”A happy ending isn’t so bad” – The way people talk about trafficking

Most Swedes have probably read one of the many articles which recently discussed Thai massage parlors and trafficking which occurs at some of these parlors. Kalla Fakta visited a some of these parlors and found that eight out of ten offered sexual services and so called ”happy endings”.

Even though experts state that both human trading and prostitution occur at some of the parlors, the women who sell sex aren’t taken seriously.

An over-optimistic portrait of prostitution is not to be unexpected on the web sites run by sex buyers, but it also exists in the comments to the news articles. Comments about how women voluntarily sell sex are not uncommon. The fact that human trading and prostitution are not taken seriously is a big problem because it leads to the blaming of the victim. To get a clear picture of how trafficking and prostitution at Thai massage parlors are described and commented, we visited a number of different of their web sites and read comments to articles at Aftonbladet’s web site.

Voluntary sex – even though it’s for money!

When we visited web sites who are openly positive to prostitution (and those focusing on Thai massage parlors) it was quite common to see the men glorifying and trivializing the act of purchasing sex and sexual services. These men claim that it is the women who offer sexual services and the customer needn’t even ask, which according to many seems to prove that the women want sex with the customer and that they desire sex. They also claim the women enjoy the sex or the sexual service, they giggle, have fun and get sexually excited themselves. Thus, the sexual service is something voluntary between two adults who want to have sex together (even though the customer pays for a “happy ending” or other services).

Similar comments can also be read at web sites dedicated to reviewing different massage parlors. An article on Aftonbladetsays that between 25.000 and 35.000 Swedes read guides online which provides tips and reviews of Thai massage parlors. Most of the people who create reviews are men and the article states that you can find tips about everything: “If you want a real Thai massage, don’t get fully undressed. If you want an oil massage with or without happy-end you should take off all your clothes!” There are also tips on which places have happy girls or girls who go all the way. The fact that the sex buyers spread information and give tips on how to do it shows that prostitution and human trade isn’t considered immoral or wrong, but is instead normalized in these groups.

Call it what it is!

Even though experts say what occurs at many Thai massage parlors should be considered human trading and prostitution, not everyone agrees. The women who are abused and live in misery are ignored even with their suffering being reported.
One article on Aftonbladet’s web page states that inspections made by the Swedish tax agency has shown that many of the women have awful accommodations and work conditions. They are tricked to Sweden with promises of work but are subsequently forced to sell sexual services because they are underpaid or threatened. So what happens if the girl doesn’t giggle and earn money to the owner? How is she punished?

The majority of those who comment on the subject of sex at Thai massage parlors are men who advocate the purchasing of sex. In different ways they try to rationalize prostitution and human trading.

Prostitution being an old and natural profession is something which was mentioned frequently. Those in need of sex must be “helped”, the women actually earn more than they would in their home countries, a “happy ending” is harmless and the women are probably not forced and instead choose to sell the sexual services.

We must be critical of the way people talk when it comes to discussing trafficking and prostitution. When people don’t consider prostitution a serious matter and also propagate a glorified image of the selling of sex, it exacerbates the problem in society.
The women are presumed to sell sex voluntarily while the threats and coercion which often are the cause is rationalized or ignored. Instead, the sex buyers are doing the women a favor since they don’t make any money in their homeland anyway. By blaming the victims in trafficking matters, buying sex becomes normalized. For as long as human trading is rationalized, the suffering of these women are not considered serious. We look forward to seeing our authorities (the police and the Swedish tax agency) find good “methods” to rectify this problem as soon as possible.

Elin Weiss & Hennie Weiss for RealStars

Elin Weiss has a Master’s degree in gender studies. Hennie Weiss has a Master’s degree in sociology. Elin and Hennie are two of the twelve members running the site Feminists For Choice, a web site dedicated to women’s rights.