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Since 2012, given greater integration within ASEAN, Empower has been working with sex workers’ groups in nine member countries (except Brunei), plus Timor-Leste.These groups have also taken part in the people’s forums around ASEAN meetings, and followed ASEAN discussions on migrant workers, trafficking, and human rights.Reporting ASEAN: You’re saying so that people don’t feel that they don’t need to get into sex work?Hilton: Eradicate poverty because it’s the right thing to do.Most of the time in Thailand, most of the time and most of the work is done in a registered entertainment place. Hilton: I think that (one community) just meant the governments; I think we got it wrong. The people doing bad things, they don’t have any problems crossing; they fly first class. Reporting ASEAN: The concept of ‘rights’ and attaching that to sex work – how much progress has been made in terms of the acceptance of these rights? It wouldn’t make any sense, so of course you still have all your rights. There is no human right to do sex work, any more than there is a human right to be a journalist. Before it was three years’ detention and rehabilitation, now it’s a one thousand baht fine, which is not very much, or 30 days. I don’t know that anyone’s getting that but people are getting three years.So your dancing, your playing snooker, your mixing drinks, your giving massage – these are not illegal things and not done in an illegal place. they are moving a lot, so we want to the same rights and protection for migrant sex workers as would apply to the local sex workers. But we say that you have to the right to be safe, to be treated with dignity and be respected under the law as an equal. Vietnam – they did have mandatory long-term rehabilitation, three, four years but they closed those centers in 2011, I think.The goal is really for women to be able to work safely and fairly, in whatever work they do, including whether that is prostitution or not, in the home or not, across the board.
Singapore is the only country in ASEAN that has a legalized system.So that doesn’t mean that women are in control of their own work. It means that the government controls the sex work.So you have to register; there are many rules that you have to do.Hilton: When women have decided to do sex work, that doesn’t mean you throw away all your human rights.
You still have a right to decent work; you still have a right to justice before the law. Hilton: No, this is the fight; this is the struggle.
You still have the right to freedom from exploitation and violence. Reporting ASEAN: Is there something particular about a society in ASEAN when it comes to understanding, at the very least, the rights aspect of sex work? I don’t know in comparison with other places, but I think in the daytime, no one can accept sex work, but in the nighttime when all the politicians come around, everyone accepts this! I think you have to interview them, I don’t know (laughs).