Question from the Audience
Were you able to save any of these girls who were doing this prostitution or what is being done to save them?
Unfortunately, not much and it’s a political problem on a very broad scale. It’s primarily a political problem in Burma and until something is done, international pressure is asserted on the governments in Burma, these minority people are going to continue to be in a very desperate situation and the families are going to be forced to find a way to survive. This is one of the ways that they can survive. Now, once the girls are caught in the sex trade they are incredibly vulnerable. Nobody is watching out for their interests. In Thailand, they are illegal immigrants and if they are caught they are sent to prison. They are more afraid of the Thai police than the men in the brothel. They say that all the time. They are scared to death of getting arrested. What will happen is that these girls will be arrested as illegal immigrants, thrown into an immigration detention center where they are left to rot for six months or a year and constantly abused by the guards and all of the police staff there. You know their best hope is to maintain silence and hope that eventually they will find the way or every once in a while they are taken up by few of the Christian groups that are there. In Northern Thailand, they have several safe houses. One of these girls, the girl in the gray tee-shirt, was actually adopted by a Baptist family in Northern Thailand. She was going to high school but many of them are, like I said, HIV-positive. She seems to be healthy. But their immune systems are very compromised for a long time. There are none of the wonder drugs we have in the West. So, if they actually contract HIV they die pretty quickly. It is actually six months or a year. And they do that in relative isolation in Burma.
There is a lot of misinformation and that leads to a lot of fear. They come back, they are sick and the villagers think just with casual contact they will contract HIV. So the girls are pushed off in the field in the bamboo huts. These huts are for the girls in the field. They just keep them there and bring them food and they think the sicker the girl gets the more infectious she is. She is more isolated when she gets sicker. Nobody wants to touch the bodies because they feel that is also contagious so they hire these bands of young thugs and their job, basically, is to take the bodies, put them on these piers of old discarded tires because the rubber from the tires seems to kill the virus. So in the countryside in Burma you will see plumes of big rubber smoke. It’s a daily thing. You hear the firecrackers and look into the horizon, you can see the big black smoke and smell the burning flesh. It’s a daily occurrence.
Question from the Audience
I had a question for Ellen. Do the people--the men who use the children--are they Thai men? Are they foreigners?
That’s a really good question. I thought I knew the answer to that when I started this. I think it’s a very common misconception that many of these girls are in place to service the sex tourist, these international sex tourists. Only ten percent of them are seeing foreign men. That leaves ninety percent of them. This is a massive industry in Thailand. Unfortunately, it is very much part of the culture in Thailand. I don’t know how to say this without stepping on any toes but it’s a major problem. Seventy-five percent of the young women in Thailand lose their virginity as sex workers. It’s what you do when you are having a business meeting, a bunch of guys sitting around talking business. If you don’t offer your colleagues to a club or to a sex club it's considered kind of cheap. It’s what you do at the end of the night of drinking and talking business and, of course, you know many men are visiting sex workers and then coming back and bringing HIV into the family. That’s really rearing its head right now in Thailand. The past five years there has been a lot of infection at all levels of society. From the highest government and military people all the way down.