Wednesday, January 12, 2005

I've been watching a lot of the coverage of the aftermath of the tsunami on television. I don't normally watch CNN, but they've dedicated a lot of time to the story and have had pretty good coverage. However, I found one particular angle they covered the other day quite inappropriate. If they were going to cover this particular topic, they really should have shed a different light on it. Instead they brushed over it lightly as if it were some quaint novelty.

In discussing the economic impact of the disaster, they mentioned how it would have an adverse effect on the sex trade because it is part of the tourism industry.

Here's the exchange (underlines added)...
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And revitalization, a very strong push by both the government and private industry to bring tourists back to Thailand. Tourism is a $10 to $12 billion industry here in Thailand, and, of course, there is another industry of another sort of wealth sort, as well, to talk about Matthew Chance, who's been covering this disaster from the very beginning, talks
a little bit about the sex trade. Matthew?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks very much, Soledad. And that's right. Well, the search for bodies does continue, but the emphasis is perhaps shifting a little to reconstruction and revitalization. Thailand's tourism industry is extremely important. It accounts for about 12 percent of the country's economy. And there's a great deal of concern about how it may have been affected by the tsunami, and that means all aspects of it. We traveled to the resort of Patong Beach here in Phuket to see how about tourists and Thais were coping with the situation.


CHANCE (voice-over): They dance like the tsunami never happened, Thai sex workers of Patong Beach acting out the party tourists come to see.

But the seedy glamour, always skin deep, now masks real grief and anxiety. Around a television at the bar, customers and staff are reliving the horrors they've witnessed. But it's the aftermath that matters most.

Yam (ph) serves drinks at the Happy Night Bar, already back in business after being flooded by the tsunami wave. But business is bad, the seats half-empty.

"We never believed this could happen to us, that so many people could be lost," she told me. "It will take a year at least, but we must rebuild."

The sandy beaches are Patong's more innocent attraction. The tsunami struck in peak season. The few tourists who stayed on now tan amidst the rubble. Edward from Austria says it's his way of helping out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We think it's better to stay here, because if we
leave the country, our money leaves the country too. And I think it's important
to help the people here to begin a normal life on the beach.

CHANCE: And it's an urgent task. Here, the once-popular Sabai (ph) Beach Restaurant is being refitted after the tsunami left it ruined. No one was killed here, but the owner, Wilapong (ph), showed me where the seawater had come to, and the clock that stopped at the exact time the tsunami hit."

If the tourists stay away, none of us will have a job or any money," he says. "It will be another disaster."

(on camera): These are incredibly difficult times for everybody who was caught up in the tsunami. We have been walking along these sands, still slightly odd, knowing that so many people were lost at sea. But everybody we've spoken to shares that sense of horror at the terrible loss of life. But they're looking to the future as well, picking up the pieces of their lives and starting to try and live them again.

(voice-over): And that means luring valuable tourists back to Phuket every way the island can.


CHANCE: Well, we can't overemphasize how important the tourism industry is to the Thai economy. And that includes the seedier aspects of it as well....


Now, monetarily speaking, I'm sure it will have an effect. Everything will be affected and much will have to be rebuilt.

But, is the sex trade something that should be rebuilt? Hardly. One of the biggest concerns in this whole crisis has been the fear that traffickers would abduct children for use in the sex trade. This concern should highlight the need to reform policy toward the sex industry. The traffickers, thugs and pimps of Southeast Asia have grossly profited from this modern form of slavery and it should be labeled for what it is.

I have sympathy for the lives that have been lost in the tsunami, but I do not empathize with panderers who are having trouble drumming up business in its wake.

President Bush has been speaking to the problem of human trafficking. Information about his initiatives on this issue can be found here.

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