Thai police are again alerting foreign tourists to the dangers posed by some ladyboys robbing unwary visitors. National Tourist Police Division Chief Surachet Hakphan said he did not wish to categorize all transgender people, but explained there was a real danger from those who trick and rob foreigners. Meanwhile, Pattaya police have conducted more patrols in view of the rising number of complaints by international visitors who have lost cash and valuables.
In the past month, Pattaya police have received 15 cases of local robbery conducted by transgenders. In most cases, a group of several crossdressers got into conversation with the targeted foreigner, promising intimate services, or otherwise sought to distract his attention whilst an accomplice concentrated on stealing a wallet or a piece of expensive jewelry. In about half the cases, the thieves then fled on motorbikes.
Police say that only a small number of foreigners want sex with ladyboys, which explains why the latter frequently turn to violent behaviour. But there have been several incidents where a naive foreigner took at least one ladyboy to a hotel room only to be drugged with a spiked drink and his belongings ransacked. In the worst case, an Indian tourist lost the equivalent of 400,000 baht in foreign currency and a similar amount in jewelry and hi-tech equipment. He later told police he did not know that his chosen companion was not a woman until it was too late.
But the authorities believe that some foreigners are too ashamed to report their misfortune to the police. Police Colonel Chakphet Phetploinin, head of the patrol and special operations division, said he had evidence that foreigners from some countries are too embarrassed to inform the police with the attendant publicity this can bring. He suggested that visitors should do more to protect themselves, such as not wearing expensive jewelry and avoiding walking alone in poorly lit areas. Pattaya police claim that regular patrols on Walking Street, sometimes involving the army, and better lighting along Beach Road have now begun to pay dividends in terms of public safety.
Critics point out that arrested transvestites suspected of prostitution are often simply fined 100 or 200 baht at the police station before being allowed to go on their way. There is also evidence that Cambodian and Vietnamese transgenders are now operating locally with the same aim of robbing hapless tourists. But they risk deportation when discovered as they typically have 15 day tourist visas which have frequently expired. Most commentators think that the only answer to the problem of thieving ladyboys is heightened public awareness. Visitors from some countries, including China and the Middle East, have virtually no knowledge of transgender issues and easily fall into traps.
Researchers into the subject of ladyboys stress that many of them are not thieves or prostitutes but earn a living honestly working in factories, restaurants and stores. The three best-known theatres in Pattaya specialize in transvestite shows which provide a living for hundreds of transgender persons. On the other hand, there is still employment-related discrimination in many sectors and open transgender appearance can be a real deterrent to actually finding a job. Living in the shadows is the only opportunity left for some.
A Pattaya police volunteer, who asked not to be identified, said “In fact, the ladyboys themselves are sometimes the victims. They are rounded up and have to pay fines but the purpose of the exercise is raising cash rather than securing public safety.” He added that Pattaya streets and hotels have hundreds of security cameras which in theory should help to catch perpetrators. The problem was that most of them were out of action.