‘Missionaries” Save Girls in Thailand
Why do we get so many stories about sex trafficking in the western media? It’s both titillating for readers and a subtle form of anti-Asian propaganda. Once again, The US can save the world [reinforce its cultural hegemony].
Mariah Curtis just turned 19 and she is ready to step into the big, wide world. Her choice of destination, though, is a controversial one, and even more so, her reason for going.
She is getting ready to travel to Thailand, a hot spot of sex trafficking in Asia, where she wants to reach out to victims and prostitutes.
“In junior high, I learned that human slavery is bigger today than it has ever been in history, which I think is insane. It doesn’t even make sense in my mind. That broke my heart.” she said.
Through Adventures in Mission, an interdenominational program that organizes Christian mission trips worldwide, Mariah and seven other girls in her group will travel to and stay at a local ministry on Phuket, right in the middle of the island’s red light district.
Adventures has been around since 1989. “Since then, we have sent 96,000 missionaries all around the world,” Ashley Higgins, a spokeswomen for the organization, told 13 News.
They have worked with the Self Help & Empowerment Ministry, where Mrriah will be going, for several years. “At least 25 teams have gone there in the past two years,” she said, with no incidents.
“It’s important to know [the group] will only be going to open, out-door bars and brothels,” safe and open locations where tourists congregate, she said.
In her colorful room, walls filled with photos of good times with family and friends, Mariah was packing just one suitcase – skirts, t-shirts and books for the long journey.
There is barely a week left before she will leave home, first for a week of training with Adventures in Mission in Gainesville, Georgia, then a week of cultural training in Thailand.
“As good as their intentions may be, I think there are a number of potential problems with attempting to rescue someone from their plight, in particular, rescue a sex worker,” says Dina Haynes, a law professor at the New England School of Law in Boston.
“I understand that there is an argument, a feminist argument even, that sex work can’t be consensual. It puts people in the victim role, but it also doesn’t allow conversation about how to solve or resolve; why people choose this course.”
Haynes says many American Evangelical groups working abroad often impose their abolitionist agenda, focusing only on sex workers and sex trafficking — instead of other more common forms of human trafficking such as those found in the fishing, farming or construction industries.
It’s an uncomfortable topic but some of these women have chosen sex work as the best paid job they can find. Trafficking isn’t the issue. It’s poverty and lack of opportunity, and the evangelical emphasis on rescue doesn’t really address that.
It’s easier to go into a brothel and extract somebody but you have to check six months down the line to see if that person is still free.
Mai, 28, is originally from Burma. She’s worked as a maid, a dishwasher, baker and street food vendor. But none of these jobs allowed her to make as much money as she now makes as a prostitute.
“There are good and bad things to any job, but when I came to do sex work, I realized this is a job that gives me enough income to really look after my family and move ahead in life. I was not tricked into it, and I don’t see myself as a victim.”