‘Girls as dessert’: Thai sex scandal exposes grim tradition
bangkok — When senior bureaucrats visited the remote Thai province where local official Boonyarit worked, the routine was often the same: welcome them with the finest food and drink and then bring out the teen girls, often referred to as “dessert”.
The tradition — known by the euphemistic Thai phrase “treat to food, lay down the mat” — refers to the expectation that underlings lavish superiors and VIPs with local delicacies, top-notch accommodation and sex services.
Until recently the most sinister part of that tradition, the procurement of underage girls, was wellknown but rarely discussed.
Yet a trafficking scandal involving teens, police and officials in Boonyarit’s province has flung the practice onto the nation’s front pages, prompting calls to root out a culture that helps fuel the kingdom’s infamous flesh trade. While Thailand is known globally for flashy red-light districts that cater to foreigners, the bulk of its sprawling sex industry is geared mostly towards locals.
“This tradition became common a long time ago,” explained Boonyarit Nipavanit, a district official in Mae Hong Son.
“When senior officials come for seminars or work trips, there is a custom of ‘treating them’, which means welcoming them with food, and then ‘laying down the mat,’ which means providing girls,” he said.
“Sometimes we received information about what type of girls they liked... sometimes officials had to prepare five to ten women for a senior to chose from.”
Boonyarit is comfortable speaking freely about the practice now that detectives have opened 41 cases into an alleged police-run prostitution network in his province.
The probe was launched after the mother of a victim fled to Bangkok and told the media that her then 17-year-old daughter and other teens were blackmailed into sex work and forced to entertain officials and cops. Some of the victims, she said, were branded with owl tattoos by the gangmasters as a kind of ownership stamp.
National police arrested a Mae Hong Son police sergeant accused of trafficking girls into the sex ring and charged eight other officers with sleeping with the minors.
Five administrators from Nonthaburi province have also been charged for hiring the teens with government funds during an official visit to Mae Hong Son. —