My First Trip to Thailand
That was the first thing the Thai street vendor said to me when I stepped off the brow of the USS George Washington. It was the summer of 2011, and we has just pulled into port in Pattaya Beach, Thailand. I was more than excited to finally touch a foreign port after a month out to sea; I desperately needed a beer and a beach chair. My first impression of Thailand, however, would not be the inexpensive Chang beer or the white sandy beaches; it would be sex in all of its most devious forms.
As soon as I exited the belly of the ship and stepped onto the quarterdeck, I could see a small hoard a vendors down on the pier. They were eagerly waiting the arrival of American sailors who, like myself, were ready to burn a hole though their pockets over the next few days. I could also see a small beach-side cantina that was to be my first destination. I was waiting on the quarterdeck to request permission to go ashore from the officer of the deck, and once my request was granted, I started my way down the long bridge, or brow, from the ship down to the pier. I was initially impressed by the richness of the deep blue water below me and the cool breezes that blew all around me. The moment my foot touched the concrete landing, however, and I walked past the security checkpoint, I was greeted not by water or sand, but by a small-framed man with a big cheesy smile. He shoved a laminated pamphlet into my chest and blunted out, “Girls?! Girls?!” His smile was friendly enough, but the cordiality of the moment quickly ended when I glanced down at the pamphlet to see that it was a menu of naked women to choose from, complete with prices and services offered. This was not the suggestive but clothed call girl flyers that litter the streets of Las Vegas; this was a visually graphic and mentally shocking menu of women that appeared far too young to be a “choice” for any one’s pleasure.
I said nothing to this man but immediately pushed his menu back into his chest and proceeded to walk past him. Undeterred, the vendor took my aversion to his menu as a misjudgment of my personal tastes. He immediately reached behind his back and pulled from his waist a stack of other laminated pamphlets. He then hurried to keep pace with my gait. “Guys?! Guys?!” was his next sales tactic as he shoved yet another menu into my chest. Knowing what was now before me, I didn’t look down. “No,” was my simple reply as I again pushed the pamphlet out of my way and walked on. Having heard my verbal response this time and having seen I was not interested in his trade, I figured the man would simply move on to the next American coming onto the pier. He did not. Still undeterred, he produced from his stack yet an even more disgusting list of options for sexual pleasure: “Animals?!” he eagerly asked. The thought of such a monstrous question gave me a slight hitch in my hurried pace, as if I had almost tripped over his words. “What?! No!” poured angrily from my mouth. Again, I shoved the card from my way, making a very conscious effort not to look at his depraved menu, and walked on.
His attempt to sell me pleasure was unfortunately not yet finished. Trailing only a half-step behind me, he produced one final pamphlet. In a lowered voice, he leaned into me and asked the unthinkable: “Kids?!” The revulsion of the thought instantly arrested my progress. I whipped myself half-around, fixed a stern gaze upon this man, shoved both him and his stack of revulsion back from me, and expelled a very audible “Get the fuck away from me!” As he tumbled back a few feet, some of his laminated pamphlets spilled upon the concrete pier. I wanted to assault this man so much more than verbally, but to do so meant two things that I instantly realized: 1) I’d have to walk over these heinous depictions of moral depravity, and I didn’t want to risk having some unforgettable image burned into my brain, and 2) I would probably end up being arrested and thrown into a Thai prison. I wanted neither. Having felt that the vendor now clearly understood my meaning, I turned back in the direction of the cantina I had previously seen and walked on.
The pints of Chang beer that I ordered that day and for much of that trip was used to try to wash away not only the five straight months at sea but the repulsive thought that children were being sold for sex more than likely a few short blocks from where I was located. Needless to say, I have never been able to wash away that thought. Those first few moments of my first trip to Thailand will always stick with me; it’s as if exposure to an evil, even if only briefly, leaves a filmy residue permanently upon those that confront it.
Since that trip in 2011, I’ve been to Thailand two more times. It is a beautiful country filled with beautiful people. Beauty, however, always seems to attract the most vile. Thailand, while abundant in cultural and natural wonder, is also abundant in sex trafficking; in fact, it is one of the world’s foremost human trafficking destinations. Since 2007, the Thai government has been distributing their own pamphlets, much different from the ones I first encountered, letting tourists know that severe criminal charges will be filed against those who engage in the procurement of minors for sex. One of the tourist destinations where these pamphlets are heavy being distributed is Pattaya Beach. Sadly, one of the reasons that Pattaya Beach is so abundant in illicit sex is not simply because poor street vendors in Thailand are creating an illegal supply but because American tourists have created a highly lucrative demand. Thus, the Thai are simply one country in a long string of third-word countries that are catering to the maligned desires of first-world countries like those of the United States.
For many in America, sex trafficking lives in the illusion of being a foreign problem. It’s an Asian problem; it’s a Latin American problem; it’s an African problem; it happens in the intangible “over there.” In truth, it is staunchly an American problem. This makes sense when one understands the undeniable relationship between the porn-industry and sex trafficking; the two are inextricably interwoven. So when sex traffickers see that Americans are the number one consumers of porn and they comprehend that we are “cultivating a society of people who find teens to be the most sought after sex object for sexual satisfaction,” they simply jump at the opportunity to provide the sexual satisfaction so many of our citizens desire. Sex sells, and Americans are paying in cash and often without consequence. This is unfortunate, but it is the reality. Our booming porn industry has given us the chimera of a liberated libido, but in truth, it has given us a depraved one. As FighttheNewDrug.org points out, “In a survey of 1,500 young adult men, 56% said their tastes in porn had become ‘increasingly extreme or deviant’.” America’s increased porn-consumption and inevitable porn-addiction has precipitated a sexual deviance that leads men (and men are the chief perpetrators) to seek sexual satisfaction in impermissible ways.
Operation Underground Railroad
In an effort to contribute in some small way to the fight against global sex trafficking, I recently attended the Operation Underground Railroad fundraising gala at the Silver Legacy Casino in downtown Reno. Operations Underground Railroad, or O.U.R., is an organization that was founded in 2013 by former Homeland Security special agent Tim Ballard. Ballard and his O.U.R. team is dedicated to “anti-child trafficking efforts to bring an end to child slavery.” At the fundraising gala, Ballard delivered the keynote address, and in his address, he shared the story of Operation Toussaint, a 2017 operation in Haiti that took down the most notorious Port-au-Prince kingpin trafficker, Franciane Dornélus. The operation also rescued two young Haitian girls that were kidnapped as a direct result of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. While Ballard and his organization has been criticized for things like having a “white savior complex” and using “dangerously naive” tactics, their end-goal is nonetheless noble: save women and children from the throes of sex trafficking.
Something else Ballard discussed the night of the gala was how trafficking is, as I previously said, a uniquely American problem. O.U.R.’s website has an article entitled “3 Reasons Sex Trafficking is an American Problem.” It details how Americans aren’t just the number one consumer of pornography, but we are “the number one consumer of child pornography.” Another disturbing revelation is that “America is one of the tops hosts of child porn sites.” Clearly this is why sales of illicit sex to Americans is so prevalent: our porn-addiction, like a degenerative disease, is destroying our moral fiber. This is also why the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition reports that “trafficking in the U.S. [is] most prevalent in [our population centers of] Texas, Florida, New York, and California.” Thankfully, one of these population centers, Texas, is beginning to train its Sheriff deputies to spot the signs of sex trafficking. Their IPC Program, or the Interdiction for the Protection of Children Program, teaches officers “how to spot indicators of child-sex trafficking and conduct roadside investigations.” Since the start of the IPC Program in 2014, it has rapidly spread. Many states, especially those along our border with Mexico, where human trafficking has been a longstanding problem, have begun instituting trafficking checkpoints. They are similar to sobriety checkpoints but seek to liberate sex slaves rather than lock up drunk drivers. These checkpoints have already rescued dozens of women and children from what would have inevitably been a life abuse and subjugation.
Fighting Sex Trafficking
Whether it’s the Thai Katoeys (ladyboys) trying to survive the third-word, Haitian orphans looking for shelter, Mexican mothers trying to work off their coyote’s fair, or American prostitutes trying to escape an undesirable past, trafficking is very real, and trafficking finds it’s most interested buyers here in the United States. It’s a deplorable truth about a free market economy; when there is a demand, a supply will be made available. The only hope of those who suffer at the hands of the sex trade is for good-hearted Americans to squash that demand.
Fortunately, as more and more Americans become aware of the trafficking that is occurring with our very own borders, the efforts against it is growing. For instance, Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee recently drafted the “End Modern Slavery Initiative Act” that was signed into law by the president on December 23, 2016. One Senator and one piece of legislation, however, will not end the ground swell of deviant behavior that a sex-hungry culture desires. After all, when has a law ever stopped the lawless? The answer is rarely if at all. As such, it’s up to everyday Americans to resist the urge to find sexual gratification in illicit ways. This is hugely important because the porn industry is the toxic feeding ground of sex traffickers. The more pornography we use, the more we endanger women and children. Lastly, it’s up to average citizens to do all that we can to recognize and react to those that would seek to harm our most vulnerable—caring for and protecting our children is a responsibility for us all.
More Information on the Sex Trafficking Fight
For more information, resources, and assistance in the effort to fight sex trafficking at home and abroad, I offer the following:
- CNN’s Freedom Project works to end modern-day slavery.
- Fightthenewdrug.org helps individuals make “informed decision regarding pornography” by raising awareness on its harmful effects using facts and science.
- The U.S. Department of State provides “15 Ways You Can Help Fight Human Trafficking.”
- The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has a Blue Campaign that “combat[s] human trafficking through enhanced public awareness, training, victim assistance, and law enforcement investigations.”
- The National Human Trafficking Hotline can be reached at 1-888-373-7888 or via text at 233733.
If you enjoyed this article, check out Josh’s three-part series on the Modern Male Ethos.