

When the customer pays a sex worker, the funds enter the economy of the poor directly. The same multiplier effect occurs within the sex sector, through the families of sex workers and other employees who are supported by the customer’s existence, as discussed in Chapter 12.

To understand the monetary impact of the bar on the economically less fortunate, consider the point-in-time estimate of the number of sex workers in Thailand of 120,000-150,000 calculated by Sittitrai, Wongsukol, Phanuphak, and Brown (1993) and discussed in Chapter 2. Additionally, Chapter 12 provides an estimate of the other-worker percentage (the number of additional workers beyond sex workers in sex work establishments) as 60.7 %, across Thailand.

Applying this percentage to Sittitrai et al.’s estimates provides a range of 193,000-241,000 workers of all types employed in Thai sex work establishments at any point in time. The yearly ever-worked estimates calculated in Chapter 7 suggest that between 183,600 and 229,500 women engage in sex work over the course of a year. Applying the additional worker percentage to these numbers suggests that between 295,000 and 369,000 people are directly employed by the sex sector at some time during the year.

If each of these people helps to support a family that averages just four additional members, then from 1,475,000 to 1,845,000 Thai people are directly supported by someone who works in the sex industry in some capacity for at least some time during the course of a given year. These are not small numbers.

Now each of these 1.475-1.845 million people-the workers and those supported by the workers-creates a continued multiplier effect within the service sector of the economy. Millions more people, from food sellers to farmers to motorcycle and samlor drivers to beauticians, to all areas of the service sector, and all of the millions more of their dependents, derive some significant portion of their income from the expenditures of those supported by the sex sector. And almost all of the jobs created within bars, and through the multiplier effect of the sex sector outside of bars, are created among the least privileged of society.

The rich and the middle class would suffer little from the removal of commercial sex from the Thai economy and can afford to rail against it. One seldom sees the poor campaigning against sex work. This is not because the poor are ignorant, unmoral, uneducated, unaware of their own interests, or unaware of the dangers of AIDS.

If commercial sex were somehow removed or severely limited in Thailand, it would have a wrenching impact on the lives and economic fortunes of the poor. The massive influx of the unemployed it would create would threaten to undermine wage stability in low-level jobs not supported by the sex sector throughout the Thai economy. The subsequent creation of high levels of political and social unrest, not just among those in the multiplier-effect economy of sex work but throughout working-class Thai society as wages fall and jobs are lost to those willing to work for less, is not an unreasonable prediction.


Om studien:

(Working at the bar )

Her er noen sitater fra metodologien:

«Over both phases of data collection (1988-1999), we observed the behavior of over 4,000 workers, both within and outside the bar, and interviewers spoke with 1,604 bar workers and firrmer workers. In-depth interviews were conducted with 770 of these women.

Interviews were conducted by myself and by 29 Thai assistants, 10 male and 19 female. Eleven of the female interviewers were former bar workers. Five of the males had previous bar experience in non-sex work jobs.

No more than three assistants were used in any one interview year, and at least one assistant was always female. Seven workers were each interviewed three times during Phase I, with the repeat interviews occurring at least six weeks apart and under different circumstances. One of these three was conducted by the myself, one by a female Thai interviewer, and one by a male Thai interviewer. A comparison of the results indicated no substantial differences in the information obtained by gender or by ethnicity of interviewer, provided that the worker spoke basic English in addition to Thai. This does not mean that interviewer gender or ethnicity never influenced the data obtained, but that such an effect, if it did occur, was not apparent in the data obtained.»

Om forfatteren:
THOMAS M. STEINFATT is Professor of Communications at the University of Miami, where he served as Director of Communication Studies for twelve years. He has also served as Chair of the Interpersonal Communication Division of the National Communication Association, as Chair of the Intercultural Division of the Southern Communication Association, and has received both the Florida Communication Association Scholar of the Year Award and the University of Miami Excellence in Teaching Award.

He serves as a consultant on executive, organizational, and intercultural communication to corporations, NGOs, and branches of government both in the United States and abroad, and as an expert witness on communicative abilities, propaganda, corporate documents, and interpretations of labels and texts. He also serves as a commentator on political communication for Miami television stations, and on National Public Radio. He directs the University of Miami’s Annual Conference on International and Intercultural Communication and the National Communication Association’s Annual Seminar on Communication, AIDS, and Sexuality.

His publications include over fifty scholarly articles, chapters, and monographs that have appeared in Human Communication Research, Communication Monographs, The Quarterly Journal of Speech, Communication Education, The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Simulation and Games, The Southern Communication Journal, Communication Quarterly, The Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, Communication Reports, Communication Research Reports, Management Communication Quarterly, World Communication, and Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, among others, and has served on the editorial boards of sixteen scholarly journals.

He has published four books, most recently Intercultural Communication co-authored with Everett Rogers (1999), and Working at the Bar: Sex Work and Health Communication in Thailand (2002).

Dr. Steinfatt is a Fulbright Scholar, working with the Royal University of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. His research on trafficking in women and children has been funded by USAID and is used by the U.S. State Department in combating human trafficking in Cambodia.

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