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Thailand Toughens Rape Laws with Rise in Child Sex Trafficking

Prison terms for rapists in positions of authority over their victims, such as relatives and teachers, also were raised by a third

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rape laws
FILE - The shackled legs of suspected human traffickers are seen as they arrive for their trial at the criminal court in Bangkok, Thailand, March 15, 2016. VOA

Thailand has toughened its penalties for sharing photos and videos of sexual assault as the country grapples with a reported rise in child sex trafficking and a growing crop of “webcam centers” to exploit it.

But rights groups say most of Thailand’s neighbors have yet to toughen their laws to tackle online child abuse in an increasingly wired region, and that even the Thai legal update may leave some troubling trends largely unchecked.

“It’s great, what they’ve done. It’s really good in terms of the legal framework. That’s fine. But there still needs [to be] some other reforms to be done, especially in relation to livestreaming,” said François-Xavier Souchet, Thailand country manager for Terre des Hommes, a child rights group.

The changes took effect Monday and double the prison terms for convicted rapists — which mostly range up to 20 years — who record their assaults and share the material. They raise prison terms by a third for rapists who record their assaults to exploit victims.

Prison terms for rapists in positions of authority over their victims, such as relatives and teachers, also were raised by a third.

rape laws
FILE – An employee from the Department of Special Investigation sorts through evidence from a massage parlor after police raided the premises because of suspicions of underage trafficking and prostitution, in Bangkok, Jan. 15, 2018. VOA

Rights groups widely consider the number of reported rapes only a small fraction of the actual number, given the stigma victims can face and the pressures they often come under to stay silent.

In April, though, the Royal Thai Police Crime Suppression Division singled out rape as the “No. 1 public enemy” in the country. Citing police figures, the Bangkok Post said reported rape cases had dropped from 3,240 in 2015 to 2,109 the following year, but picked up again to 2,535 in 2017.

Human trafficking

Also in 2017, in a report on the latest trends in human trafficking into Thailand from its neighbors, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) identified the trafficking of children for webcam sex shows as an emerging problem.

At the report’s launch, the UNODC said demand for sex with children was a growing driver of human trafficking across the Mekong region and that it had recently noticed webcam centers exploiting children moving from the Philippines to Thailand.

“Sadly, it has been part of a larger trend in the region,” the UNODC’s representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, Jeremy Douglas, told VOA this week.

rape laws
FILE – Prosecutors from Thailand, Japan and other countries talk at a summit on sex trafficking, Sept. 28, 2016, in Honolulu. They called the scourge of sex trafficking a form of modern-day slavery. VOA

“Now they have so many cases about the use [of] the webcam,” agreed Jaded Chaowilai, director of Thailand’s Women and Men Progressive Movement, which helps rape victims.

“The sexual abuse and exploitation of children is an ongoing issue,” said Damian Kean, spokesman for ECPAT International, a child advocacy group based in Bangkok.

“While we have no evidence to suggest that it is on the rise, we do know that certain manifestations of this crime are increasing,” he said, “particularly sexual exploitation by travelers and tourists as Thailand’s tourism industry flourishes; online child sexual exploitation as internet coverage improves; and the trafficking of children for sexual purposes as neighboring countries suffer humanitarian crises.”

Child exploitation

Many of the cases of livestreaming, Kean added, “are facilitated by those in the child’s circle of trust, including often parents.”

The newly enacted legal amendments help address both problems by stiffening prison terms for rapists who record and share the abuse and have authority over the victim.

But rights groups worry that the law’s failure to specifically address livestreaming, where the abuse is not actually recorded, may prove a loophole for getting out of the tougher penalties.

“Once you stop the, I don’t know, Skype session or the Facebook Live, it’s just gone, it’s just gone,” said Souchet, of Terre des Hommes.

rape laws
FILE – People walk in the red light district in Pattaya, Thailand, April 10, 2009. At the time, the U.S. put Thailand on its human trafficking watch list, accusing it of not doing enough to combat trafficking. VOA

He worries that the people who watch the shows — and often direct the abuse — also may fall through the cracks.

“The person who is watching, who is kind of ordering the abuse and directing the abuse sometimes, and opening this kind of livestream to other people for … financial purposes, right? This guy, his responsibility, can he be charged against rape as an accomplice? This is not clear, because there’s no … direct physical abuse from his side. So that’s a legal challenge,” he said.

While Thailand is not alone in the region in toughening its rape laws — Myanmar in March upped the possible prison term for the rape of children under 12 to life — it is still an outlier.

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“Thailand remains somewhat exceptional in this regard,” said Douglas. “Positively, governments in the region are taking the issue of online child exploitation more seriously and they are cooperating on cross-border cases, although it is not enough and tends to be reactive.”

Souchet said he recently heard from a victims shelter in Thailand that is concerned more pedophiles active in the country are moving to Laos to evade capture, and that authorities in Myanmar increasingly are worried about becoming “another Thailand” for child sex offenders as the country opens up. Combating the problem “should be a regional effort,” he said. (VOA)

Next Story

Advanced Technology Required To Tackle Online Sex Trade and Trafficking: Analysts

At least 40 million people are victims of modern slavery worldwide.

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Trafficking
People opposed to child sex trafficking rally in Washington. VOA

The online sale of sex slaves is going strong despite new U.S. laws to clamp down on the crime, data analysts said Wednesday, urging a wider use of technology to fight human trafficking.

In April, the United States passed legislation aimed at making it easier to prosecute social media platforms and websites that facilitate sex trafficking, days after a crackdown on classified ad giant Backpage.com.

The law resulted in an immediate and sharp drop in sex ads online but numbers have since picked up again, data presented at the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s annual Trust Conference showed.

“The market has been destabilized and there are now new entrants that are willing to take the risk in order to make money,” Chris White, a researcher at tech giant Microsoft who gathered the data, told the event in London.

Google, Web summit, sexual misconduct, trafficking
Google employees fill Harry Bridges Plaza in front of the Ferry Building during a walkout, Nov. 1, 2018, in San Francisco. Hundreds of Google employees around the world briefly walked off the job in a protest against what they said is the tech company’s mishandling of sexual misconduct allegations against executives. VOA

New players

Backpage.com, a massive advertising site primarily used to sell sex — which some analysts believe accounted for 80 percent of online sex trafficking in the United States — was shut down by federal authorities in April.

Days later, the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), which introduced stiff prison sentences and fines for website owners and operators found guilty of contributing to sex trafficking, was passed into law.

The combined action caused the number of online sex ads to fall 80 percent to about 20,000 a day nationwide, White said.

The number of ads has since risen to about 60,000 a day, as new websites filled the gap, he said.

In October — in response to a lawsuit accusing it of not doing enough to protect users from human traffickers — social media giant Facebook said it worked internally and externally to thwart such predators.

 

Trafficking
This April 6, 2018, file photo shows a screenshot of Backpage.com on the day that federal authorities seized the classified site as part of a criminal case. VOA

 

Using technology to continuously monitor and analyze this kind of data is key to evaluating existing laws and designing new and more effective ones, White said.

“It really highlights what’s possible through policy,” added Valiant Richey, a former U.S. prosecutor who now fights human trafficking at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), echoing the calls for new methods.

Law enforcement agencies currently tackle slavery one case at a time, but the approach lacks as the crime is too widespread and authorities are short of resources, he said.

As a prosecutor in Seattle, Richey said his office would work on up to 80 cases a year, while online searches revealed more than 100 websites where sex was sold in the area, some carrying an average of 35,000 ads every month.

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“We were fighting forest fire with a garden hose,” he said. “A case-based response to human trafficking will not on its own carry the day.”

At least 40 million people are victims of modern slavery worldwide — with nearly 25 million trapped in forced labor and about 15 million in forced marriages. (VOA)