Prostitution - Thailand/Canada Comparisons

Highlights from an Essay at


Prostitution exists in almost all cultures and civilizations of the world today. Just as the cultures differ richly from one another, prostitution and prostitution policy vary greatly throughout the globe. Although the act of prostitution itself is widely similar all over, the policies that are affecting the sex trade are the most influential in shaping the unique and individual sex industries of different countries. This paper takes a look at two very different countries with very different cultural value systems within them. Not surprisingly their perspectives on prostitution differ significantly as well. These two nations are Canada and Thailand; classic examples of Western culture and Eastern culture. We have found no study that suggests that prostitution is more prevalent in either culture, but in general prostitution carries less of a social stigma in Eastern Nations, especially Thailand, than it does in the Western Nations.

Prostitution laws in Canada
Throughout Canada’s history, prostitution has been legal. However, a visitor or even a citizen may never be aware of this fact. (omit all the details on seldom enforced but illegal bawdy house, living off the avails and public (street) solicitation restrictions - result is only outcall prostitution is 100% legal in Canada)

Offences in relation to Prostitution focus mainly on acts committed in the public eye, including women attempting to stop moving vehicles, impeding the regular flow of pedestrians, or making an attempt to communicate with others with the intent to offer sexual services (Dave note but only applies in public places, nothing illegal about communication in newspapers, Internet, telephone) (section 213(1)), these are all considered summary (minor) offences.

Although the written laws against prostitution are relatively clear, the overall goal of Canadian prostitution is not. There is no prohibition of the buying and selling of sexual services. This is what makes the Canadian law on prostitution unclear. A set of codes has been created so that it would be very difficult for a person to prostitute without breaking the laws, however the avenue of prostitution is still accessible. One may conclude from the criminal code that the government’s purpose in regard to prostitution is to keep it off the streets and out of the public eye. (Dave notes: This is the same as in most of Europe and the rest of the world except the U.S which is unique since all prostitution is illegal.)

There are many large municipalities who facilitate the off-street trade by means of licensing it and regulating it. In this case, laws against prostitution are rarely enforced. At the same time, Canadian politicians have almost entirely abolitionist views concerning prostitution, regardless of the fact that prostitution itself is legal. The “prostitution problem”, which erupted in the early 1980’s, was not so much concerning prostitution itself, but the spread of the street trade.

The Fraser Committee, the Special Committee on Pornography and Prostitution was established in 1983 to make recommendations for Prostitution policy making. In 1977, in Toronto there was a ‘clampdown’ on massage parlors and other venues after the sexual assault of a shoeshine boy on Toronto’s Young Street strip. However, after making tighter regulations, the un-expected result was only more street prostitution. The Fraser Committee concluded that the main problem in Canadian prostitution law is that “it is at odds with itself” [The Fraser Institute, Canada],

Canadian laws of prostitution are definitely un-clear. Many Canadians may be led to believe that the act of prostitution is illegal, because it is treated so. The problem remains on the streets of major cities and ‘slums’ because it is not tolerated anywhere else. Political leaders maintain their abolitionist views and citizens voice complaints about the effects of street prostitution (noise, traffic congestion, litter and harassment). Moreover in a Judeo-Christian influenced society, the citizens uphold moral values, which are not uniform to other beliefs around the globe.

What is particularly interesting about comparing Canada and Thailand is the irony that exists within their prostitution policies. In Thailand adult prostitution with an adult is technically illegal, theoretically punishable by up to 10 years in prison, however the practice of prostitution is almost entirely accepted, especially in brothel-type setting, which in Thai law carries a higher penalties. However these brothel-bars are flourishing within Patpong and Bangkok. In the Canadian system, the legislation developed a double jeopardy situation, which is a complete contradiction of the law. Prostitution is allowed in the privacy of one’s own home, but they are not allowed to go to any designated area, like red-light districts, or brothel houses, to procure a girl. This leaves a sex industry in Canada that is still widely tolerated, however underground.

The sex industry in Thailand is one of the most famous sex industries of the world. Thailand is a country that has lured travelers for hundreds of years, with the promises of exotic delights. Today Thailand still offers such pleasures, including a unique sex trade, including one designed specifically for the farang, or the Caucasian tourist. It should be noted that the vast majority of the sex industry in Thailand is operated for Thai’s only. Only a very small, very limited, and very touristy area is operating for Westerners. Thailand does however have a sex-tourism industry that Canada absolutely does not have. Travelers from all over the world come to Thailand specifically for the sex. Selling sex is technically illegal, but buying sex is not, and rarely is anyone arrested in the Thai sex industry except for the occasional child-offender. Unlike Canada, Thailand has a more visible and much more exotic industry. (Dave notes that most of the Western tourist places offer "special services" as "entertainment places" which is specifically exempt from the Thai prostitution law.)

The age of consent for sex in Thailand is 15 and for those working in the sex industry or soliciting sex, it is 18. Although 16 and 17 year old girls are frequent throughout the city. They often do not make attempts to conceal their age, and most don’t see their actions as having substantial consequences. Thai law is much stricter when dealing with sexual offences involving minors, because of the countless numbers of youth who are pressured into the industry. Illegal female trafficking is prevalent in Thailand, although Thailand feels that the rest of the world exaggerates these claims.

In 1996 The Thai Government introduced new legislation designed to proactively combat the negative effects of prostitution. Although the Act introduced more legislation, it is generally more tolerant towards prostitution than previous laws, however one can easily see the influence of anti-child pornography sentimentalities. As of 1996 penalty for prostitution was much reduced, to being almost officially tolerated. However customers found using the sexual service of a child prostitute (under the age of 18) will be punished with mandatory jail sentences. Penalties remain for managers, producers, supervisors, and owners of prostitution rings. More serious penalties were established in respect to child trafficking, making it easier for the government to punish the common act of families placing their children into sexual servitude·. To what extent this has reduced this awful practice is not yet fully known, but child trafficking remains a serious problem in Thailand. Much more so than in Canada.

Taking aside the specific legal differences in prostitution policy between Canada and Thailand, what are the moral differences between the two countries? The most striking difference between them is the general acceptance of prostitution in Thailand compared to the still very traditional and very repressive Western attitude that discourages sexual business. It seems that the predominant opinion in Western society is that all prostitution hurts women. This leads to an incredible social stigma that surrounds prostitutes in Canada that does not affect prostitutes in Thailand. Prostitutes can be easily found all over the world, yet why do so many tourists flock to Bangkok just for sex? The most common response is that unlike Canadian prostitutes, Thai women really to enjoy their work. Thai girls don’t feel as if they are selling away some sacred vestment, but more as if they are girlfriends for rent. Many Thai prostitutes are only interested in keeping one client at a time, so long as the client is paying for the girl’s basic needs. This type of behavior is widely accepted in the tourist districts of Thailand, and these girls who service the farangs are part of an established subculture.

Dave notes: I agree Canadian bred sexworkers (except those from Newfoundland and Quebec) have more the U.S. attitudes of being legal outcall prostitutes for the money not the enjoyment like in Thailand and the French-Canadians of Quebec. But many Eastern European women also come to Canada who enjoy intimacy and sexuality more like Thai women. There are of course exceptions wtih U.S. and Canadian born sexworkers who also very much enjoy intimacy and sexuality more than just for money, but they are far fewer in percentages in my experience than the foreign born women.

What does the future hold for Canada and Thailand? Although Canada has recently been increasing criminalization policies, the effects of these policies are just now being looked at. In 1995 many provinces worked together to form the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Working Group on prostitution. The Working Group has been since trying to reform prostitution laws throughout Canada. Referring once again to that Judeo-Christian ethic, the biggest problem in handling prostitution for Western countries is that nobody wants to enact any law that seemingly condones prostitution. The growing opinion is however that the problems of prostitution are not problems of social morality, but problems of social order, and accepting prostitution is the quickest way to control it. As far as Thailand goes, they may not have the technology or industry of the Western nations, but they are advanced enough to have already realized that sex for sale is not a threat. It seems as if the state of affairs will continue in Thailand, as they are now, for quite some time.

Dave notes, the criminalization move in Canada is related to the terrible street prostitution problem which is only a very minor summary offense with few penalties to deter street prostitution. There are numerous other movements to reform the seldom enforced bawdy house restriction (incalls) as such laws have been modified in much of Europe (to allow more than one women per flat), Australia (which now has legal brothels in some cities) etc.

The attraction of Canada is that outcall sexwork is 100% legal and its tolerance of other private erotic options (nude-reverse body slides, nothing wrong with telephone or non street solicitation etc. Thailand of course continues to be an erotic travel destination since Westerner's visit legal options and vast majority have no interest in the child trade which is and should be illegal.

The Frasier Commission Report is now a bit outdated but also points out the confusing situation in Canada where prostitution has always been legal, but not incall, street solicitation or living off the avails. Also see" Prostitution Law Reform in Canada John Lowman, School of Criminology, Simon Fraser University at