Lakeville woman goes undercover in Thailand’s red light district

Local effort to end human trafficking continues

Adri Carlson , Hosanna Church Trafficking Justice leader, recently went undercover in Thailand’s red light district. (Photo by Laura Adelmann)
Adri Carlson , Hosanna Church Trafficking Justice leader, recently went undercover in Thailand’s red light district. (Photo by Laura Adelmann)

A local woman’s fight against sex trafficking took her to Thailand, Sept. 12-22, where she went undercover as a sex tourist in the red light district.

Adri Carlson, leader of Hosanna Church’s trafficking abolitionist movement in Lakeville, visited several of the bar-brothels that line the crowded streets in a popular area for sex tourism.

Bikini-clad girls smiled from street-side patios, beckoning passersby into the bar where dancers perform.

Patrons pick girls by the number they wear, negotiating the price with the bar’s “mamasan,” a female bar owner, usually about $30 for a few hours or $95 for a night.

“The bar owners literally don’t care about the girls,” Carlson said. “They could leave and not come back. They won’t chase them down.”

Mamasans have no reason to care because there is always a steady supply of girls.

“If I needed money, all I have to do is say, ‘Can I have a job?’ ” Carlson said. “They can give you an outfit or tell you to take off your clothes, and that’s what you’ll wear tonight.”

Carlson, of Eagan, was one of eight from Arise Women Ministries of Minneapolis on the mission to find sex workers who may want to escape the sex trade.

They posed as customers, picking out girls, then sitting with them in the bar or club and talking to them or offering them a free manicure.

“They’ll sit next to you in a bikini,” Carlson said. “Their goal is to get you to buy time with them.”

One girl kept giggling because she thought it so odd that when they spoke, Carlson would look at the girl’s eyes instead of her body.

“She was not used to that,” Carlson said.

Most of the real sex tourists were Western men.

“I was able to understand what the men were saying,” Carlson said. “It was the most uncomfortable part for me.”

She said most of the men visited the bars in pairs. Two men who sat near Carlson were apparently experiencing their first visit.

One of the men, who Carlson thought was in his 30s, expressed his excitement about the opportunity as he picked a girl, then had her sit on his lap and was touching her while talking to his friend.

“She was very young,” Carlson said. “It was really hard to see that.”

Carlson and the others worked in teams, looking for girls who might be prospects for local ministries seeking to give them a way out of trafficking by offering them jobs making T-shirts, jewelry or sewing.

It is a ministry model Carlson said she would like to replicate here, but she is not sure how to deal with the pimps.

While prostitution is “part of the culture” in Thailand, Carlson said, in Minnesota, girls and women are often tricked by their pimps into thinking they care for them before they are raped, drugged, manipulated, threatened and beaten to make them compliant. The pimps are often violent and have chased girls down to make them return.

Carlson helped one local woman escape prostitution before she was under a pimp’s control.

The woman was working in strip clubs and making extra cash on her own as a prostitute. The owner of one of the clubs she worked at was pressuring her to work for him.

She called Carlson, who helped her find resources, assisted her with her resume and job interview skills. She now has safe housing and a job.

Carlson also recently helped the woman raise enough money for her children’s school supplies, then took her shopping to get them.

“I really like some of the models I saw of ministries in Thailand,” Carlson said. “I’d like to see how they could be implemented in the United States. I’m just not sure how to do it yet.”

For more information about Trafficking Justice or to get involved in stopping human trafficking, visit

  • Breaking Free

    Dear Sun Editor ( and readers),

    Thank you so much for shedding light on this important issue. Fortunately for MN, Breaking Free, a non-profit
    based in St. Paul with satellite offices in Minneapolis and Rochester has been serving 400-500 local victims of sex trafficking and prostitution each year since 1996. Breaking Free and its founder Ms. Vednita Carter, are recognized for Breaking Free’s pioneering model programs and in fact, she too just returned from a 2 week trip to Thailand in which she was asked to participate in trainings for local organizations on her innovative program design. Ms.Carter has been invited to speak to the U.N. twice on the issue of domestic trafficking, as well as to participate on President Obama’s human trafficking committee. The most important thing to understand about working with this population is that victims are in need of survivor-led outreach and programming. Minnesota is fortunate to have Breaking Free and other leaders working on this issue who have over 20+ years experience and expertise in working with victims and have already developed successful programs and models to help this vulnerable and underserved population. Please see for more information and to help local vctims.