op·ti·cal il·lu·sion noun: something that deceives the eye by appearing to be other than it is.
When I was a little kid, I had a book of optical illusions that I could entertain myself with for hours. Some of the illustrations looked like they were moving if I stared at them for long enough. Others appeared to change color. My favorites contained hidden images. It fascinated me that images so obvious could be hidden in plain sight.
The sex industry in Bangkok is like a carefully orchestrated optical illusion. The grim realities of the industry are masked and prostitution is glamourized. Part of my work includes doing outreach at bars and building friendships with women who work there. The first time I visited a Red Light District, I wondered why I wasn’t more disturbed. I saw women dancing under flashing neon lights, shouted to my friends over the blaring music, and chatted with drunk tourists as they sipped their overpriced cocktails—mostly things I had experienced before.
But it was an illusion. I didn’t see the whole picture at first. The sex industry is full of euphemisms: karaoke bars that are actually brothels, dance clubs with rooms upstairs where customers can buy a woman’s body for a few hours or the night. I've met women as young as 13 years old who have come to Bangkok from villages to work in bars, first as waitresses and then as strippers and prostitutes. Coming to the realization that customers can buy these women—my friends—for $80 a night is sickening. They are worthy of so much more respect.
After spending more time in the Red Light Districts, I began to discover that the bar women themselves are part of the illusion. To get customers, they plaster big smiles across their faces, laugh and flirt with the men who purchase their bodies. But underneath those big empty smiles is pain and desperation. These women are desperate for money, desperate for opportunity, desperate for love. From the outside, the Red Light Districts look like big parties, full of “harmless” fun. But if you scratch the surface, you’ll find women who are exploited and objectified, deeply hurting, and longing for love and a second chance.
It’s a privilege to work alongside women who have left their jobs as sex workers and have found second chances at Samaritan Creations. As I’ve gotten to know each woman individually, the illusions built by the sex industry have begun to unravel. The glamour is gone, and in its place are stories of heartbreak and redemption. Watching the women regain their dignity and work toward a better life is an honor, and I’m thankful I get to be part of this beautiful process.
To support Samaritan Creations, a nonprofit that assists women leaving the Thai sex industry through employment, counseling and entrepreneurial funding, donate here: https://warinternational.org/donate/ (choose "missionary" and "Killar" from the drop-down menu.)
Thanks for stopping by. A little about me — I have a latte each morning and drink about 7 cups of tea a day (not exaggerating.) I live in Atlanta where I'm going to law school. I like long distance running and I love my city and I love exploring our beautiful earth. I believe in following our passions & being free.
I started this blog to document and share my favorite moments while traveling. This is a place where I process my ideas, share the aches and joys of my heart, speak truth, and shine light on the beauty I see in the world.
I've realized that what I probably love most about traveling is the same thing I love about writing — the way it connects me to myself and other people. I hope as you read my words, you feel connected to our shared humanity.
Thank you for reading. :)
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