A boycott, organized by an eponymous non-profit organization, aimed at eliminating the child sex industry first in Thailand and then worldwide. They were based in Brooklyn, and allied with End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism (ECPAT). Thailand had been singled out as D!B!T!'s primary target because of the country's first rank in sheer numbers of child sex slaves.

D!B!T! urged everyone to refuse to buy any goods produced in Thailand. They hoped boycott would have both the high profile and the economic impact necessary to force the Thai government to "get serious" about destroying the child sex industry within its borders.

Don't! Buy! Thai! ceased operations in the summer of 2000, citing "significant" changes of both laws and enforcement patterns within Thailand, the general collapse of the Thai economy, and diffusion of the child sex industry throughout Southeast Asia.

Thailand has an extremely large and profitable sex industry, both child and adult. An estimate in 1993 placed the earnings of the Thai sex industry at $1.5 billion anually. Businessmen and sexual tourists from all over the world flock to Thailand specifically for sexual vacations. Much of this sexual tourism is, unfortunately, undertaken by pedophiles seeking sex with children.

EPCAT estimated, in the early 1990s, that there were 200,000 child sex "workers" in Thailand.

Andrew Vachss, author and lawyer (who takes cases only related to the sexual abuse of children), had written a mission statement for Don't! Buy! Thai!. It is reproduced below.

Stop Child Sex Tourism
by Andrew Vachss

Language—the most powerful weapon we humans have ever created. Sometimes, that weapon is used against innocent children. Take the term “Child Prostitution.” Journalists use it so often it has become part of our common language. But “prostitution” is the exchange of sex for money. Often called a “victimless crime”—in itself, a moronic statement—the public perceives the word “prostitute” as pejorative. Indeed, we call a person who “sells out” his/her moral convictions in exchange for personal gain a “prostitute”. The essence of “prostitution” implies consent. So when pedophiles talk about “child prostitution," they (deliberately) further the lie that little children are “seductive," that they “volunteer” to have sex with freaks...in exchange for cash that they never see. A despicable myth, lovingly nourished by the flesh-peddlers.

Pedophiles want to sneak sexual exploitation into the “prostitution” continuum. If we allow the term “child prostitution” to gain a sufficient foothold in our language, we surrender ground to the enemy. There is no such thing as “child prostitution." That term contradicts itself, “proving” a lie. This is child sexual exploitation, nothing else and nothing less. We need to change the language. We don’t change language with more language—we change it with behavior. And, sometimes, the highest form of behavior is what we don’t do...what we refuse to do.

Perhaps you’ve heard—although if you relied on the American media, probably not—about the “war” against “kiddie sex tourism” in Southeast Asia, with Thailand being the main offender. Well, this hasn’t been anything close to a war—in a war, people shoot back. With your help, we propose to change all that.

Not only is the foul “business” of kiddie sex tourism rampant throughout Southeast Asia, the “host countries" themselves have, by their conduct, proclaimed themselves proudly corrupt and profoundly evil. Thailand has been a safe harbor for predatory pedophiles from all over the world. But what Thailand has not been, up to now, is accountable. And that’s where you come in....

What we need are warriors committed to force Thailand to change its ways. And our weapon of choice is BOYCOTT. We want Americans to boycott anything made or manufactured in Thailand. Thailand sells its children like products. It traffics in the flesh of its own babies. For money. And the only thing that will stop it is the loss of money.

Many products sold in America—from “figurines” fashioned from comics superheroes or cartoon characters, to video games, to sneakers, to dresses of Thai silk—are made in a country which is for many of its children, HELL ON EARTH.

We want you to support the boycott personally and urge others to do the same. We want you to write about it, talk about it, sing about, upload it, paint it, sculpt it, soapbox it, editorialize it—whatever you can do to help bring the baby-peddlers down. The “Made in Thailand” label is a symbol of foul dishonor. It should be rejected by all consumers, not just those with children of their own. And the next time you hear someone use the term “child prostitution,” tell them the TRUTH!

We want you to tell your friends to tell their friends. We want to have the world’s first “chain letter” that breaks chains! None of us will buy anything that says “Made in Thailand” on it.

We can’t change a country’s morals, but we can sure as hell change its behavior. So Don't! Buy! Thai!—and tell them (all!) why.

—Andrew Vachss

Information taken from the Don't! Buy! Thai! website (http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/Senate/8931/b2.html), and the article "Child Sex Tourism" by David Hechler.

The issue of prostitution in Thailand is, I believe, a complex one.

It's important to realize, first of all, that prostitution is not synonymous with sex tourism. The prostitution industry is deeply rooted in Thai culture, as it is in many others. Prostitution has existed in Thailand for centuries, long before westerners visited there in any significant numbers. Farang visiting Thailand today might be forgiven for thinking that all Thai prostitution is aimed at foreigners, for it is very visible in tourist areas, but domestic prostitution is much more common and employs many more people than tourist-oriented prostitution.

Then too, in many ways prostitutes who work with foreigners are the elite of the business. Women and girls who service Thai men are often quite literally locked in brothels and unable to escape until they pay off some huge debt that is virtually impossible to eradicate. Such unfortunates make very little or no money at all. They are often not allowed to leave the brothel, even for medical care, which is horrifying considering the prevalence of AIDS in domestic-oriented brothels. Women and girls who service farang men usually have much greater freedom of movement. They either work set hours for a bar or restaurant, or work freelance. In either case they have a home to go to when they leave work. If they're employed by a bar or restaurant, they generally receive a small wage. Both employed and freelance sex workers pay a fee to the establishment's owner for the "privilege" of leaving the premises with a paying client, after which whatever they negotiate for, they keep. These women are actually able to make some money. (Pimps are rare in Thai prostitution, though boyfriend-leeches are not.)

It's important to realize too that for Thai women and girls, prostitution is a job. It's hard for westerners to fathom the extent of child labour in poor countries like Thailand, but for the majority of the population, child labour is necessary for survival. A boy or girl with a good job can support their parents and younger siblings, and feels proud and happy to be able to do so. A girl in a half-decent position as a prostitute can make as much money in one day as my young friends - 12, 13, 14 years old - did in six months working as waiters or maids. That doesn't make prostitution right, but it does make it a rational choice for a poor girl or woman.

Incredible though it may seem for anyone who's visited Thailand, prostitution is illegal. It's just rarely prosecuted. However, in the last decade Thailand has cracked down, quite hard, on child prostitution. When cases of child prostitution are brought to the attention of the authorities, the police force their way into brothels - almost always brothels that serve Thai men or farang who have been in the country long enough to speak Thai and know how to gain access to such places - and remove the girls. The owner may be fined. The business isn't closed, no, but the underage workers are removed. It is a significant change.

Finally, let me return briefly to tourist-oriented prostitution. Many women spend several weeks with their farang clients, travel around the country with them, receive visits from these men year after year. There is no set fee associated with this: the man buys her "gifts", pays for their vacation together, maybe sends her money every month or so. One day they may marry, and in fact, many do. It makes me wonder what the difference is between this dyad of Thai woman and farang client and that other dyad of poor and rich partner. It makes me wonder what exactly a prostitute is. Unfortunately for Thai women, the answer comes too easily: a prostitute is a woman, a child, an Asian, a Thai. Any Thai woman who is seen is public with a farang man in Thailand is assumed by Thai and farang alike to be a prostitute. Even if the two are married. Even if they have a life together, a home, a family. This damning assumption is one of the biggest difficulties Thai women and their farang partners face in their lives together.

If you find yourself in Bangkok or Chiang Mai, volunteer at Empower, a drop-in self-help centre for sex workers. I learned more from the sex workers I worked with there about the reality and the ambiguities of Thai prostitution than any book could have taught me.

But if you do want to do some reading, I can recommend:

  • Pasuk Phongpaichit (1982) From Peasant Girls to Bangkok Masseuses Geneva: International Labour Organization (a brief but informative discussion of how women come to be prostitutes, written by a prominent Thai academic)
  • Chatsumarn Kabilsingh (1991) Thai Women in Buddhism Berkeley: Parallax Press (interesting little book on Buddhism and gender which touches on prostitution, again by a Thai academic)
  • Malee (1982) Tiger Claw and Velvet Paw London: Arlington Books (fascinating autobiography by a Thai prostitute who got into the business young and never looked back; will make you think twice about labelling a prostitute a "victim")

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