OTTAR Sweden Disrespectful of Thai Sex Workers

Asia Pacific Regional Correspondent

Empower Thailand and the Thai Embassy in Sweden have both issued statements in response to the Swedish magazine OTTAR.  On the 3rd of March 2016, OTTAR published an interview with Kasja Ekis Ekman, which referred to Thai sex workers as “cheap pussy.”

Swedish Sex Worker Organisation, Rose Alliance contacted Empower Foundation and the Thai Embassy, alerting them of the statements that had been made.

In response, the Thai Ambassador to Sweden, Kiattikhun Chartprasert addressed a letter to the editor of OTTAR and asked for it to be published on the OTTAR website. The Thai Ambassador wanted OTTAR’s readers to “exercise their own judgement about the writer’s expression in this debate.” In this letter, it was explained to OTTAR that the “choice of word that the writer use[d] to describe women - billig fitta - had ‘hurt and offended many people.’” Chartprasert continued, “Freedom of expression is not that one can just say anything in mind. It has to come with responsibility and respect […] We would therefore like to express our disappointment and concern, in the strongest possible terms for the use of this inappropriate word by the writer.”

Ekis Ekman elicited many questions from Empower Foundation. In Empower’s statement they asked,

“Is this how you talk about mothers and family providers in Sweden? Perhaps you don’t know that most of our customers do not use revolting language like this to talk about us? Is this how women commonly refer to each other in Sweden? Perhaps you have never considered that a Swedish academic feminist has a responsibility to speak with respect about other women? Or is ‘cheap pussy’ accepted by Swedish feminists and journalists as a way to refer to Thai women?”

Ellie from Rose Alliance, says OTTAR has failed to acknowledge their own stigma against sex workers. She told NSWP that,

“OTTAR published a statement condemning the hatred and drove culture of the internet towards Ekis Ekman without even mentioning her problematic text, or Empowers' response to it. I asked them to publish a new statement [from] Empower, which they refused to do. The reason they gave was that they wanted to give Empower a chance to speak about their issues later, which last I heard they still haven't contacted them about.”

Although OTTAR claimed to have contacted Empower Thailand, Empower told NSWP they did not and the first they heard of the statements was from Rose Alliance.

Empower explained why it is so important to speak out when these kinds of statements are made. “The majority of people don’t know much about sex work and often do not have a fixed opinion. If we don’t speak up then we leave them to be informed only by people who are anit-sex work who we call “mutant feminists”. We know words are important and we are publishing our Empower University Press Second Edition of Bad Girls Dictionary this year which includes the phrase in Swedish “billig fitta” – cheap pussy. “

In their statement, Empower also spoke about a video clip that was released in 2015, which had shown that footballers from Leicester City English Premier League on holiday in Thailand calling sex workers sexist and racially abusive terms. They noted that this video had led to the players and the Club issued a public apology. Furthermore, three Leicester City players were later sacked from the Club for their behaviour. But nothing seems to have happened in regards to OTTAR and Kasja Ekis Ekman, prompting Empower to wonder, “…will the Anti-Prostitution Club take any action? Will we ever hear a public apology? Or is Kajsa Ekis Ekman and her team happy to be perceived as more foul-mouthed, racist, sexist and unrepentant in their abuse of Thai women than an English football club?”