Case Study: Human Trafficking in Chiang Mai and the Beneficial Ways to Raise Awareness Though the Arts


Kidd Pantana-Gunther

Submitted to the Board of Arts Management
School of the Arts
in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Bachelor of Arts

Purchase College
State University of New York
December, 2016

Sponsor: Janis Astor del Valle
Second Reader: Brent Seely


Human trafficking in Chiang Mai is well known and growing, but the community and local authorities have neglected the magnitude of human trafficking which is adversely affecting the nation, regional ties, local communities, and families. The city of Chiang Mai has become one of several main hubs for human trafficking; others include Bangkok, Pattaya, and Mae Sot. However, Chiang Mai’s urbanization and worldwide recognition has created a large demand for the sex trade and manual labor to support its increasing growth.

In Chiang Mai, there are several groups at risk of being trafficked. 13.4% of the population in the province are members of the hill tribes; among them are the Hmong, Yao, Lahu, Lisu, Akha and Karen. In addition, another large portion is the population that is not accounted for, such as illegal migrants from Burma, Laos, and Cambodia who find refuge in Chiang Mai in order to make a living and pursue their goals. Unfortunately, businesses, local authorities and organized crime exploit these minorities for their physical labor or sex trade.

Thailand sex trade is a growing trend for tourists who see this once culturally beautiful city as a sex city with the demand for “exotic”, and sometimes underaged boys and girls. Nearly one fifth of sex workers are forced into sex and some cases the victims are younger than 15 years of age. When there’s a demand, there’s a supply and the demand is growing. Thus, organized crime exploits these demands, while Thai authorities are showing meager effort to enforce anti-trafficking laws and prosecute illegal sex acts.

The city’s economy has grown due to many diverse outside groups settling in Chiang Mai. There are more homes, businesses, factories, and malls in demand. Businesses and entrepreneurs are eager to make a high profit in Chiang Mai’s competitive markets which causes high demand for unskilled workers. With little or no government protection for  illegal migrants or laborers from hill tribes and cross border refugees, these migrants work under harsh conditions with little rights to form a union or lack of protection by government agencies for health coverage, or lawyers to challenge employer abuses.

What can be done to resolve the issue of “sex trafficking?” As the “chill”, eventful and artistic city of Thailand, Chiang Mai presents a prime opportunity to use new and innovative art programming to create movements and positive awareness of the problem. This study will be the first discussion on how the arts can effectively impact society and create movement to address human trafficking in Chiang Mai. The primary aims are to become a role model for other provincial communities and to set standards for improvement of the well being of migrants and eliminate the traffickers. Using the arts to unify and educate migrants and the community is key for long term success which can pressure government authorities to draft and enforce more effective laws. Awareness exhibitions using art would be a primary way to spark community effort for positive change in tackling issues of immediate concern and create awareness of the illegal activity of human trafficking and its negative impacts to families and towns of Chiang Mai. Furthermore, strengthening organizations with international agencies, along with unifying the community through arts programing, can be effective for local organizations to maintain their goals and funding.


Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is the largest and most culturally significant city in Northern Thailand. Chiang Mai City was a former capital of the Lanna Kingdom. (1296–1768), which became the Kingdom of Chiang Mai, a tributary state of the Siam Kingdom. The Lanna Kingdom was the crossroads between the dominant Burmese Kingdom, the influential scholarly teachings of China, and the cunning political adaptability of Siam, thus making Chiang Mai an important hub of cultures and traditions.

Chiang Mai is known for its distinctive northern culture and the “Kon Mueang” people. Thais still often think of the charm of the Mueang people, with their similar, yet unique arts, traditions, spoken and written language, architecture, and cuisine as the center of the Lanna way of life.

Often referred to as the ‘chill-chill’ city with its laid back vibe surrounded by lush mountains, adorned with trees and waterfalls, Chiang Mai has been mentioned in numerous travel magazines and articles recommending the city as one of the world’s best tourist destinations. There are roughly 15 million visitors a year (5 million international arrivals and 10 million Thais) and the number is growing steadily by 15 percent per year.  One of the main reasons for the city’s popularity among Thais is that the city of Chiang Mai is the center of Northern Thailand culture and artistic movement which attracts people from the eight surrounding provinces. People from neighboring provinces constantly migrate in and out during seasons because to the city’s work demands, many higher education opportunities, and hugely attended festivals.

Domestic and International visitors who come to Chiang Mai for leisure and pleasure are greeted with its distinctive charm and activities the city has to offer. From bathing elephants in the tropical forests to drinking imported wine on the rooftop of the high-end shopping malls, there’s not a lot that Chiang Mai can’t offer tourists from around the world.

The Arts

The art scene in Chiang Mai dates back to its historical roots of the Lanna Kingdom when foreign merchants praised its arts in wood sculptures, silverworks, jewelry, silk, and traditional handicrafts which are still practiced to this day.  The city maintains its artist and crafts through  the government’s One Tambon One Product (OTOP) program. OTOP encourages local entrepreneurs of each “tambom”, or subdistrict, to market a product or craft that represents its communities to sell nationally. The main OTOP products that Chiang Mai has to offer are its foods, handicrafts, and arts.

Chiang Mai has not only preserved its tradition into the 21st century, but also opened to new and modern arts as well. It is the first of only a few cities in the nation that welcomed the contemporary art movement and has successfully done so since 1992. Chiang Mai has adapted fully to the 21st century and expanded its artistic recognition in 2010 as Thailand’s Creative City. New art spaces and galleries are the continuing trend in businesses, malls, restaurants, and bars. Thai artists and entrepreneurs across the nation invest their ideology and philosophy to the Creative City. There are several large spaces and many more small spaces that are consistently booked throughout the year. Chiang Mai’s art spaces are distinctive where locals and visitors are awed by what they exhibit. Because of the people’s open-mindedness and deep- rooted artistic traditions,  Chiang Mai has a great opportunity to use the arts to influence people to reject human trafficking.

My hometown is in the “Mueang”  district of Chiang Mai Province —  translated, it means the main city district of the province. Despite the beauty of its people filled with culture and traditions, I can not romanticize nor turn a blind eye to the burning issues in my hometown. As any growing city, it comes with growing issues of the old ways. People fear change, especially in a society deeply-rooted in its traditions. But I believe that the people of Chiang Mai care about their city and the well-being of their neighbors. It’s a big city with a small town feel. Any news, gossip, events will travel quickly by word of mouth. Thus I would like to utilize my personal knowledge of the city and understanding of the new and old culture of Chiang Mai to spark the community to tackle the city’s ongoing issues, in particular human trafficking, through art, something to which Chiang Mai people will respond positively.

Human Trafficking

Modern Form of Slavery: Forced Labor, Illegal Sex Trade, HIV and Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)

Since 1905, King Chulalongkorn, or also known by foreign diplomats as Rama V, abolished slavery in all forms under the Slave Abolition Act. Moreover, the Employment Act of 1900 required that all workers be paid, not forced to work. However, new forms of slavery have emerged due to today’s urbanization globalization and mass production in the current economic model of the modern material world.

Thailand’s economy has been growing steadily since the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis because of a high demand for exported products to countries that have expanded their business enterprises. Currently, Thailand faces labor shortages which attracts neighboring migrant workers from Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos. According to Thailand Migrant Labor Groups, there is an estimated 3 to 4 million migrant/irregular workers, 1.7 million are registered, 8% of the registered workers have been working in Northern Thailand. Thus leaving 50% of the migrants unaccounted for. These unaccounted migrants leave open a door of possibility for their exploitation by traffickers.

The Modern Form of Slavery:
Definition: the exploitation of recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining a person for compelled labor or commercial sex acts through the use of force, fraud, or coercion.

Regarding this new form of slavery, Thailand has been under United Nations scrutiny   for some time; however, the biggest blow came from the United States in 2011. According to the Trafficking in Persons Report in 2011, Thailand was considered to be in the Tier 2 watchlist  (Tier 2 watchlist means governments do not fully comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards), along with Cambodia and Myanmar (Burma) who were recently promoted from Tier 3 (Countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so).

Thailand’s government stated that the country is affected by three levels of human trafficking: a) source of trafficking, b) transit point for other nations to be trafficked to a third country source; and, c) point where victims are trafficked to.  The direct issues caused by human trafficking in Chiang Mai includes forced labor, illegal sex trade, and sexually transmitted diseases.

Forced Labor

Forced Labor is commonly found in agriculture, factories, construction, commercial fisheries and fish processing, domestic work and begging. 75% of human trafficking has been through or eventually end up in the fishing industry. Mentioned earlier, about 50% of the migrant workers are not registered under the Thailand’s Immigration procedures so 1.5 million people and workers are vulnerable to labor abuse and discrimination. Chiang Mai’s urbanization and massive demand for food and infrastructure has opened businesses in need of unskilled/irregular workers who aim for high profit margins. Thus, traffickers would seek to benefit from the demand and businesses are taking advantage of the vulnerability of migrant workers while giving low paying rates to get the most of their labor intensive products.

Sex Trade

A study from the University of Osijek, Croatia, states that 79% of human trafficking victims end up in the sex trade and 18% under forced labor. Thailand sex industry is worth more than US$1 billion (฿40 Billion Baht). This includes between 200,000 to 300,000 documented sex workers and an estimated 30,000 to 80,000 undocumented people. Urbanization has been the main cause of the Sex Trade in Chiang Mai. This is because the majority of Chiang Mai’s sex worker are from Myanmar (Burma) and from hill tribe communities who seek better income or trafficked into the sex industry. Moreover, the lack of higher education, financial debts, minority status, and language skills are a barrier for migrant workers to pursue better work and thus they easily become victims to traffickers and abusive brothels.

Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)

The urbanization of Chiang Mai and demand of labor has resulted in a large influx of young able-bodied migrants entering Thailand, so, there is much consideration of their health and sexual behaviors. According to Harvard Health Research, Chiang Mai HIV prevalence is 4.9% (5.7% Men, 3.8% Females) and is nearly doubled to 9% within the minority of the Shan people of Myanmar (HIV prevalence: 3% female, and 9% men). Research conducted by Chiang Mai University (CMU) which interviewed 442 migrant worker showing  0.8% tested positive for HIV. The study shows that 57% were sexually active. Amongst which 63.5% never used a condom during intercourse. This is highly concerning to the spread of HIV and other STDs within the Chiang Mai community itself or to migrants who can carry the diseases back to their home country.

Causes of Human Trafficking in Chiang Mai

  • Outdated Laws
  • Discrimination
  • Corruption and Organized Crime
  • Demand of Illegal/Underage Sex

Despite King Rama V’s abolition of slavery under the Slave Abolition Act in 1906, there was a significant increase in prostitution because former slaves were drawn into sex work. Prostitution was legal and was merely regulated by the Prevention of Venereal Disease Act of 1909 – by was eventually criminalized in 1960. The new law gave protection to Women and Children. Women can work in ‘regulated’ brothels with limited opening hours. Nonetheless, there was no mention of the male sex trade. Furthermore sex workers are more criminalized for any illegal acts, but the authorities rarely condemned the brothels.

Several new laws were drafted after 1960, however, local crime gangs and authorities have established deep beneficial roots from exploiting prostitution to the point where little or no effort can be made to enforce the new laws. As previously cited , The United Nations criticized Thailand’s dysfunctional legal system and the country was hit harder by the United States’ Trafficking in Persons Report in 2011. This jeopardises the country’s reputation with tourists and foreign investors. Thailand must address the issue with clear positive results if government wants to maintain its reputation and standards to other large economic partners.

Some modern laws have passed before and after the Trafficking in Persons Report and  criticism from the United Nations. The Thai Criminal Law and Alien Working Act gives clear definition to prosecuting and penalties to invoke the laws. Nonetheless, the laws still vaguely state the illegalization of the prostitution itself and leave loopholes throughout.

The unskilled/irregular labor force of Thailand, made up consistently  of Burmese is essential to the Thai economy, thus laws allow easy access for migrants to merge into the Thai workforce. Yet there is no specific protection law written for the Burmese laborer, even in ASEAN laws. There has been some effort in 2016 which the Myanmar State Counsellor, Aung San Suu Kyi worked along with Thai labor rights. However, there is a conflict of interest due to Thailand demand for Burmese labor while Aung San Suu Kyi wants to keep and improve job opportunities in Myanmar.

Laws concerning labor:
Alien Working Act (2008), CHAPTER VI: Penalties; Section 51:

“An alien who engages in work without having the permit shall be liable to imprisonment for a term of not exceeding five years or to a fine from 2,000 Baht to 100,000 Baht or to both. An employer hiring an alien without a work permit is subject to a fine from 10,000 baht to 100,000 baht per alien, and an employer hiring an alien outside the scope of his work permit is subject to a fine of up to 10,000 baht per alien.”

Laws Concerning Prostitution and/or Illegal Sex:
Thai Criminal Code, Section 276; Sexual Assault:

“…unwanted sexual intercourse through threats, physical harm, or exploitation. The punishment for this crime is imprisonment from four to twenty years and a fine of eight to forty thousand baht. If a weapon is used, the punishment is raised to fifteen years to life imprisonment.”

Thai Criminal Code Section Section 277 :Sexual Intercourse With A Minor

“…sexual intercourse with a child under the age of 15 who is not the wife or husband shall be liable for imprisonment from four to twenty years. Children cannot consent to sexual intercourse and it is not an excuse. If the child is under the age of 13, the term of imprisonment increases from seven to twenty years. If the crime was committed using the threat of a weapon, the offender will be given the potential penalty of life imprisonment.”

Many of the core laws directly state punishment and the illegal acts; however, they give no specific definition toward illegal sex trade nor force labor. This leaves giant loopholes where traffickers can find alternatives to conduct illegal activities while the authorities are limited by the law. For example, brothels and pimps do not conduct any illegal sexual activities because workers at the establishments defined by law as “bathing partners” or “personal masseuse/masseur,” while the illegal activities occur in the private rooms of hotels and homes.

Cause Lawyers

A national law organization named Cause Lawyers: Vision of the Good Society,  has been fighting for the rights of weak and marginal migrants that have been abused. Cause Lawyers are significant to many democratic societies because they invoke social movement, mention politically unpopular subjects, and strengthen the weak marginal migrant rights, which is essential to the development of new laws and challenge outdated laws. Yet the success of each case is limited due to the dominant positions of Thai bureaucrats that narrows the space for lawyers to empower the force of law. The reason is that the police are under direct supervision of the Prime Minister of Thailand so the legal system provides little oversight to the police.


Discrimination plays a factor to Thai’s perception of Burmese migrants and trafficked victims. Despite the sympathy and aid from organizations, the mentality of locals and authorities don’t take serious actions towards the inhumane aspects that happens to victims. For example, the Murder of Hannah Witheridge and David Miller in 2014 (The Koh Tao Murders) stirred up the public and United Kingdom’s Tourist Board. While Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo, both Burmese migrants, were charged and sentenced to death for the murders of the two British tourists, little due process was afforded  to the accused. Another prime example happened in Chiang Mai where news spread of the rape and murder of a university student in the town of  Mae Jo. Chiang Mai Police spread news with little evidence linking the murderers to being migrants. Many locals shunned the Burmese presence and the removal of migrant construction workers from Mae Jo University’s campus. This phenomenon often occurs when a Burmese party is involved where many Thais would think that it’s not worth the time to learn or commit to a cause to help Burmese migrants or victims of modern slavery. The reason for discrimination between these nations is shared through history and modern behaviors.

Thailand and Burma share a 1200-mile border and the history between these two countries have been tangled with war and slavery. Throughout the 14th to 19th centuries, there has been tension between the Burma and Siam (currently Thailand) with total of 20 incidents of armed conflict. The most devastating blow to Thailand’s culture was the result of the Burmese–Siamese War (1765–1767). The Siamese Holy Capital, Ayutthaya, was sacked indiscriminately which resulted in the destruction of  hundreds of years of tradition and wealth. Despite the Siamese fast recovery and triumphant economy after the war, the devastation of Ayutthaya still plays a large role in modern Thai people’s perception of the Burmese people.

Since the new ASEAN law was enacted in early 2016, new laws and regulations have been set to increase protection among visitors and workers in the ASEAN community. Large urbanized cities have set medical services for migrants. However, many migrants (specifically Burmese people) have been forced to leave the hospitals claiming that if the patient, who is debt-bound, works at a brothel, she/he must pay for her/his own medicine. Migrants with HIV are forced to leave. With little to no protection in Myanmar, there is no significant effort from the Myanmar government to take part and work with Thai government agencies.

Corruption and Organized Crime

Thai authorities are notorious for receiving under the table bribes from any source or business. It angers anti-trafficking organizations to see the growth of human trafficking and how the locals look the other way to avoid the issue, nor try to understand the magnitude of its destructiveness to the city and its victims. The Thai Government claims that South East Asian crime gangs traffick about 600,000 to 800,000 people in and out of Thailand each year. Yet, local and international news has reported that the Thai authorities prosecuted and rescued only a minor fraction of that number . Many gains from human trafficking are linked from local businesses up to national agencies, while organized crime gangs have a significant involvement in drugs, pimping, and human smuggling in the community. Thus, the explanation of why local and national authorities have made minimal effort to crackdown on traffickers is obvious. Law enforcement is weak and commonly linked to local power brokers, and favors lucrative businesses such as prostitution and human trafficking.

Illegal and Underage Sex

According to multiple studies, the mean age of sex workers in Chiang Mai is 22 years old. However the mean number can be deceiving due to the nature of misleading statistics. The oldest person is over thirty years of age. However, more than 50% are minors (Under 18) – the youngest is 10 years of age. 6.5% boys and men have been sexually coerced at the mean age of 16, while 21% of girls and female workers have been sexually coerced at 17 years old.

While a majority of Chiang Mai’s sex workers are migrants from Burma and Thai hill tribe communities, most sex workers are born in Thailand and are willing to work in the sex industry because it provides a higher income than labor intensive work such as construction and agriculture. All admit that the income is to help pay family debts or some say for their sibling’s education. Only few admit that they want to remain in sex work. Sex workers feel a combination of shame, low self-esteem, and guilt, which leads many to substance abuse – 70% admit to consuming large amounts of alcohol and 12% admit the use of cocaine.

The internet has contributed to a large amount  of child pornography and the illegal sex trade. Almost 30% of sex workers say that their clients record porn for personal view and internet sales. Furthermore, several websites such as or have sections dedicated to Chiang Mai nightlife and paid sex. The websites gave encouragement to tourist, providing suggestions, rates, and maps of establishments that openly admitted to prostitution. Clearly Thailand — Chiang Mai, specifically — has a major problem with human trafficking and the sex trade. The time has come to address these issues.

Raising Awareness Through the Arts In Chiang Mai

Art is an important method to raise discussion and emotions. Its evolution has been a way to document and describe history, traditions, and cultures dating from prehistoric civilizations to challenging boundaries and raising new ideologies in the modern world. The effectiveness and benefits of using art as a medium to communicate interpersonally and as a form to raise awareness has been practiced for sometime. It can be most effective to communities that have open-mindedness or have rooted their cultures through the arts like Chiang Mai. A study from Center of Arts and Cultural Policy Studies of Princeton University indicated that art revitalizes neighborhoods and promotes economic prosperity. Furthermore, it provides a catalyst for the creation of social capital and the attainment of important community goals.

The main ways that art can raise awareness to audiences are achieved by visual arts and performing arts. There are several options which the arts have effectively portrayed an idea and raised awareness. Viewers could learn about a subject by an artist’s visual art such as painting or photography on an interpersonal level. Mass audiences can be shocked and awed by a stunning performance such as dance, music, acting, or a combination of all forms. By doing so citizens can shape their community to better reflect and project their values on a subject.

Arts and cultural institutions claim that art is directly involved in economic development and encourages productivity. When a society or city grows, its value grows as well. As mentioned previously, art has become a part of Chiang Mai for centuries and the city has developed its identity because of the arts. This is because individuals can feel involved and support a cause due to their values. More business investments are considering reaching out to the arts. Venues such as department stores, festivals, walking streets, shops, bars, and cafés in Chiang Mai are spending more on the arts and investing space for it because people feel that it’s their identity.

Additional Challenges

Currently, Thailand’s politics and laws are at a fragile state. After the 2014 Thai coup d’état and the Thailand’s beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej the Great passing in 2016, the country is at a standstill.

International partners are uncertain as to the Thailand’s military Junta (de facto) actions such as dissolving the senate and single handedly repealing the constitution solely by the self-elected Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha ‘for the sake of its people. Thus, international governments and investors are backing away with trade deals and there is distrust of the self- elected leader. New laws created solely by the Military Junta have banned and blocked people’s gatherings, protest, and any actions that is considered a ‘threat to national security.’ Many political observers and diplomats state that the bans and new laws are violating human rights and democratic due process of the people of Thailand.

Furthermore, the country is in mourning after the King’s death. His majesty was considered the father of his people and continues to be the spiritual leader of all Thai people. His Majesty’s passing has resulted in Thailand’s mourning process including the government officials wearing mandatory black clothing and the people wearing black is optional after the year 2016. Also the government has asked to limit entertainment establishments and celebrations in respect of the King’s passing.

Due to Thailand’s current state, this may cause setbacks or access to new ways to raise awareness of Human Trafficking. The current Thai constitution is fragile and is under martial law. This leads to limiting forms of free speech and open discussion on a subject that is controversial and sensitive to Thailand’s military interests. With permission from the military, it will be significantly easier to conduct any open exhibition.

Method to bring awareness

Through the Arts: Eliminate Illegal Sex Trade; Reforming Labor Laws; Strengthen Tries with Local Community; and Educate migrants.
Pressure Branches Governments

The main objectives are to pressure government agencies, police, or private organizations to contribute and carry out their obligations to address the above issues. Thailand’s authorities are limited on laws imposed by the underpinning of the Thai state itself. Thus, the state must insert authority and establish a functional system for local authorities to maintain crackdowns throughout the year while working along with human rights organizations. NGOs can directly reinforce internally with frontline officials and law enforcers, or externally by pressuring agencies, government, scholars, media, philanthropists, or social groups to increase workloads and routines.

Tackling discrimination and giving a public, peaceful voice to migrants can be challenging. However if done correctly, it can prove useful to raise significant amount of awareness and attention on social media to reflect people’s values. One most recent social media phenomenon is inspired by John Woo and Yousur Al-Hlou’ #ThisIs2016 Asian-American response video. Bowdoin College’s Asian Students Association took the premise of #ThisIs2016 and applied in more simpler, yet effective way to raise and share issues. The collection shows images of Asian Americans writing on a small whiteboard on their racist experience. The photograph has a grim black and white filter to enhance the grim reality that happens to the person. This simple yet effective silent expression caused a major stir in social media and news while college and local authorities are pressured to deal with racial discrimination and hate crimes more thoroughly.

Based on #ThisIs2016, local groups and organizations can raise awareness through social media in the similar form like Bowdoin College’s Asian Students Association. Migrants or Chiang Mai citizens can create their own hashtag theme programming with black and white photography to state any discrimination or unfairness in society. Artists, journalists, and photographers can reach in and create a small story using literature similar to the massively successful Humans of New York Blog in Chiang Mai’s monthly magazines such as CityLife or leading art magazines like Think (คิด).

Strengthen Local Organizations

There are several worldwide agencies along with some Thai foundations and nonprofit organizations that create awareness of human and sex trafficking; such as EMPOWER, The Mirror Foundation, Chiang Mai Anti-Human Trafficking, Foundation of Child Understanding (FOCUS), Thai Freedom House, and UrbanLight. By contacting and connecting local organizations to create a solid and unified group using art themed projects the work can be distributed considering on the size and workload of each organization’s.

Yearly meetings inviting local artists and representatives from human rights organizations to gather and discuss and showcase art work in the theme of Human Trafficking. Activities like this can be the pillar of anti human trafficking movement and create a connection between like- minded organizations. Artists can explore new boundaries to showcase their unique style of art to inspire future pupils or bring in human trafficking victims to participate and create art projects. By doing so, victims can create meaningful and expressive art that allow artist and community to understand the inhumanity of human trafficking. The strength of the movement is by giving a clear impactful goal to spark community emotions by bonding older and newer generation artists to exhibit in a hip and meaningful voice and get everyone to care for each other. Because Human Trafficking in the area is deeply rooted in time, it may take time for clear results. However working with large international agencies can show results over long periods of time.

In the past, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have helped countries to pinpoint sex offenders to local authorities to keep surveillance of overseas criminals. The ICE’s “Operation Predator,” has successful help local authorities use of undercover agents, internet sting operations, and surveillance to help  arrest more than 10,000 child sexual abusers. Human trafficking and sexual abuse organizations can significantly benefit working with ICE, receiving and giving intelligence while each side can monitor and keep track of criminal’s activities. “If you molest children overseas and we find out, we will investigate you and we will seek to bring you back here to face justice. The arm of the law is long, it’s determined, and it’s looking for you,”  Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for ICE John Morton stated after a successful coordinated arrest with Bangkok ICE of Jack Sporich, Ronald “John” Boyajian, Erik Peeters, for selling/buying and raping a 13-year old Cambodian child.

Collaborative work between local authorities and ICE is a prime example of how organizations can reach out to large international agencies for intelligence. With like-minded goals, the results can be extremely beneficial. Small organizations should design and keep in mind ways to expand their horizons by aiding and supporting other like-minded organizations to arrest and make sure justice is served to criminals like Jack Sporich, Ronald “John” Boyajian, Erik Peeters. Artists who work with local organizations to build awareness exhibitions should be seriously considered to have vital information that can be shared to sponsors of the exhibitions and large agencies. This is because artists may have interpersonal intelligence of a trafficker’s or criminal’s whereabouts while creating the material of exhibitions. For example, while a photographer interviews and take pictures of migrants’ abused way of life, the pictures can serve as evidence to prosecute abusive employers and bring criminal leads for authorities to investigate or monitor. Furthermore the artist’s identity must be protected with levels of trust to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the artist and their art. The key is to raise awareness while serving justice.

Unify and Educate the Community and Migrants

By organizing “Awareness” Exhibitions that evoke positive emotions, artists are encouraged to find the “truth” in collaboration with local magazines, news, or writers to promote the exhibition in cultural hotspots. Not only will it be a solid attempt to create movement and awareness, but also it may spark controversy. Thus, the exhibition’s goal must be clear and simple so that such controversial news will be positively publicized to national, regional, or worldwide organizations with a similar goal to encourage larger organizations to step in and help. Also, the promotion of volunteers is vital to have a common and charitable goal where there’s a ‘family’ system in which every volunteer works together alongside the people they are helping. Migrants are encouraged to come in and aid with the cause and be part of the families of the community. Not only will  the family system create a stress-free and passionate working environment, but it will be a beneficial standpoint for the movement that the people of Chiang Mai care for its values and learn a new perspective: the migrant’s point of view. On the other hand, migrants can feel an achievement that they also have the power to change and be part of the process of the Chiang Mai community valuing and caring for their well being.

Educating migrants and giving opportunities for rehabilitation can be very rewarding for underprivileged migrants. Free Bird Cafe in Chiang Mai is a tourist spot and local favorite for serving authentic Vegetarian Burmese cuisine. Its mission is to give better opportunities to Burmese and minority migrants. Free Bird Cafe is part of the Thai Freedom House center which is located upstairs to the cafe. Cooks are hired migrants who are paid well above minimum wages serving customers on a daily basis. Furthermore they cook for migrant underprivileged children who come for after school classes that provide free quality education and enriching activities such as art classes. Free Bird Cafe would also serve snacks and dinner for the children and give a take home bag for their families as well. It’s a small organization with big hearts that makes Free Bird Cafe and Thai Freedom House a sensation and a local favorite. They provide better work options for migrants, keep underprivileged youth off the streets and give them hope and provide their customers with knowledge of issues related to the plight of the Burmese.

Chiang Mai University (CMU) Faculty of Art is one of few top tier arts programs offered in Thailand. Furthermore, students of art need a good cup of java to work under tense art programs. Under the same premise of Free Bird Cafe, CMU can offer locations within its faculty to hire migrant workers and give opportunities for CMU students to intern as after school art teachers for young minority and Burmese migrants. While setting a small business such as a coffee stand to raise funding for the children’s art program, the most challenging aspect of a project like this is discrimination. Some conservative Thai’s and students may be put off by the fact that they are working with Burmese migrants and children. However, the process of unifying these two cultures must start somewhere and it’s good to start with positive activities. Marketing and promoting the coffee shop can be a branch to raise funds and awareness to any human trafficking organization to sponsor. With clearly stated goals and fundings, customers can trust the product they are consuming and see who they are aiding.


Pressuring branches of government is essential to fighting the underpinning of Thailand’s law on human trafficking. Giving clear laws protecting and respecting the rights and privacy of migrant workers will be seen as an improvement to Thai-Myanmar relations, most importantly local communities and families. Thus, raising awareness in human trafficking starts with the strengthening of non-profit organizations, foundations and international agencies to work together sharing intelligence and discussing counter human trafficking methods. At the same time unifying the community and educating the people is a start to stopping abuse and discrimination in Chiang Mai.

This case study was the first to mention the effectiveness of  using arts to counter the modern form of slavery in Chiang Mai. This is because Chiang Mai’s open-mindedness, tradition, and values has a part to its deep root arts culture. Art invokes productiveness and can be a way to aid people to embrace change and each other. Chiang Mai can be a prime example for other provinces, regions, and nations to adapt and learn new ways to tackle human trafficking and its issues.

With great examples and the work of  international agencies like the ICE and large NGOs to small local organizations like Thai Freedom House and Urbanlight, the values of the Chiang Mai people have  spoken through their commitment and care to a cause. I believe the new innovative art programming such as awareness exhibitions, controversial movements, and crowdfunding is the key to lessening the inhumane acts that happen to migrants and victims to traffickers, lowering forced sex of one-in-five to none-to-none, stopping the spread  of sexually transmitted diseases and granting workers the rights to better health.

Human trafficking is the result of mistrust of other cultures, discrimination, and the inhumane wellbeing of victims. Chiang Mai has proven to be a creative city with open- minded citizens who embrace change while remaining true to their core traditions and values. Raising awareness through the arts is a new and innovative form of communication for this expanding city. Art awareness can be major stepping stone to other entrepreneurs and investors to explore the horizons of eliminating human trafficking and embrace the community with unity and care. The hate and abusers must stop now. Starting art awareness in Chiang Mai can be like a pebble dropped into water. The ripples can spread and cause far-reaching effects.


A Modern Form of Slavery: Trafficking of Burmese Women and Girls into Brothels in Thailand. New York: Human Rights Watch, 1993. Print.

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