The bustling, crowded streets of the nightlife scene are empty. Under the threat of the coronavirus, Thailand is under lockdown and a national curfew. Those who want to see the end of the red light districts, and their frequent companion, sex trafficking might cheer. But it’s unclear whether it’s a net positive. Those who relied on sex work to help combat their poverty and the poverty of their families are pushed even further to the margins. They can’t make the money they relied on, and likely cannot count on the government support others are expecting. What means will they turn to in order to survive? And our students, who are already at risk of being trafficked because they were impoverished and vulnerable, have now lost jobs and had their education suspended. The ever-looming threat of trafficking and exploitation is expected to only get larger.
Here’s what that means for prevention:
Increased domestic violence
Anxiety and stress can lead to harsh words and harsh actions. In households where domestic violence already exists, experts say we can expect there to be an increase in domestic abuse during these stressful times. Children who were able to use school or The Freedom Story’s Resource Center as a safe escape now do not have that option.
Increased online exploitation
As more people are cooped up at home on their phones and computers, and are more isolated, there is an expectation that we will see a rise in online exploitation as well.
Increased economic desperation
Our older students who had part-time jobs to help put them through school have all lost their jobs. Many parents are also seeing job loss, and there is likely to be more job loss to come. One way we already see this play out is amongst kids whose families already struggle to have enough to eat, missing out on school means missing out on the school lunches. Schools will not reopen until at least July 1, so this will be a months-long challenge.
Migrant workers are not eligible for Thai government assistance and have lost their jobs on a large scale. Those who haven’t already gone home are now stuck in Thailand and without work and with no way to return to their families.
Our outreach has always worked on a face-to-face level, talking directly with people about their needs and how we can address them, or sharing information about how to strengthen and protect themselves. With outreach shifting online, it becomes harder to reach people on a larger scale, especially for those groups with limited or no internet access because internet packages on their phones are expensive. It’s also harder for young kids to understand, and harder to hold their attention.
As economies contract across the globe, we anticipate funding shortages, not only on the individual level, but also from grant institutions. Yet this time is more critical than ever to help get resources directly into the hands of those who are most vulnerable.
Here’s what we’re doing
We are responding to this pandemic in a host of different ways, but here are the actions we’re taking specifically for trafficking prevention.
- Regular outreach and check-ins online or via phone. Video calls are especially helpful in letting us see how folks are really doing. The local culture is so face-to-face, that people will often not tell you how they’re really doing unless talking to you in person. Using video calls keeps our mentors in touch with the kids and their families, and it has also been an important resource in connecting kids to OOCA, the organization offering free counselling service.
- Emergency funds. We’re raising funds to help with food and other essential needs. We’re also supporting people in alternative means of generating income and decreasing expenses, like raising chickens and fish.
The best, if not only way, to fight both fronts (trafficking prevention and preventing the Coronavirus’ spread), is to continue to show up for people in these extraordinary times, by providing leadership, clear information, and financial and emotional support. We are so grateful to organizations like MIGMIR who have given us incredible flexibility in directing funds where needed most, and OOCA donating their services, and to our donors who continue to give even now.
If you can, please consider joining the team of donors responding to this situation and donate to our COVID-19 Crisis Intervention Fund.
Thank you for your generosity. Please stay healthy and safe.