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Having Sex with Children in Northern Thailand

James Austin Farrell Jan 11, 2013

#ff0000

The term paedophilia is still fairly vague, its diagnosis is not always clear. From Greek it means ‘love of children’, but has been appropriated as a criminal and psycho-pathological term wherein adults sexually assault children or even fantasise about sexual activity involving themselves and children, but don’t necessarily act on those fantasies.

A child is defined as a prepubescent person, though that age could be anywhere up to about 12 as pubescence has no definitive age. The term paedophilia can also be ascribed to a grown man or woman who has sex with a post-pubescent minor who might be above 13. This might also be called having sex with minors and not classified as a psycho-sexual disorder. I’m not exactly sure where the line is drawn.

Because of the hysteria that is married to this word, a word the public and press often mishandle – it’s not suprising, they’re playing with fire – we should probably be sparing with it. Unnecessary furors in the western media have arguably made modern parents overly paranoid, so much so that patting someone else’s kid on the head has become risqué behaviour. I had a friend in London who incurred a citizen’s arrest after taking a photo with his ‘phone of school kids running from under a burst storm cloud. He thought it looked ‘cool’, but a concerned member of the public thought ‘criminal’.

The case in point being the fear imposed on us by the media has made the man in the street irrational. Our hatred and fear are incommensurate to the reality we live in...but that’s nothing new. The press, especially the British press, loves their paedophiles. We are made to think they stalk our streets nightly, hide out in toy shops, and like the Bogeyman snatch our kids from the swings in the playground. Paedophilia does occur, but it’s an unusual occurrence.

However in Thailand human trafficking is a major concern. Children are stolen or sold and exploited regularly, sometimes in order to provide sexual services. It has been said that this unusual minority, the paedophiles, are attracted to this part of the world for that reason.

Apparently ‘it’ goes on in Chiang Mai, and apparently it’s well known.

This much I have learned the last week. How frequently it happens, I have no idea, though I have seen some stark reports lately on this subject listing children that have been ‘rescued’, albeit temporarily. If they are overly paranoid in the West, we might be inadequately informed here. But they’re not our kids that are abused, they’re the poor, barely visible kids. When they go missing, they leave little trace behind.

Critics of the law have said the Thai police don’t do enough to stop this, and that the crime of child sex abuse might not even be viewed heinous enough by some parts of society in Thailand. Cultural differences, poverty, myriad hardships, can’t be ignored, it affects how people interpret good and bad. We’re all playing different language games. This part of the world has yet to experience the media conditioning on this subject that most westerners have. A sense of ethics might (this has been an ongoing philosophical argument) not be something we are born with, but something we learn.

There are paedophiles who have never acted on their impulses or desires, as well as more non-participatory crimes relating to paedophila. When exactly is a crime being committed? Is looking at an image on the internet a crime? After the arrest of Klaus Hicker on January 7th I was sent an email from a ‘concerned citizen’ containing some website URLs I was told were owned by Hicker. The sites featured many pictures of scantily clad young boys. They weren’t naked, but were definitely posturing sexually. There was news about the weather, information about places to eat, and there were pictures of these young boys in their undies. Someone could have looked at these sites and not correlated them with paedophilic behaviour. Now Hicker has been arrested for allegedly abusing young boys and allegedly pimping boys out as young as 12 to local ‘clients’, those photos perhaps tell a much bigger, more insidious story. The criminal element is now more profound. How many hits were Hicker’s sites getting? He actually complains on one site about people stealing his original popular photographic content. He says this on one of his websites about stolen content: 

*"As our parasitic .... may have figured already, we have locked the download of our pictures and we took off a few images, more will be deleted... There is absolutely no reason for us to provide to heartless people. He goes on to say, “Visitor-wise **** is one of our best performing blogs”.

The man in the picture looks wired, he looks disturbed. He fits the part of the alleged criminal. Reading a comment on the CityNews website below the news report about Hicker, if we believe the comment to be true, we might feel compelled to ask more questions about the man and his alleged criminal and sexual proclivities: 

"To[sic] bad to see this. I know him as a punk band member. He was actually a very kind, active and social oriented person and helped me out in difficult times. Also he had a girlfriend in further times. And now, he has to pay for this sickness that he did not realize."

Klaus Hicker after his arrest - yet to be convicted of any crime

It’s a known fact that children are regularly trafficked into prostitution and that men gratify themselves sexually with those children in Thailand. It’s not media sensationalism. Only in October was an Australian man charged with numerous counts of crimes relating to paedophilia. There have been plenty more arrests and people charged over the years, and there are also a lot of people working to stop this. It seems efforts to staunch child sex abuse though is focused mainly at the very end of the problem. i.e. arresting the punters, not the traffickers. The main reason for the preponderance of child sex abuse in Thailand is arguably poverty (supply), and lax laws (demand), and these things won’t go away anytime soon.

I got in touch with Anti-Trafficking Coordination Unit Northern Thailand (TRAFCORD), who then sent us their report for 2011. They are currently translating the 2012 report so it wasn’t available.

The first paragraph of the report states that the “situation of human trafficking is still very severe” in Thailand and children are trafficked from neighbouring countries into Thailand to work, beg, or to be forced into prostitution.

The report states that, “Children from Laos are brought to work as prostitutes in Phrae and Nan provinces. Shan children are brought to work in Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai provinces while Karen and Burmese children were forced to work in the border area near Tak province. Thai national children were also working in every province in the upper part of the Northern region.” Again, it’s no secret that this kind of thing goes on, if you were to travel to more remote areas of northern Thailand and open some black doors, you could probably find it.

“Commercial sexual business often takes place in rental houses, apartments, karaoke bars, pubs, restaurant, massage parlors and soapy massage parlors,” the report says, and adds that teenage boys as young as 15 are often found working in karaoke bars, pubs, or covert spas in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai and are sometimes “exploited and abused by sex tourists who misused the internet to distribute pornography and nude video clips of these children.”

TRAFCORD reports that that there were cases in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai where “teenagers’ images and personal information such as contact numbers are often found on sexually seductive web pages for online sexual abusers and exploiters to make appointments.” This, it seems, follows Hicker’s strategy. The children posing on his site may have been more than just models.

The report adds, “Many web pages post special access for VIP customers who pay an extra fee to be able to choose pictures of children or women. Income from this online commercial sexual business is shared between web masters and recruiters. Recruiters are beauty salon staff, shopkeepers, hotel and guesthouse receptionists, and public and private transportation drivers. Customers of commercial sex services are businessmen, government officers, Thai and foreign tourists especially tourists from Asia and the Middle East.”

After communicating with some long-term Chiang Mai gay residents about the Hicker story I found out some people in the gay community are concerned about the image of gay male expats. It is well known that there is a small minority of gay men in Chiang Mai seeking the sexual services of young boys I was told, but as small as this group is some people might be lead to discriminate against all gay people. I was also informed that it’s not fair to report that child sex abuse is limited to certain areas as our news report suggested recently. It isn’t true, said the caller, though the person, a long-term Chiang Mai resident gay expat, did also echo what others had said and that people were aware some gay men were abusing children.

Much to the chagrin of the majority of gay expat men in Chiang Mai, some people feel like they are often tarred with the same brush, seen as paedophiles or men who desire to have sex with minors because of the reported cases involving child sex abuse and gay men. Every article that is written about male prostitution in Chiang Mai inevitably elicits angry, indignant responses and divided opinions. Homosexuals seem tetchy about this subject, more so than heterosexuals on male/female prostitution. This could be because of the aforementioned discrimination and homophobia they’ve already had to inure. It might also partly be because there is some truth to the accusations. My own friends, gay or straight, are divided on the subject of prostitution, or even what is acceptable prostitution.

The sex trade of minors does not just involve foreigners or gay men, in fact, they are a minority group in Thailand concerning this crime. Sex with under-aged children in this country happens mostly between Thai men and young Thai girls. Only a few months ago a Chiang Mai woman was arrested for allegedly supplying young girls to Thai officials and government workers, in another case in the 2011 report three Thai men from Chiang Mai were sentenced to 41 and 21 years in prison for trafficking children. The third man died. Although cases like these hardly attract any attention and certainly don’t qualify as target-reader material within the nexus of the sensational western media, and so often we don't hear about them.

The extremity of the crime and the cruelty that is purportedly inflicted on a child is one of varying degrees, too. I discovered while writing articles on street children that many prostitutes under the age of consent chose to do that work. The crime, if the ‘victim’ has or perceives to have some degree of autonomy in how they make a living, is perhaps one perpetrated by society’s failure and the consequent poverty they suffer, as much as it is perpetrated by employer or client. There’s not always a hand pushing these kids into a dimly lit room. If a person, perhaps a money boy or a money girl, is two weeks shy the age of consent, are we to condemn the client as a sexual criminal? There’s a lot of grey area. 

TRAFCORD reports that some Thai children become the brokers themselves, and so in a way are both victim and villain, "An increasing number of Thai children between 13-18 years of age are found to enter into prostitution. Thai children victims of trafficking, however, are often neglected by service agencies, who often favour migrant children over national Thai because they assume these children voluntarily prostitute themselves. Without any effort to solve this issue, these marginalized children will most likely become recruiters or brokers themselves."

In more extreme cases younger children are physically, sometimes violently forced to provide sexual services. We cannot hesitate to view this as a worse kind of crime than the independent young sex worker. Children might be forced to make pornographic videos, they might be coerced into doing it, they might even volunteer to do it for the impressive cash reward. They might also be 11, or they might be 16. Each crime has its own kind of intensity. What if the hill tribe girl of 15 already has a husband and a child yet is found to be the consort of a 57-year-old tourist in Chiang Mai? What kind of crime is being committed? Is the tourist adjudged a paedophile by the law, or the public?

The crime of the purveyors which, according to the experts, is a large, sometimes dangerous and diverse network of people whose guilt differs enormously depending on what their role in the exploitation of these children is. We seem to hear much more about the clients than we do the traffickers and brokers. Is this just another example, among many that concern society and the law (war on drugs is maybe the most obvious), where problems or diseases are maintained with painkillers, and not treated at the roots?

It’s important the media gets it right when they use the word PAEDO-_____ as it has become synonymous with the very nadir of human depravity and carries with it a heavy sentence that has in some cases been avenged in lawless circumstances. If a person is wrongfully tagged, then their life will surely become a difficult one to say the least. There are many cases you can read about online where people have been falsely accused. Any crime against children elicits emotional and often bitter responses, but those that have been accused deserve a fair trial before we cast our stones. Web forums are often full of vitriol and cries for castration; bring back hanging! and putting a mob together before a court date has even been set. I reiterate, we must be sparing with our accusations, but that doesn’t mean turn a blind eye.

It’s a cruel reminder that our world is far from developed, both in the East and West, when children are exploited in ways that precludes them from experiencing any state of innocence, well-being, and happiness, of enjoying their human right to be naïve and vulnerable and yet feel safe. The dynamic of real politik and capitalist ethos maintains poverty and many other kinds of human rights abuse. This is how we live. Maybe sometimes the best we can do is to be good, and if you can’t always be good, then be kind.

www.trafcord.org TRAFCORD (Anti-Trafficking Coordination Unit Northern Thailand). Report paedophile activity: call 1300 during daytime hours and 081 307 2111

(Be sure you are certain there is criminal activity and try and submit as many details as possible)

*I changed a word or two and took out a few words in this paragraph to prevent people from finding the site. I'm actually surprised his sites are still online.   

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