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Yle investigation reveals Thai massage parlour workers' situation in Finland

Yle's MOT investigative journalism programme finds that many women from Thailand in Finland who sell sex at massage parlours do it to support their families.

Lahden Thai-hieromapalveluista iso osa on Rautatienkadun varrella
File photo of a Thai massage parlour storefront in Lahti, Finland. Image: Yle Lahti

A new report by Yle’s MOT investigative journalism programme examines what really goes on behind closed doors in the Thai massage parlours found in cities throughout Finland. The report reveals many of the women from Thailand sell sex in order to support their families and that help from the authorities has been largely non-existent and limited to preparing reports.

It is unkown exactly how many Thai women living in Finland work in the massage parlours that dot the country's major cities, but the number is estimated to be several hundred.

MOT’s investigation reveals that the majority of parlour workers would rather do some other type of work if they had the option or the resources. Some of the women started out by selling massage services to customers. But as many want sex services, the women end up selling them as it’s possible to earn an extra 20 or 30 euros.

A major proportion of these women have relatives back in Thailand – parents or children – who are dependent on their incomes in Finland. As they take responsibility for their families, that means doing work that is offered to them.

One parlour worker's story

In 2010, the interior ministry became concerned that the women were selling sex services alongside massage work. A steering committee was set up with the goal of producing a long list of measures to integrate this group of women into Finnish society.

Eight years later, however, no action on the report has been taken and is now in the National Archives.

MOT interviewed one of the women whose story was included in the ministry's report. She's now nearly 60 years old and lives in the back room of the massage parlour where she works. Relatives in Finland let her to use their address as her official residence, as it’s not legal to live in a commercial space.

Five years ago she still lived with her Finnish spouse, a man she met in Thailand more than a decade ago who offered her a better life in Finland.

She said that when she came to Finland her life was comprised of long working days in the kitchen of her husband’s restaurant. At home, he threatened and belittled her.

When she finally found help through her Thai friends who took her to a support group, a piece of blank paper was placed in front of her.

”I wrote down that my spouse speaks to me in a degrading way, and doesn’t want me to go to school even though I want to learn things,” she told MOT, saying that the instructor told her no one should treat another person that way.

Not alone

The woman's story is not unique. Massage parlour workers generally don’t have much contact with Finnish society, as their network is made up largely of people who share the same lifestyles and engage in the same type of work.

Many of the massage parlour workers that MOT spoke to said they'd rather do something else for a living. But they do not tend to seek out support groups, as it’s a matter of pride to manage on their own.

According to MOT, the Thai women's situation has interested few people, with the exception of sex worker advocacy group PRO-tukipiste, the Deaconess Institute, and some police officers.

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