Sex Tourism: The 101 On This Travel Trend And Its Dark Secrets

Sex Tourism: The 101 On This Travel Trend And Its Dark Secrets

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Sex Tourism ? a not so old travel trend that is taking over many south Asian cities, has a dark side that no one seems to discuss. Inspired by the article ?The Innocent Victims Abandonded in Sin City? published in the Daily Mail, this article is going explore the basics of the sex trade industry while looking further into the aftermath of sex tourism and those that are left behind.


Sex tourism is rampant in parts of Asia such as Thailand, Phillippines, Cambodia and Nepal. Many tourists, many of them European or American, seem to come to such cities only in the hope of ?having a good time? without having to worry about consequences. Despite prostitution being illegal in most parts of Asia, the brothels of Phillippines, Thailand and Cambodia and its red-light districts all host a large group of white privileged men whose only goal is to satisfy their sexual needs and enjoy the countries? women.

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What is Sex Tourism?

Defined as the ?trips organised from within the tourism sector, or from outside this sector, but using its structures and networks, with the primary purpose of effecting a commercial sexual relationship by the tourist with residents at destination?, the United Nation?s specialized agency World Tourism Organisation states that sex tourism is a multibillion-dollar industry that globally supports a workforce estimated in millions; it also benefits service industries such as airline, taxies, restaurants and hotel industries.

Mostly led by the sexual activity between men and women, such tourist destinations also cater to sexual activities where men engage with men, women seeking men and very small (but significant) proportion of men seeking children.

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Yes, you read it right, child sex tourism. Even though it is heavily penalised in most countries across the globe, child sex tourism is a multibillion-dollar industry which is rumoured to ?employ? as many as 2 million children around the world. With today?s technology and access to the internet, individuals can now share information globally allowing for procurement and exploitation of children; either through access to sex trafficking channels or via the absorption of children via the adult sex trade. Sex tourism usually attracts people of all socio-economic status, from both nations all over the world. However, middle-aged white men (often married with children themselves) from so-called ?developed countries? seem to be the bread and butter of the sex tourism industry.

What Motivates Sex Tourists?

Sex tourists are motivated not by access to children, rather by the need for emotional and physical satisfaction that has veered out fo balance. Often pushed by the need to seek change to escape their general life routines, tourists who seek out sex often move towards places where women are more friendly and made easily available for exploitation, making sexual abuse of women a widely accepted cultural behaviour.

Yodmanee Tepanon, through her research of the same phenomena, believes that men are motivated to seek sexual satisfaction abroad only when they have a need to escape their mundane environment; this is sometimes paired with the feeling of rejection in relation to the need to belong, and finally the loss of power over the opposite sex resulting from changes in modern life.

They feel a greater sense of freedom coming abroad and soliciting sex from women whom they perceive to be friendly (or often controllable) rather than those available to them in their home country. This also leads to the exploitation of children who are absorbed into the sex trade industry. Even though there is a huge question of morality, men often state that they feel like it becomes their responsibility to pay for sex to better the lives of sex workers.

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Further studies by Kaplan and Wang, all also speak of how a man feels it?s ?his duty? to make some tangible exchange for sex, as it makes him perceive the relationship between him and the sex worker to be magical, remanding power and shifting the balance of gender equality to support more patriarchal attributes and ultimately masculine freedom.

But the cultural stigma around sex, and sex workers, also contributes to the steady stream of tourists who feed the sex tourism industry incentivising the trafficking of children and women for the sake of sex trade. World Vision Australia estimates that about 250,000 tourists visit Asia each year for sexual activities especially with a minor as Asian countries like Thailand house 800,000 children. all trafficked for sex; among these are 400,000 in India, 60,000 children in the Philippines, and 20,000 in Sri Lanka.

What does the tourism industry have to do with this?

The tourism and hospitality industry plays an unintentional role in the sex trade and trafficking; this is through accommodation and transportation, victimisation of those trafficked or traded, all due to the size and global reach of the industry. Often seen as adding value to the travel industry, sex tourism is greatly monetised.

This limits the potential regulative action of hotels, airlines, taxies and restaurants against exploitation. For example, there are sites such as Quora or Reddit fueling information exchange and promoting sex tourism while companies such as the Good Girls Company fulfil the travel tour sector by providing personalised luxury island adventure topped with ?unlimted sex?.

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However with general normalisation of prostitution this form of harassment and exploitation of women and children which could potentially be seen as a threat to the viability of the tourism industry, is often marketed as an export industry, where consumers import services from local providers. Turning a blind eye at exploitation at a structural level making it culturally acceptable especially when it brings in millions of dollars per year.

The consequences of sex tourism. Are the children born of sex tourism left to join the industry?

Regardless of the cultural and moral consequences of sex tourism, there is a dark side of it that not many speak of. It is associated with the concept of the ?forgotten generation? or the ?stolen generation? of the sex industry. This generation, are abandoned by the ?whoremongers,? (also called ?mongers? as a short form) who leave behind children born through the sex trade, and are neither supported or acknowledged them. They are a consequence of a single night, that leaves them nothing but a stolen future that could have been.

The Guardian reports that almost 40 to 50 per cent of Phillippines sex workers have kids from a ?monger?, who neither supports nor acknowledges them. Like ?Francine?, a 7-year-old- girl who wishes to be a teacher, is born of an Australian father who met her mother outside the Angeles Town at a dance bar. ?Susan?, the 34-year-old mother of Francine, says that Marshall (Francine?s father) has a family abroad with two kids, but he was kind enough to send $300 before cutting all ties with Susan after Francine?s birth.

They live in poverty now, with little to no money coming in forcing Susan back into the sex industry and stealing away much of Francine?s childhood, while also limiting her chances of a life outside the sex industry.

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Women like Susan all have considered having an abortion. But just like prostitution, abortion is illegal in most of the destinations where sex tourism prevails. With an already rigid attitude against sex workers, things such as STDs, unwanted pregnancy, abuse and mental health are all pushed aside, creating a system that more and more people can exploit. Why look anywhere else for this exploitative behaviour when India has a ?stolen generation? growing up in the Sonagachi area of Kolkata?

Born in Brothels: India?s own Stolen Generation in Sonagachi Kolkata

Known as the biggest red-light district in India, Sonagachi is an area with several hundred multi-story brothels with nearly 10,000 sex workers (as of 2012). With almost three-quarters of Sonagachi?s clients refusing or unable to use condoms, and practise safe sex, many women work without protection leading to unwanted pregnancies. Usually born in the brothels themselves, these kids are then reportedly subjected to sexual exploitation by incoming locals and clients of sex tourism. The brothel children then often end up taking on the same profession as their mothers.

India was placed at Tier 2, in 2017 by the US State Department Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, and the Ministry of Women and Child Development estimated that there are about three million prostitutes in the country; of which they estimate 40 per cent to be children, as there is a growing demand for very young girls to inducted into prostitution on account of growing customer preference for minors. The Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSE) of women and children approximately generates about USD 400 million annually in the city of Mumbai alone, enabling tourists to travel to impoverished or developing countries like India all looking to partake in sexual acts with children due to the vast availability to child prostitutes.

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This next generation of sex workers is a crisis in plain sight. Take the 2004 Indian-American documentary film ?Born into Brothels: Calcutta?s Red Light Kids? written and directed by Zana Briski. The documentary follows the lives of the kids of Kolkata?s brothels, inspiring them to capture the world through their eyes via a camera. The documentary is a beautiful struggle of fighting ones? present to rewrite their own destiny and future. Even though the film romanticises most of the children?s journey and navigation through life in the brothel, it does shed light on the ?stolen generation? who are being bred for the sake of ending up satisfying those looking for a moment of power, pleasure, freedom and emotional satisfaction all for a small price.

Also Read: Does voluntourism do more harm than good?

We aren?t saying those seeking sex from legal sex workers are wrong, but travelling to impoverished countries like Philippines, Thailand, and India to have sex with either someone who is being exploited, or worse, a minor, is just plain disgusting. Even more disturbing is the fact that the hospitality industry is unconsciously fueling sexual adventures by enabling access to areas that are vulnerable to sexual exploitation of minors by hosting authentic tours, poverty tours and operating sex adventures. We need to create a safe environment for these children.

It?s about time we become conscious and stop feeding an industry that obviously is stealing the future of a whole generation.


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