Last Friday night I walked with two friends through one area of the Red light district in Bangkok. The Red light District is known for catering to sexual exploitation. Just in that small plaza, there were dozens of brothels and go-go bars.
I wasn’t ready. I don’t think I could have been. My friend—who works with Exodus Road (a freedom fighting organization) told me it would be hard to describe—that you have to be there to understand it— and he was right. I wanted to see it, and I didn’t want to see it. Of course I’ve heard about it—I had an intellectual idea of what it would be like—and I have passed a bar or two in Chaing Rai with girls out front.
This was not the same.
The dread I felt, grew bigger the closer we got to the area we were targeting. I tried to pray and stuttered. Mostly I reminded myself that Jesus was with me, and that just by going in, I was bringing light. Of John 1:5
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
What I saw/heard: guards looking menacing, men shouting, women on heels in tiny bikinis, holding signs in front of themselves with prices and other ‘ads’, soliciting and beckoning at passersby. Three stories of brothels around the plaza. Blaring music. Lots of alcohol. Garish lighting, stools, dancing. Glimpses of what was inside was even more X-rated: nudity, dancing, obscene acts, flashing lights. Girls/women wearing numbers for being ordered, menus of girls, flyers for various services/events. And men, lots of men, walking, talking, holding Thai women on their laps, brushing past me in the crowd. A few men and women (couples?) together walking.
What I felt: it’s indescribable, really. I can’t explain to you how awful and painful it was. True, I don’t even spend a lot of time in normal bars, and I know that I am sensitive to this–but it felt evil. I don’t use that word lightly. And so… false. Obviously the music is peppy, the lights are garish, alcohol is free flowing, people are talking over the music, the girls are chittering at you and everywhere they are smiling. Acting like this is normal–even happy.
I’ve been teaching little kids for more than seven years. I don’t know any little girl who dreams of this.
The plaza wasn’t the only place we walked through. Another street we walked down had different bars—and there were various groups of women. Groups of them in matching outfits outside of this bar, a group of african american women outside this place, a line of skinnier girls with matching skirts here, a group of unhealthy looking women there. Madams smiling at you, beckoning with that uniquely Thai gesture. In some side glances I saw faces that, when not animated with blasting cheer at a passing possible customer, were… so downcast. Void of genuine joy. Weary.
Chrissy, who walked with me, and has walked through many times before, told me that you can get anything here. Nothing is taboo for a price. Women to abuse. Women of any size. Women with disabilities. Children.
And I had to smile too. I had to smile as I passed the guards who check bags toward the entrance of the plaza. I had to smile as we passed a man loudly berating another man on a side street. I had to smile as I walked through, for our safety. I had to pretend that I was okay.
I am not okay.
I cried, back in the hotel. For the girls, mostly. I am struggling to find compassion for the men. Part of me doesn’t even want to try. If there were no buyers, there would be no need for ‘product’. The owners would find something else to sell. But this is profitable—so profitable. And the area we visited caters to expats. I looked it up online to check the name of it and size and found regular travel websites that have all sorts of instructions for the traveller looking for “insert offensive euphemism here“. Where girls are, how much money to bring, how much certain acts cost, how to get there, how to pay, how to protect themselves, how to avoid police. It was revolting.
I cried with impotent rage. Saturday night while I was at the tournament, the girls were there. Last night they were there when I was back in Chiang Rai. And tonight. And tomorrow night.
If God calls me back here next May, they may still be there. Or not. The life of a prostitute can be short and brutal.
SWAT MINISTRY INTERN