Police are cracking down on a soi in Pathum Thani renowned for its lively sex trade after locals complained the women propositioning customers are failing to wear face masks.
Thanyaburi police have been forced to take action after locals showed them videos of sex workers in soi Pansuk Loki, or the street of earthly pleasures as it is known colloquially, a well-known home to streetwalkers for 10 years or more, and complained the women were failing to take Covid-19 precautions.
Locals are accustomed to the sight of women gathered in clusters along the length of the soi, flagging over motorists and taking them to short-stay motels.
In fact, some supportive residents have even rented out their homes to the women in the past, and say their presence adds a lively atmosphere.
However, some locals are also worried the women appear reluctant to wear face masks to guard against the COVID 19 virus, and recently took a series of clips of their nocturnal activities to the media to share their concerns. “No one has turned up to enforce the requirement to wear masks or the night-time curfew”.
In the clips, motorists talk to the women through an open window about how much they charge while filming the encounter on their phones. In another, a customer accompanies a young woman to a hotel where he asks about his chances of getting caught by the police. “You can play around to your heart’s content, we have cleared the matter with the police and a tambon head,” she tells the customer confidently.
It’s that comment which set off a new spate of crackdowns in the soi, implying as it does that officialdom took bribes to look the other way.
Combined teams of up to 50 police and tambon officials descended on the soi looking for women hiding among the trees and under street lights. In mid-evening on 14th June, they walked its length but found no one, only to be upstaged by the media who visited at 1 am the following day and took video footage of women standing about waiting for customers as usual.
Amarin TV spoke to one resident, Jiab, who said about 10 women a day offer sex services on the street. Once, customers visited karaoke shops in the soi and took the women working there off-premises to short-stay hotels nearby. However, when police cracked down and the shops closed, the women were forced onto the street.
“When the police come, the girls flee, but when things quieten down the girls come back again”.
Jiab said she sympathises with the women, many of whom choose prostitution to help support their families, including cases where their partners have abandoned them to bring up young children alone.
Other residents told Khao Sod newspaper that the women tend to be migrant workers from a neighbouring country. “I don’t mind the sex trade as it makes the soi a livelier place. However, the young ones who pick them up are annoying as they drive about making noise”.
“The women selling themselves are the same old faces; the guys picking them up are new and from out of the area because this place has earned its reputation from the sex trade. At the mouth of the soi is a massage parlour where some of the girls work. If the girls have someone looking after them, you find them at the parlour; those without an affiliation tend to stand under the street lights”.
“In the village itself, no one has complained as we know the women are just making a living. In the past, some locals even rented out their places to these women as long as their paperwork was in order and they agreed not to bring customers back. Now, no one rents out their places as those women have all gone back to their home country”.
The owner of a dry goods store in the soi, Kempetch Pimchart, 49, said couples buy their alcohol and condoms from him before heading to one of two short-stay hotels nearby. He sells more alcohol than condoms but suspects many buy their condoms earlier. “Locals shouldn’t be scared of women spreading the virus; they should be more scared about what the men might be carrying”.
Pathum Thani police commander, Pol Maj Gen Chayut Marayat, said a search by a combined team of police and tambon officials on June 14 turned up nothing. After the visit by the TV crew hours later showed the women were plying their trade as usual, he had ordered police to get tougher. The women involved could be deported as well as facing fines for soliciting, he said. If the problem carries on, he could also probe the station for bribe-taking.
Thanyaburi police chief, Pol Col Wiwat Atsawawiboon, said police are not sitting idly by. They had fined more than 10 women for soliciting since the start of the year. The hotels where they work held legal operating permits.
Police had also set up a checkpoint at the mouth of the soi, and nabbed the women in the clips sent to the media. “They deny having paid off the police or tambon or knowing anyone who has,” he added. The women added they took the masks off only when talking to customers”.
Tambon president Pitsanu Praphathananan said claims he had been bought off harmed his reputation, and he urged the public to take them with a grain of salt.