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Photo Essay: How the Pandemic Has Affected Sex Workers in Thailand

Updated: Mar 8, 2021

For people in Thailand’s rural, landlocked provinces, the country’s tourist hubs offer high-paying jobs as an alternative to tending rice paddies and digging up cassava roots in the countryside.

These high-paying jobs often concern the world’s oldest profession: sex work.

However, after Thailand closed its borders and cancelled commercial flights due to the global pandemic, the country’s tourism industry collapsed and sex work along with it.

There are estimated to be between 200,000 and a million sex workers in Thailand, and the Thai sex trade is worth USD6.4 billion a year.

Now, many sex workers have chosen or been forced to move back to their home provinces and their families. Others continue to work in red light districts, earning far less than before. Some have started performing through Facebook Live, dancing in front of a camera and hoping to entice a man tuning in from the other side of the world to buy them a shot, paid through PayPal.

This is how they are surviving during the pandemic:

sunrise fields in Thailand
farmer with chickens in rural Thailand
man and sex worker flirting in bangkok girly bar
hello kitty wall decorations and cluttered table in woman's room
sex workers doing make up in a mirror in bangkok
Thai woman in messy bedroom on phone
soi dogs on the street at night in Thailand
Thai sex workers playing drinking games and kissing in bangkok bar
woman in the countryside in Thailand with birds
Younger woman helping older woman in Thailand
Young man flirting with bar girls in bangkok
women in underwear dancing in a girly bar in bangkok
Thai woman doing makeup in a bathroom mirror
sex workers shoes outside door and on steps in Thailand
Woman smoking and dancers legs at girly bar in bangkok
Bangkok soi 6 nightlife, neon signs and girly bars
Sex worker with braids using phone to get customers
Thai sex workers dressed as schoolgirls exchanging monkey in Thailand
Man flirting with Thai sex workers on bar street in Bangkok
Sex workers waiting for customers on an empty street in Bangkok
Thai girl sitting down at the bottom of stairs at a bar in Bangkok
Empty shuttered streets at night in Bangkok

By Allison Joyce

Allison Joyce is an American photojournalist with over a decade of experience working in the United States and internationally. She covers news and human rights stories throughout the region with a special focus on gender issues. In 2019 she was nominated for the Joop Swart Masterclass, and her work has been honored with multiple awards, including from POYI (Pictures of the Year International), South Asian Journalists Association and the NYPPA (New York Press Photographers Association). Her work can be seen at

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