Written by Ashleigh Gibb //
Thailand is a country clothed in so much beauty, from one side to the next. It is a land of mountains, farmland, and striking beaches, alongside the world’s friendliest people. Many travel to “the land of smiles” for respite from their daily lives, whether it’s just for a two-week holiday or a months-long backpacking trip.
Thailand’s tourism industry is booming. To some extent, this is great – it brings money into the economy, and people from across the world get to share in the beauty of the country. There is, however, a dark side to all this: sex tourism. Many trek thousands of miles in search of cheap flesh. Some people consider this side of Thailand normal. This comes with a price, though: the cost of people’s lives, as well as their souls.
The streets of Bangkok are lined with Thai women ready to be purchased. Many of these women are from rural villages in the eastern part of the country, and it is imperative that they make money to support their families. A vast number come to Bangkok lacking education and basic work skills. They see prostitution as their only option for their families’ and their own survival. Not only will you see Thai women, but also international women walking the streets in search of customers. Many of these women are victims of human trafficking and have been lulled into Thailand with a false sense of security. Deception has found them cruelly placed in the depths of the country’s ever growing sex trade.
Being migrants from a completely different world and culture works against these young women. They are treated poorly by the police and are under threat from beatings and bribery. There is much pressure to make as much money as they can to be able to support themselves and their families back home and to pay the large debt that has been placed on them by their traffickers.
In 2005, a group called Nightlight began to address the issues seen on the street. I have worked for this organisation for the past year as I felt compelled to speak up for women in prostitution. Whether they were here by choice or victims of human trafficking, I had the desire to meet them where they are at and love them. This is why I uprooted from the UK across the sea to Thailand. For Nightlight, the need was too great for action not to be taken, no matter how difficult the task at hand. Our organisation set out to provide Thai women with alternative employment. We sought to offer the women a way to earn money with a sense of dignity and empowerment, and to ensure holistic intervention for women and their families.
As part of my role here at Nightlight I work in City Light Coffee shop with women who have come out of prostitution. My aim to is build up, teach and to speak words of encouragement over the ladies so they are able to release their dreams and step into their potential. I also have a large focus on outreach into the red- light district visiting brothels and bars and building good relationships with the women.
Our bodies should be guarded. What happens to our bodies should be a choice that we ourselves get to make. This is a basic human right. The women we work with have had this right maliciously taken from them. Their bodies have become a commodity that is given to whomever is willing to pay the price.
Nightlight sends out an outreach team on a weekly basis to meet with these precious women. When we meet a woman, we want to give her back everything that was taken away. More than anything, we want her to know her value and how much she is loved. It was never okay for someone else to take control over something that is so rightfully hers. We can’t eradicate the memories, and we certainly can’t turn back the clock, but we can set her on a path towards a new future without the fear that previously followed her.
Currently, we have various employment options for Thai women leaving the sex trade. These include work at CityLight Coffee Shop, jewellery making, t-shirt screen-printing, and a childcare centre. This centre is a place for staff in Nightlight to bring their children whilst they are working. It is also run by the staff of Nightlight so it is meeting many needs within the organisation. These options enable our women to walk towards a career path that gives them dignity and education.
It is important that our values as a team and as individuals filter out into our everyday life. How we choose to live and what we choose to spend our money on affects just the things we are fighting for. Opting to buy coffee and jewellery from places such as Night Light continues to put money back into the organisation, enabling us to employ more women. We must also be mindful of where we make our presence and how we interact with women on the street. Are we giving money to companies that actively participate in the problem of slavery? Every action has an impact and a consequence.
Nightlight as an organisation cannot completely eradicate this worldwide problem. It’s a heart-breaking fact of life that, if there is demand, there will always be supply. This fact does not stop us from pushing and fighting as hard as we can. We will continue to assist and we will continue to love.
Slavery is just as present now as it was in the past. However, people still refuse to acknowledge the problem, and it continues to develop day by day. The customers who chose to buy into the sex industry may or may not be aware of the extent of the problem. Some choose to not ask questions, opting for the route of ignorance. Others are aware but wish to ignore. If lustful desire is there, customers will happily pay the money.
Human trafficking does not appear to be decreasing. It can almost seem like a lost cause to those of us so desperately seeking to eliminate it. Everywhere we look, we see slavery. To people who work in this area of counter-trafficking, slavery is not hidden. Where others are unaware, we cannot help but stumble across it daily. How do we expect to make change?
It starts with the ability to use one’s voice. We simply cannot stay silent. It is difficult to think that we can change a culture. However, we know this does not give us the right to stand back and watch the problem take over. We must act and utilize our gifts and willingness to help.
Nightlight works diligently to rescue and restore victims of human trafficking and to repatriate women back to their home countries. Since 2007, Nightlight began assisting women from central Asia and Africa. These women have been stripped of all self-worth and the stories they tell are ones of heartbreak.
A21, another organisation working to combat human trafficking, holds an annual “Walk for Freedom”. This entails willing participants dressing up in black and marching the streets of various cities across the world to raise awareness for human trafficking. Something as simple as this sparks interest in the issue. It encourages people to research and find out more, which will in turn spark a fire to want to do more. Marching also illustrates that we will not sit back and let this issue wash over us. We will fight until all are free.
Collectively we must work to stand against human trafficking. The use of our resources and voices is a step in the right direction. How we spend our money and how we conduct our daily routines all influence modern-day slavery. Nightlight started with a love and a passion and developed into a fierce determination. Today,it continues to assist more women and provides both skills and dignity to women who otherwise would not have had a voice to fight against their injustice.
Ashleigh Gibb, a former Personal Trainer and avid weightlifting and CrossFit fan, moved to Thailand 10 months ago to work with Nightlight. She is passionate about seeking justice for women who have been exploited by the sex trade. She currently works at City Light Coffee, a fruitful business in the centre of the Red-light District that employs and empowers women who have left the sex trade. She has a strong desire to help women know the strength and beauty of their body and to walk in love and dignity.