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Tragic though it may be, the exploitation of women and forced sexual servitude has been around for a very long time. They were slaves, and so had to follow the bidding of their masters or face punishment. It remained this way for hundreds of years, until in the 20th century King Rama V sought a more Western approach to policy and abolished slavery. The abolition of slavery brought about freedom from slavery, yet freedom without land, property or money to support a family often left the uneducated slaves little choice but to turn towards prostitution.
Brothels began to grow and spread along the length and breadth of the nation. War also saw the explosion of prostitution as an industry. Thailand was occupied by the Japanese forces throughout World War II, and used Thai women as prostitutes throughout their occupation. They flocked to areas such as Patpong in Bangkok and the coastal city of Pattaya — two areas which remain prostitution hotspots to this day.
As Thailand began to modernise, its economy did the same. Moving from a sustenance-based economy to a capitalist one saw villagers needing cash to purchase goods. Thailand began to see the potential in tourism, and so in the late 20th century they invested heavily in promoting Thailand as a tourist destination.
Entered into voluntarily, sex work can be empowering for women, offering agency and liberation that can be hard to find for women elsewhere. Women are often taken advantage of and duped by brothel owners or pimps in order to secure their services.
Despite being illegal since , prostitution still has a very visible presence along the streets of Bangkok, Pattaya and any other major population hub. Whilst such shows might not be available in some other tourist destination, there are still plenty of massage parlours and karaoke bars open long into the night in most Thai cities, with their workers sat outside, beckoning punters to join them.