News (World)

Hundreds of Thai & Filipino trans sex workers fight in massive turf war

Night view of Sukhumvit Soi 11 alley in Bangkok, Thailand
Night view of Sukhumvit Soi 11 alley in Bangkok, Thailand Photo: Shutterstock

A massive “turf war” between Thai and Filipino transgender sex workers broke out in Bangkok, Thailand this week. The fights, which erupted in three waves during the late night hours of March 4 and 5, resulted in 20 arrests, an unknown number of injuries, and numerous videos on social media of the brawls.

The battle reportedly started outside hotels in Soi 11, the city’s “nightlife” area. Popular with foreign expats, it’s filled with gogo bars, massage parlors, and a red light district, The Daily Mail reported.

Around 9 p.m. on March 4, 20 Filipino sex workers allegedly harassed a group of six Thai sex workers, “stomping, pointing at their feet and hurling abuses at them,” The Nation reported. The Filipino people reportedly tried to “shoo” the Thai women away before attacking them.

“Words quickly spread as the Filipino group had uploaded content of themselves mocking and assaulting a Thai trans woman. This sparked outrage on Thai social media,” X user @sighyam wrote in his coverage of the incident, reposting a video of the mockery that “sparked” the large brawl later on.

In response to reports of the women’s mistreatment, other Thai sex workers began gathering in the area. When police later escorted two Filipino sex workers out of a nearby hotel around 10 p.m., some of the Thai women began to attack the Filipino women, hitting them as the police took them into custody.

Around midnight, a Filipino trans woman was reportedly attacked when she went onto the street to buy food. When police removed the remaining Filipino sex workers from a nearby hotel, a mob of Thai sex workers began assembling in front of the aforementioned hotel.

The X user @sighyam posted multiple videos of the brawl. They show the women punching, kicking, tearing out hair, tearing off clothes, and pushing around police officers who struggle to control the unruly crowd.

“Thai people do not play when it comes to our trans people. They are not ‘fair [game]’ for anyone, especially not non-Thais,” @sighyam wrote in his social media thread analyzing the incident. “It is the only country on earth where even straight men will defend trans women. I have seen Thai men knock out foreigners for attacking trans women.”

“People were pissed. a crowd of a couple hundreds quickly grew to 2 thousand over the span of a few hours,” @sighyam claimed. “It was pure chaos and the police had no way of controlling the tension despite their best efforts.”

“At this point police had accepted that it was either now or never,” @sighyam added. “Very quickly people were jumping over one another to get a punch in, multiple police officers were catching strays, shoes were being thrown and people were getting scalped.”

Police reportedly arrested four of the 20 Filipino women who initially attacked the group of Thai women. The arrestees were taken to the Lumpini Police Station. ONE News reported that Thailand’s Department of Foreign Affairs is assisting the Filipino women involved in the clash. 

The Filipino women may have broken immigration laws by overstaying the 30-day maximum allowed for tourists, said Pol Maj-General Witthawas Chinkham, commander of Metropolitan Police Division 5, according to the Filipino news site PhilStarLife.

Some of the Filipino women are being interrogated at the Philippine Embassy in Bangkok while Thai police check local surveillance cameras to see how many days some of the women have stayed in the red light district.

A quick overview of trans sex work in Thailand

However, the largest and final brawl occurred around 4 a.m. when police tried to escort the rest of the Filipino women out of the hotel. Videos captured a large unruly crowd of Thai women throwing shoes, tearing off clothes, hitting

Thailand has been a popular destination for sex tourism and gender-affirming care since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. Though national law officially criminalizes sex work, Thai police and government have allowed it to continue.

Many sex workers are forced into the trade due to poverty and a lack of educational and employment opportunities in rural areas. Others are adult and child sex trafficking victims smuggled from nearby Asian countries.

In Bangkok, transgender women — a marginalized group often referred to as “ladyboys” — sometimes pursue sex work for survival, economic self-sufficiency, or to earn money for their families, according to Pulitzer Center, an international journalism site. The government doesn’t allow citizens to legally change their gender, and trans people face widespread employment discrimination and poverty.

Sometimes stigmatized as “infectious, violent criminals,” trans women sex workers in Thailand face disproportionate amounts of police violence, arbitrary arrests, physical assaults, and sexual violence — they risk further persecution if they report police to authorities.

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