Unwanted Rescues: A poster from Thailand

This poster comes from the EMPOWER centre in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where brothel workers gathered to discuss recent raids and rescue operations. On the left they have written a list of reasons why they do not wish to be rescued by police, ngo or charity workers.

• We lose our savings and our belongings.
• We are locked up.
• We are interrogated by many people.
• They force us to be witnesses.
• We are held until the court case.
• We are held till deportation.
• We are forced re-training.
• We are not given compensation by anybody.
• Our family must borrow money to survive while we wait.
• Our family is in a panic.
• We are anxious for our family.
• Strangers visit our village telling people about us.
• The village and the soldiers cause our family problems.
• Our family has to pay ‘fines’ or bribes to the soldiers.
• We are sent home.
• Military abuses and no work continues at home.
• My family has a debt.
• We must find a way back to Thailand to start again.

Only one side of the list is visible in the photo, but we are lucky to have any photo at all. Thanks to people from the Asia-Pacific Network of Sex Workers.

18 thoughts on “Unwanted Rescues: A poster from Thailand

  1. sylvia

    Oh god, so we finally have a picture to prove people don’t want to be rescued. Wonderful. Were these migrant sex workers who wrote the list?


  2. Erik


    I spend a lot of time painting in Chiang Mai. I have many friends, including many from the expat Karen community, and family there. Let me know if you need some additional contacts.


  3. Susie Bright

    Well, now, Laura, you see, this will teach you to be more brief and to the point in your next book! 😉

    Seriously, I really appreciate how a single clapboard poster can distill what one really needs to say.

    Thanks for pointing to the EMPOWER site, too, that was very interesting. Do you have experiences with them to share?

  4. Tracy Quan

    Hello Laura. The forced rehab concept touches a lot of sex workers where we live, including well-compensated Manhattan call girls. I was discussing this with a girl I used to work with. She grew up in the suburbs here, but it really pushed a button when I mentioned the girls being forcibly returned to Burma. She said, “Burma? I wouldn’t want to be deported back to fucking *Long Island*.” The fear of imprisonment, and being removed from everything you have worked so hard to attain. It’s more universal than people realize.

    And I have finally figured out how “subscribe to feed” works!

  5. Thaddeus Blanchette

    Excellent picture, Laura and thanks for posting it! I’m sending a link onto people I know here in Brazil who might find it useful.

  6. Andrew Hunter

    Hi Laura,
    we have new videos from sex workers in Cambodia who have escaped from forced rehabilitation centres. Thanks to pressure from the U.S Govt Cambodia has now made all sex work illegal and have closed 100’s of brothels and sent women off to rehab centres- centres with no rehab programs, no healthcare and no food.

    In a cruel irony, HIV+ sex workers on ARV’s are caught more often as they don’t have the energy to run from the police. They then end up in former Khmer Rouge prisons without their ARV’s… and with no food.

    One woman we interviewed commented “they promise you a sewing machine- but we didn’t even get food and instead we were scared we would be beaten to death and broke the windows of the locked room and jumped out to escape”

    We really need activists in the US to bring this up. To show the real impact of anti-trafficking laws… Before the US forces these laws on more countries and send more right wing Christian nutters with millions of dollars (and Jesus) in hand to convince poor governments to make the selling and buying of sex illegal… so they can profit off the massive interest they charge people from their micro-credit loans for rehabilitation(but that’s another whole story…)

    see the videos at http://www.sexworkerspresent.blip.tv

  7. Barb Brents

    It seems so taken for granted in the discourse of trafficking that the women need to be saved. This just blasts that away! Thanks for posting this. It should be a required visual.

  8. Roger

    I am grateful to Elisabeth for reprinting your post as it allowed me to find your blog and your book. I look forward to reading more.
    Having spend a lot of time in Thailand and around and knowing many “prostitutes” (mostly of the male type, the one nobody is interested in rescuing) I find your post very courageous.

  9. Joy P Roberts

    Dear Laura,

    I know the work Empower has done over the years. It will be interesting to invite Empower’s coordinator to write into this blog to provide the context for the poster.

    I can share a bit of my experience with Empower. One of the projects I was involved with called, Kumjing. Paper mache dolls were made by the migrant sex workers at the Thai-Burmese border. One of the dolls was transported from the border to Bangkok, and from Bangkok, by a student volunteer, to Massachusetts, then to Minnesota. Along the way, the doll ‘spoke’ of the plights of migrant women from a repressive regime in Burma to the limited opportunities in Thailand as illegal migrant workers and then sex workers.

    I adopted the doll which allowed me to give talks about the socio-polical and cultural contexts, esp. on gender inequality, not just poverty, surrounding the lives of these migrant women, instead of how to rescue them.

    Perhaps rescuing these women made the raiders look good on their reports to the Thai government and the U.S., but it did nothing to support long-term economic nor educational opportunities to these women.

    Empower’s work is different that she helped provide these women access to education and the choices to exit from their sex work voluntarily and when they are better equipped with skills and education. Along the way, the women learned about women’s rights and participated in the mainstream women’s rights movement in Thailand, esp. with the grassroots women’s movement.

    I also witnessed Empower’s work to advocate for labor’s rights for sex workers at a meeting at the Thai Parliament with the Senate Committee on Labor and Welfare. I got to know a few Empower’s members from the North and even worked on a plan for a forum on women’s rights in Northern Thailand.

    I can’t tell you how impressed I have been with Empower from working with the coordinator, other women from Empower and from observing Empower’s political actions.

    The poster tells just one small facet of the great work Empower has been doing over these years.

    I urge you to invite Empower’s coordinator to contribute to your blog here.

    In Solidarity,


    Lincoln, Nebraska, U.S.

  10. laura

    How great to meet old and new friends together here. Don’t worry, Joy, I know Empower, too, and they know this post is up. They belong to the Asia-Pacific network whose videos Andrew is drawing your attention to.

    Thanks for the confirmation from Long Island, Tracy!

    The photo’s in the public domain now, so please, everyone, feel free to disseminate it.


  11. Andrew Hunter

    Roger- there’s lots of interest in rescuing male sex workers now that there is lots of money for it.

    Male and transgender sex workers are now being rounded up and sent off to be “rehabilitated” in Cambodia, and the police are currently conducting extensive rescue/raids on gay bars in Pattaya.

    You can see interviews with male and TG sex workers in Cambodia on our video

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