AirAsia wanted to promote their direct route to Bangkok to Australian communities, so they came up with the phrase, “Get Off in Thailand” and plastered it on buses and billboards in Brisbane. But whether the double-entendre was intentional or not, it has definitely caused an upset, and for good reason.
Our friends at Collective Shout, a local grassroots campaign movement against the objectification of women, called out AirAsia for promoting sex tourism in Thailand. Yikes.
A spokeswoman for AirAsia told the BBC in their report, “AirAsia takes community feedback extremely seriously and the airline sincerely apologizes for any inconvenience caused from recent concerns raised… AirAsia can confirm the advertising campaign has ended and we instructed our media partners to have the advertising removed as soon as possible today from all locations.”
According to a report by the BBC, one of the adverts was also spotted at Brisbane Airport (see below). It has confirmed on social media that its removal “is a priority.”
Brisbane City councilor Kara Cook branded the campaign an “absolute disgrace” and said “it should never have appeared on our city’s streets,” according to the BBC.
But why is this such a big deal?
Sex trafficking in Thailand
According to reports, Bangkok is a massive hub of sexual exploitation of women and minors.
It’s estimated in reports from the late 1990’s that 250,000 western male sex tourists visit Thailand every year specifically to purchase sex from exploited individuals, and in many cases, underage children. Collective Shout reports 32,000 of these 250,000 western male sex tourists are from Australia. Keep in mind that it’s not out of the question these stats have grown significantly in the last 20 years given the ease of travel and rising normalization of sex tourism.
According to the latest US State report, “Children from Thailand, Burma, Laos, and Cambodia are victims of sex trafficking in brothels, massage parlors, bars, karaoke lounges, hotels, and private residences. Children in orphanages are vulnerable to exploitation, including trafficking…
Corruption continues to undermine anti-trafficking efforts. Some government officials are directly complicit in trafficking crimes, including through accepting bribes or loans from business owners and brothels where victims are exploited. Credible reports indicate some corrupt officials protect brothels and other commercial sex venues from raids and inspections and collude with traffickers. ”
Clearly, this is an issue that’s only made worse by the normalization of sex tourism through pornography.
Porn and trafficking are inseparable
Decades of personal accounts and research studies have confirmed the fact that there are a whole variety of ways pornography is connected to sex trafficking.
Consider the fact that Pornhub—the world’s largest free porn site that received 33.5 billion site visits in 2018 alone—has pornographic videos by a producer named “iRuinGirls” that specifically showcase sex tourism guides in Thailand. But even aside from that, there are incidental connections, like the fact that exposure to pornography has been shown to make viewers less compassionate toward victims of sexual violence and exploitation.  (See How Consuming Porn Can Lead To Violence.)
Also, there are “supply-and-demand” connections: the simple fact that pornography—especially when viewing habits and fantasies involve violence or other fetishes—increases the demand for sex trafficking, as more and more viewers want to act out what they see.
Not to mention there is the “training manual” connection: the well-documented fact that porn directly informs and normalizes what goes on in trafficking. Traffickers and sex buyers get ideas from porn, and then make their victims watch as a way of showing them what they’ll be expected to do, so that the violent fantasy concocted by some porn director and his or her actors becomes the reality for some trafficking victim. 
And then there is the risk factor connection: the fact that, along with poverty and substance abuse, a child growing up in a home where pornography is regularly consumed is far more likely to be trafficked at some point in his or her life. 
But what’s the biggest, most surprising connection between pornography and trafficking? It’s this: they’re often the same thing.
We can spend hours and hours pointing out these cause-and-effect, symbiotic relationships between trafficking and porn. Those connections are real, and that’s an important conversation to have. But let’s not allow that to entrench the idea that porn and sex trafficking are always separate. Far more often than people realize, they’re not.