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I’ve been ill a great deal this year and for the past month bowed down by a death, but the imminence of August cranked me up sufficiently to vent my now annual disgust at tours from the US that take well-paying travellers to gawk at and pity poorer people in Other Countries (who always smile in the photos taken, of course). If there is anything I hate it’s this. In 2011 I wrote Have fun, take a tour to meet victims of sex trafficking, learn to be a saviour, illustrating it with the egregious Kristof, who has not a jot of shame about looking like a Teddy Roosevelt Rough Rider. Given the sexual aspect, the word prurience came to mind: socially-sanctioned permission to be a voyeur, to go to bars abroad you wouldn’t set foot in at home as part of a do-gooding ‘social justice’ trip. To my mind, this is sex tourism.

This year’s tour to Thailand Delegation to End Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking is aimed at aspiring individuals. What might they mean by that? And why do they call this a delegation to end trafficking rather than, if not pure tourism, a first step towards understanding trafficking? The pretension is obviously meant to provide something to add to CVs, the way internships in impressive-sounding organisations do, though at least those last some months, whereas this tour takes a week (5 -12 August). Look at the rhetoric:

Global Exchange Reality Tours is facilitating this delegation to Thailand geared specifically to confronting the realities of the global trade in human beings. Participants will receive a comprehensive education in the mechanics of human trafficking, as well an understanding of its underlying causes. Participants will meet with those who have been freed from slavery and learn what it means to rebuild one’s life after having been a victim of trafficking, and will also engage directly with groups and individuals on the frontlines of the struggle to expose and ultimately end the trade in human lives.

This is B-movie-type public-relations prose: facilitating – delegation – geared – confronting – realities – global trade – human beings – comprehensive education – mechanics – human trafficking – participants – comprehensive education – mechanics – underlying causes – freed from slavery – rebuild one’s life – frontlines of the struggle – expose – end the trade – human lives. Nothing concrete, nothing real.

For those who aren’t clear as to why I call this colonialism, note the clear differentiation between Subject (tourist) and Object (exotic other). I believe this is the first time they claim tourists will talk with people who have been freed from slavery – an obvious pitch to the cheapest of sentiments. I am appalled that Global Exchange maintains any credibility. Last year I wrote the following in Summertime Imperialism: Meet sex-trafficking victims and other sad folk, because online sales of folkloric and supposedly authentic third-worldish objects is how GE started:

Gift-buying and helping projects wrapped together: One can see how the founders leapt to the idea of taking people on tours. Global Exchange says We are an international human rights organization dedicated to promoting social, economic and environmental justice around the world. Easily said. A list of current tours includes Caring for Cuba’s Cats and New Journey of a Lifetime to India with Vandana Shiva. Sound harmless?

I had doubts back then and still do, but those in favour argue the tours are a way for folks who know something is wrong with what they read in the media to see the truth. That’s in theory; the question is how easy is it to provide the truth with anything called a tour? Who decides where to go, what the focus of tours will be and which natives will provide entertainment? Is the idea that all middle-class people have to do is arrive in a poor country and set their eyes upon poverty and suffering in order to experience enlightenment? It’s a short jump from that lack of politics to becoming an Expert who knows What To Do about other people’s lives. Imperialist projects to interfere follow quickly.

Although individual tourists may learn good things from conscientious tour guides, a tour is a holiday, a vacation, whether you set out to see the temples of Bangkok or the bargirls or the trafficking victims. You take a tour for your own benefit and pleasure, even if your pleasure consists in feeling angry and sorry and guilty about what your own government does to people in poorer countries. You go to look at exotic others, and you can’t help drawing conclusions about whole cultures based on what you see – just as tourists and business travellers do. If you happen to talk with someone not on the tour agenda – on a bus, in a bar – then you probably feel chuffed that you saw real people and experienced authentic culture. This is all relatively harmless unless you happen to add this experience to your CV, claiming temples, bar girls or sex trafficking are subjects you are expert in.

This year they provide an itinerary, which includes:

In the morning drive to Chiang Mai: Check into Guesthouse
Visit local project
At night visit nightclubs and bars to observe night activities

It’s been made clear to me that ordinary people in the US have no understanding of what colonialism means and how they themselves perpetuate it. That needs work. Perhaps having broken the spell of not writing I’ll begin again now, even if it is August.

Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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Last September I wrote about so-called Reality Tours to meet victims of sex trafficking. Now it’s August and several people have written me from Bangkok about the tour taking place there this past week. I remember when I first heard about Global Exchange educational tours, while visiting a little storefront in San Francisco in 1989. I have a memory of puzzling over the brochure amidst shelves and tables piled with ethnic jewellery and objects from Other Cultures. The shop on 24th Street is still there, according to a contemporary description:

Global Exchange offers fair trade crafts produced in over 40 countries. Proceeds go toward improving lives in these villages. They have a vast selection of unique items from all over the world. This is a great place to pick up a gift for the person who is hard to shop for.

Gift-buying and helping projects wrapped together: One can see how the founders leapt to the idea of taking people on tours. Global Exchange says We are an international human rights organization dedicated to promoting social, economic and environmental justice around the world. Easily said. A list of current tours includes Caring for Cuba’s Cats and New Journey of a Lifetime to India with Vandana Shiva. Sound harmless?

I had doubts back then and still do, but those in favour argue the tours are a way for folks who know something is wrong with what they read in the media to see the truth. That’s in theory; the question is how easy is it to provide the truth with anything called a tour? Who decides where to go, what the focus of tours will be and which natives will provide entertainment? Is the idea that all middle-class people have to do is arrive in a poor country and set their eyes upon poverty and suffering in order to experience enlightenment? It’s a short jump from that lack of politics to becoming an Expert who knows What To Do about other people’s lives. Imperialist projects to interfere follow quickly.

Although individual tourists may learn good things from conscientious tour guides, a tour is a holiday, a vacation, whether you set out to see the temples of Bangkok or the bargirls or the trafficking victims. You take a tour for your own benefit and pleasure, even if your pleasure consists in feeling angry and sorry and guilty about what your own government does to people in poorer countries. You go to look at exotic others, and you can’t help drawing conclusions about whole cultures based on what you see – just as tourists and business travellers do. If you happen to talk with someone not on the tour agenda – on a bus, in a bar – then you probably feel chuffed that you saw real people and experienced authentic culture. This is all relatively harmless unless you happen to add this experience to your CV, claiming temples, bar girls or sex trafficking are subjects you are expert in.

The tour to Bangkok is entitled Thailand: Delegation to End Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking: Delegation? Delegates are meant to be official or elected representatives. I shudder to think who people on the tour believe they are representing. Why not call themselves what they are – tourists? Those who think themselves sexually liberal may sneer at Christian tourism – aka missions – but there is not so much difference from the point of view of the objects of their solidarity and pity.

My analysis is not purely theoretical. A couple of decades ago, I happened to be working on the Mexico-US border, in a project whose main task was to provide legal advice to migrants who’d crossed the border illegally and wanted to make a claim for asylum in the US. (Yes, another kind of helping). Lots of people wanted to but few could provide the kind of evidence required by immigration authorities. While stories were checked and papers processed, asylum-seekers had to hang around in halfway-houses found for them by the project.

On one occasion, I was at the enormous garbage dump in Matamoros, where hundreds of people live amidst rubbish of all kinds, picking and carting bits to sell outside.  A group of Reality Tourists came up to some children to ask them questions. The children, accustomed to flies crawling over their faces, did not move to brush them off. The tourists, horrified by the flies landing on their own eyes, faced an excruciating dilemma: They wanted to express interest in and respect for the garbage-dwellers at the same time they wanted to run away screaming. But if they ran away, what would it say about the humanity they were fleeing?

Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

 

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beach boys sex touristsBeach boys and women sex tourists: every journalist’s dream topic. A Swiss television reporter interviewed me about a documentary he was making, incorporating footage from Cowboys in Paradise, a film about Kuta Beach in Bali. I happened to be in Basel, nearly missing Catherine MacKinnon when the reporter contacted me, so he came into the room where I was giving a talk and interviewed me afterwards. Some bits of those are cut into this 11-minute television clip, and although most of the English and Indonesian are overlaid with German, the pictures are good and you can follow the narrative easily. Note especially the testimonies of two women: one is the young wife of a beach boy who feels okay about how he makes his money and the other is a young Swede who asks why she shouldn’t have whatever sex she wants.

Reporters want to know if the boys are ‘really’ prostitutes and why the girls are paying; they have trouble figuring out who is exploiting whom. It’s a bias, of course, to insist someone has to be exploiting since money and sex are involved, rather than seeing these as ordinary relationships, the kind that travelling people have been having since human life began. Some want to believe that women are morally better than men and therefore won’t pay for sex just because they have the money and freedom to allow them to fly to places like Bali and do it. I don’t think women have any moral traits as a class, and the fact that some like these breezy holiday situations the same way men do doesn’t surprise me. (That’s why I end up laughing during interviews like this – because to me what I am saying is just common sense not requiring any professorial analysis.) There’s a theory that women are more keen to be romanced than men, which I consider pretty silly since plenty of male tourists have stars in their eyes and are wound around the little fingers of those poorer women they are said to be exploiting.

Then some want to see these largely white-skinned women as racist, an interpretation I also don’t share, for the same reason: travellers like to meet others who seem interesting and different; they like to talk, drink, eat, dance, tour and have sex with them. That’s banal. In such situations, travellers often can and are willing to pay for their fun, and since I don’t see having sex as different from those other activities I’d have to condemn travel itself if I am going to condemn the sex. Unless people are wanting a condemnation of global economic inequalities that mean the beach boys don’t have lots of other great ways to make money: well, fine, I condemn that. But please note that the boys interviewed here find pleasuring tourists a lot easier and more fun than other jobs. And that they don’t see themselves as sex workers or as prostitutes; no professional identity need attach to ambiguous relationships. Is this all the erotic side of imperialism? I guess so. But we are all caught up in it; there is no perfectly clean place to stand; telling people to stay home is no solution, whether they are tourists or migrants.

Other stories about sex tourism here.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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There is now a sex industry picture gallery on this website intended to informally illustrate the variety of commercial sex. Nothing x-rated in it, actually, but the gallery shows something of the diversity of activities and places encompassed in the idea of a sex industry, across time and geography. By no means encyclopedic or representative it also does not include every picture ever used on this website. The gallery is imported from facebook, where I have been keeping it for the past couple of years; I didn’t take the pictures myself but have given credit where I could. Contact me if an uncredited picture is yours and you want your name to appear or the photo removed or if you have more details about a picture (or comment directly on the picture’s page).

The collection is part of my effort to break down the monolithic term prostitution that exercises such a strong hold on the popular imagination. People say prostitution as though it were completely obvious what it means, as though we all knew – and then, quite often, as though we all were in agreement that it is bad and wrong. Nearly every media article reporting about the sex industry uses the same tired image of a woman in fishnet stockings and high heels or high boots leaning into a car window or standing in the street waiting for a car to stop. This stereotype is what sticks in everyone’s brain and is associated with the sex-money exchange that most bothers everyone: the one that neighbourhood leaders protest about, and police try to get rid of, and researchers show to be most violence-prone and where the classic pimp figure is most likely to be seen.

In this collection, people are often shown socialising, not just standing about being symbols. Some of what’s shown is undoubtedly not fair and not legal, but only if we understand what people are actually doing can we hope to improve the world overall. Included here are images of tourism and sex worker activism, both interesting facets of the industry in our times. Campaigning against the industry is not included – you can find those images all over the place.

Words are my own usual vehicle, as in my proposal for a Cultural Study of Commercial Sex, which I have written about several times. But images do something else. I look at pictures to process ideas differently, and I actually like that this gallery doesn’t classify in any way – there is no meaning to the order of the images, though facebook provides the date on which I happened to decide to upload the pictures to that website. The whole collection, which updates when I update at facebook, is a page on the menu at the top of this site.

 

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Sex tourism, gays, western perversion – what is this story, and these arrests, actually about? No mention is made of any trafficking accusation in this report of a police raid on a brothel in Cambodia – just the cop’s satisfaction at having spent a month investigating a place where people pay for sex. The rather ridiculous salacious slant would have us believe that this brothel is different because gays, lesbians, old ladies and foreigners use it. Well! Presumably the most special customer is a non-young non-Cambodian woman who likes women? Is this a category the police are afraid of? Are we meant to read between the lines that anyone employed in this brothel must have been trafficked and forced (are old-fashioned heterosexist brothels better, then?

It is old news that the US imperialist Trafficking in Persons report has caused Cambodia to institute legislation that has police persecuting sex businesses on principle. This is merely an early stage of the movement that now has a new name: End Demand, which can be followed by several phrases: sometimes we hear End Demand for Sex Trafficking, and sometimes End Demand for Commercial Sex Exploitation, and then there is End Demand for Modern-Day Slavery. All are semantically strange, since the demand these campaigners don’t like is a demand to pay for sex. The demand isn’t for the process – traffiicking, slavery or exploitation. I wonder why the whiz-kid business consultants didn’t make sure the slogan was clearer.

Perhaps there was a special frisson in the fact that a guesthouse has become a brothel, although the report also doesn’t explain what the evidence for that is, either. Presence of sex workers in the building? Manager shows guests an album with pictures of possible escorts? Or is there something noteworthy in the fact that the business is the type associated with alternative-style travel, less luxe, more home-like, cheaper?

Note that all this surveillance for a whole month netted them 14 people, only 3 of whom can be charged with anything - the clients and workers they don’t know what to do with.

Raid closes specialty brothel

Buth Reaksmey Kongkea, 27 February 2011, Phnom Penh Post

Anti-human trafficking officials last week cracked down on a guesthouse in Phnom Penh’s Prampi Makara district that offered sexual services for a select clientele. Keo Thea, director of the municipal Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Office at the Ministry of Interior, said a raid of the guesthouse-turned-brothel in Veal Vong commune netted a total of 14 arrests, including the guesthouse owner, two accomplices and 11 sex workers, on Saturday. “We have been investigating this house for about a month before we took superb action in cracking down on it,” he said. Keo Thea added that the guesthouse offered specific sexual services.

This place is hidden and illegal and provides sexual services for [gay] men, lesbians, old ladies and foreign people in Phnom Penh.

He said police research had uncovered that the guesthouse had been a popular destination for people seeking its specific services for many years. The detained were being held at the Phnom Penh Municipal Police Department for questioning prior to being sent to provincial court today to face charges, Keo Thea said, though he expressed doubts about the fate of some of the people arrested during Saturday’s raid.

We are now waiting for the order from our superiors about what we should do with these 11 people, who are sexual service providers and those who had come for sex. But for the house owner and the two accomplices, we will send them to court for charges.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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Those who work in outreach know the fluid, category-resistant sexual behaviour common amongst so many people. So-called sexual orientation, ideas about family and a distinction between sex-with-money and sex-without-money cease to be very useful, as this story shows. Note that homosexuality is illegal in Kenya, as an earlier story about MSM relationship explained.

Kenya: Bisexual male sex workers run big risks

20 April 2010, Irin/PlusNews 


Photo: Jimmy Kamude/IRIN
 

At a nightclub in Mombasa, on the Kenyan coast, Tito Bakari a local man, and Leonard Smithberger, a tourist, make out in a dark corner before the bouncer asks them to leave. Hand in hand they walk to another bar nearby, where they party through the night. “My love from Germany has been here since Easter – the party has just begun,” Bakari told IRIN/PlusNews. Smithberger visits Kenya a few times every year and showers gifts and money on Bakari, who moves out of the house he shares with his wife and child and into his lover’s hotel.

Up to 60 percent of male sex workers in Mombasa also have female sexual partners, according to a recent study presented at the 17th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in San Francisco. “Although most sex partners of MSM-SW [men who have sex with men sex workers] are men, sex with local women is also common, usually transactional, and often unprotected,” the study noted. . .

My wife knows that I am bisexual, but I provide her needs and equally satisfy her sexually. I even have two children with her, so she never complains,” said Ben Maina*, a male sex worker in Mombasa who doesn’t always use condoms with his clients, and never with his wife. In 2007, another study in Mombasa found that the high prevalence of HIV in Kenyan MSM was probably due to unprotected receptive anal sex and low condom use. Despite the risks and the lack of acceptance by society, Maina makes too much money to consider leaving the trade – in a country where half the population lives on less than US$1 per day, he can earn up to $365 per week. “The cash assists me in providing for my family,” he said. . .

Dr Mary Mwangombe, a researcher at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), in the coastal town of Kilifi, said HIV programming for men who have sex with men and their partners – both male and female – was difficult because of the illegal nature of homosexuality and the public’s intolerance of it. “Most male commercial sex workers live and go about their business secretively to avoid being victimized, either by the council officials, the police or the public at large”. . .

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Sometimes the Rescue Industry reverts to farce. Take the recent history of Brazil with its efforts to appear ‘modern’ and world-powerful through militaristic social-control operations. Before I even got to the part of this article that mentions carnaval, I had thought ‘circus’ to describe what I was reading. These are excerpts from Operation Princess in Rio de Janeiro: Policing ‘Sex Trafficking’, Strengthening Worker Citizenship, and the Urban Geopolitics of Security in Brazil, by Paul Amar, in Security Dialogue 2009; 40; 513.

. . . Operation Princess and its sister campaigns were launched by the police in seeming disregard for the fact that prostitution is legal in Brazil. The Pentecostal evangelical leaders of Rio  . . . gave biblical legitimacy to the campaign, brushing aside questions of legality or sex workers’ resistance to being ‘rescued’. . . .

. . . proclaimed he would purge corruption and promote moral rectitude . . . by bringing back the spirit of the Vice Police stations (Delegacias de Costumes), which had been closed for the most part in the 1940s when prostitution was legalized. Simultaneously, President Lula declared a nationwide war against sex trafficking . . .

. . . ‘Operation Princess’ resonated perfectly with the 19th-century iconography of missionarism, child rescue, and abolition in Brazil. . . Avenida Princesa Isabel is the grand boulevard that brings travelers . . . into Copacabana Beach, a mixed-class and mixed-race coastal community that also serves as a center of sex tourism and international diplomatic conferences. Copacabana was a focal point of the new vice-policing operations. . . the statue of Princess Isabel, with her arms outstretched, blessing those she liberated from slavery and radiating a spirit of tolerance and welcome at the gateway to the topless dance clubs and all-night saunas of the Lido.  . .

. . . [the] Black Movement in Brazil ha[s] rigorously critiqued the ‘Princess Isabel Syndrome’, or the commemoration of this child monarch as the agent of abolition. . . it takes credit away from the centuries of sacrifice and mobilization among Brazil’s Afro-descendants and their efforts . . . Thus, the princess metaphor in Rio de Janeiro . . . resonates vibrantly with the politics of social ‘whitening’ (embrancamento), infantilization of black slave agency, and religious moralization.

. . . By the time Lula assumed power in 2003, a massive child-rescue initiative was deemed essential to Brazil’s plans to legitimize and empower itself on the world stage, as well as to address social-justice concerns at home. For Brazil to assume leadership of the democratic global south and make a claim to the proposed new seat on the Security Council, it wanted to change the image of Brazilian law enforcement from death squad to rescue mission, authoritarian to humanitarian. The national landscape had to be cleared of lawless, victimized children.

‘Operation Carnival’ became the first test of this revived vice-police campaign. As if to mock the new police operations, a ‘Group A’ Samba School . . .  celebrated ‘Prostitution in Copacabana’ as their theme that year; their 4,000 sequined dancers, the ‘Lions of Nova Iguaçu’, marched through the downtown Sambadrome, singing a samba about the joys of the sex trade. In its debut, the police’s anti-sex-trafficking campaign netted a total of one arrest . . .

During ‘Operation Shangrilá’, the Federal Police raided a showboat in Rio’s Guanabara Bay. Forty Brazilian prostitutes and twenty-nine American tourists were arrested for having committed the crime of ‘sex tourism’. This incident was immediately trumpeted as a major bust of a ‘human trafficking’ operation. . . . But . . no Brazilian law had been violated. None of the prostitutes were underage, nor had they violated any pimping or brothel laws. The only way this situation could be imagined as ‘trafficking’ was because the tourists had crossed international frontiers, although without breaking any laws or visa restrictions. Furthermore, ‘sex tourism’ is not against any Brazilian law, unless one assumes that sex tourism is the same thing as forced sex trafficking.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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Con todo el debate ideológico sobre la prostitución, salen poco simples testimonios de personas que han decidido viajar y trabajar en la industria del sexo. Cuando digo ‘decidido’ quiero decir que puede que tengan pocas opciones para salir adelante pero sí tienen algunas y pueden preferir unas a otras. Es un planteamiento básico, que no niega el sexismo del mundo ni la injusticia para los países menos ricos sino que destaca la dimensión personal donde el candidato a la migración mira su situación y opta por viajar. Y muy fácilmente sale una historia no solo de ganarse la vida sino una visión empresarial y emprendedora, de personas que calculan sus chances, planifican sus futuros y son todo menos víctimas. Los siguientes relatos vienen de un trabajo de Adriana Piscitelli, de la Universidade Estadual de Campinas/UNICAMP, Brasil. He marcado frases en las que se puede oir la voz de personas que están informándose mediante redes, que están tomando decisiones y que tienen una visión a largo plazo de sus vidas.

    ‘¿Salir de mi país para trabajar para comer? Comida tengo en mi país. No preciso estar lejos de mi familia para comer. En Brasil si plantas una mandioca, crías una gallina, comes. No es hambre. Es tratar de hacer algo… Siempre me preocupé por el día de mañana. Cuando tenga 60 años… Tengo un objetivo, quiero juntar dinero para mandar a Brasil y hacer las cosas… Y aquí, si fuera a trabajar en otra cosa, ¿en que sería? ¿Limpiando pisos? Eso no entra en mi cabeza porque se gana muy poco. Si ganase bien, barrería la calle, sin ningún problema. ¿Pero trabajar y ganar 800, 900 euros?

Cuando él [cliente italiano que pasó un período de vacaciones en Fortaleza] se fue, me mandó un e-mail… Empezamos a hablar varias veces por día. . . .  En un mes pagó las deudas que yo tenía en Brasil. Me mandó dinero para que comprase mis cosas, para que hiciera la documentación… Y compró mi pasaje. . .  Hice lo que tenía que hacer, porque si no me casaba tenía que volver al Brasil… Y funciona así. Si una brasileña conoce un extranjero, tiene que casarse porque si no, no deja la vida de allá.

Yo iba siempre a una discoteca… Y había un taxista, que era conocido nuestro. Y me dijo: ¿nena, no quieres ir a trabajar al extranjero? Invitó también a una amiga y a una prima mías… Dijo que se ganaba muchísimo. Le dijimos que sí. Fue con nosotras para que sacáramos el pasaporte. Y un día llamó avisando que íbamos a viajar… Nos dieron el pasaje en el aeropuerto, fuimos a San Pablo y ahí tomamos otro avión. Vinimos por París… Teníamos que venir a Bilbao en tren, donde nos esperaba un hombre… Cuando nos encontramos, nos llevó a tomar café y después a la casa de él, para descansar y después nos llevó al club…  Ellos pagaron el pasaje, la deuda fue un poco más de 3000 euros…

Había una amiga mía que conocía otra, que conocía otra… Y así conseguimos la información, en una agencia de viajes que tiene contactos con clubes de Andalucía. . .  si tú sabes del sitio específico, club de José o de María, pues bien, te damos la información, te ponemos en contacto con la persona. Fui primero a un club de Almería… No era un lugar muy bueno. Pero yo tengo una amiga y ella tenía contactos con una chica de Barcelona que había trabajado en un club y era muy amiga de la dueña. Al final la dueña de ese club de Barcelona nos ha enviado el dinero para pagar nuestra deuda y para venir hasta Barcelona… [Cuando llegué a Barcelona], me quedaban 800 euros por pagar, pero en la primer semana tuve suerte porque he cobrado 1700 y pagué y me quedó dinero para enviar a mi país y ya.

Mi hermana está haciendo una carrera en Brasil, en diciembre acaba y como no hay trabajo, ella viene a España y pagaré yo el billete. Está intentando venir con contrato de trabajo. Eso se consigue en Brasil en el consulado de España. Podría trabajar media jornada en trabajo normal, en el área de ella, ella hace tecnología de producción en Brasil, trabajar en esto y la otra media jornada en la prostitución… que es donde se gana el dinero.

Pagué la deuda en un mes, decidí quedarme [en el club en Bilbao] hasta completar los tres meses. Volví a Brasil. Pero cuando volví, mirando el cambio, me di cuenta que no compensaba más hacer “programa” allá. Dejé pasar los tres meses necesarios y volví a España. Llamé al club y pedí que me enviasen un pasaje, que quería volver para trabajar. Y en una semana estaba de vuelta.

Planeo volver. Tal vez tarde diez años, pero quiero comprar unas casitas, pequeñas, de R$10.000,00 o R$ 15.000,00 alquilarlas y vivir del alquiler. Digamos que compre cuatro casitas baratas, y las alquile a 100, 200R$, ahí tienes un dinero fi jo, sin hacer nada. Y, al mismo tiempo, puedes tener un negocio. Digamos que tienes 6.000 euros, y si aquel negocio no va bien estás arruinado. Pero todavía tienes el alquiler de las casas.

Todo el dinero que gano aquí, lo invierto en Brasil, porque en dos o tres años quiero estar allí. Quiero estar aquí tres meses y tres meses en Brasil con mi familia. Tengo tierras, tengo vacas, en Rondônia. Mis hijos están en Rondônia, entonces mi hijo cuida de estas cosas… Voy enviando dinero para mejorar, para no tener que trabajar más en un par de años. Mando más o menos 1500 por mes para Brasil. Por eso, siempre di valor a lo de aquí. Tengo paciencia con los [clientes] viejos porque sé que con los 20 euros que me dan por veinte minutos, pago cuatro días un peón, allá, en el campo. Hay que tener una visión de las cosas.’

Relatos extraídos de ‘Tránsitos: Circulación de Brasileñas en el ámbito de la transnacionalización de los mercados sexual y matrimonial,’ Horizontes Antropológicos, Porto Alegre, 15, 31, 101-136, 2009

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Joylynn Chong’s Collection

Another handling of sex tourism, this time from a travel-promotion site that celebrates ‘mixed marriages’ and multiculturalism in Phuket, Thailand. Most of what we get to read on the subject are condemnations of the men without any attempt to understand the different stories and social contexts involved, so this typology of western men who marry Thai women is interesting, if biased. This is a man’s account; I’ve highlighted some suggestive bits. Note how sex-industry and non-sex-industry interactions are treated with the same even tone.

Thai Wives in Phuket

Phuket News, 28 August 2009

Here on the beautiful island of Phuket in Thailand, there are a great number of mixed Thai-Western marriages. It is turning into quite a phenomenon. Around Phuket’s schools and playgrounds it is common to see mixed-race children happily playing with the 100% Thai kids. They are usually easy to spot with fairer skin, western features and non-black hair. A whole generation of culturally diverse, multi-lingual children is growing up and will soon be quite an asset to Phuket’s tourist industry.

This phenomenon of mixed marriages in Phuket has really exploded over the last decade. Of course, the major reason is the expansion of Phuket’s tourist trade. When you have more than a million western visitors a year, it is natural that some of them will meet and fall in love with local people. Especially when the local people are so appealing. But there must be more to it than that. The tourist resorts around the Mediterranean, Caribbean and US also receive millions of foreign visitors a year. There are mixed-nationality marriages at these resorts but not thousands in a small area like there are in Phuket.

One thing stands out when you look at Phuket’s ex-pat population -the vast majority of us are men. Probably around 90% of the ex-pat population is male. That is not the case when you look at the breakdown of tourist visitors where the split is only 60-40 in favour of males. So while there are many women visiting Thailand, only a small percentage of them decide to settle here. It is probably a similar percentage to those that settle at other holiday resorts. But the men are marrying Thai women and settling here in great numbers. There is an obvious conclusion to draw. There are a lot of men coming to Phuket to actively seek wives. They are not just falling in love while on holiday – they are coming with the pre-planned intent of finding a doe-eyed Thai beauty to be their spouse.

Many men seem to be dissatisfied with their experiences of women in their home country. Society has changed rapidly in the west over the last few decades. Women have become more confident and assertive. They can be intimidating to approach and fast with a withering put-down. They are much more demanding in their relationships and expect a lot of concessions from their partners. Many men do not like it. They still want the fifties ideal of a feminine, doting wife. So they come to Thailand in search of the answer to their problem. Here, they believe they can still find women who are beautiful, feminine and attentive to their husband’s needs.

It is dangerous to generalise too much about the men who marry Thai girls and settle in Phuket. They all have their own story. Just the same, there are common patterns. You can place a lot of these men into three broad groups:

Group 1. There are those that come to Phuket for ‘normal’ reasons such as work or a break from work. It is natural that some of these people will meet and fall in love with locals. This happens all over the world. There is no doubt that Thai women are very charming so perhaps it is more common here than elsewhere.

Group 2. Then there are those who fall in love with their bargirl. The girls who work in the sex industry are good at selling themselves; it is their job. It is amazing how many men fall for a Thai girl who they only planned to take back to their hotel for the night. It is not usually the hardened sex-tourists who fall. They tend to pick up a new girl every night with no emotional attachment. It is the new guys. The men who come to Phuket for the first time, not quite knowing what to expect. They probably have an idea that they are going to pick up a prostitute but they don’t know how it works. They end up doing the GFE (girl friend experience – see Phuket Naughty Nightlife). That is picking up a bar girl and then keeping her for the entire length of the holiday. They act as if they are boyfriend-girlfriend. The girl gets plenty of time to weave her magic. She tugs the guy’s heartstrings with her life story until he is brimming with sympathy. She gives him lots of affection and by the end of his holiday, he is in love.

Group 3. Then there are those who come with the pre-planned intent of finding a wife. They have thought about it and come to the reasoned conclusion that a Thai wife would make their life better. Some of these guys will look for their new wife around the sex venues of Patong. Others want to stay away from the sex industry girls. They may try dating agencies or internet matching services. Some of them will try to meet ‘good’ Thai women away from the tourist resorts. Their approaches may vary but the conclusion is the same – they think a life in Phuket with a Thai wife would be better than their current life back home.

Whatever the reasons, the mixed Thai-Western marriage is now an established part of Phuket’s scenery. Not all of these Western men find their dream wife. Many of these marriages run into problems but that is true of marriages the world over. There can be extra problems related to marriages between people from different cultures. Still a lot of western men are very happy with their choice.

– Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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I notice that more of these reports from around the world are asking pimps for information, particularly about money issues. The voice of the pimp usually brags, claims terrific success, high earnings. Sex workers sound like passive objects indeed. Take, for example, the report from Malaysia. But rather than discount everything these businessmen say, I listen to the logistical information they provide. Note in this story about Beirut how arrangements are made between tourists and sex workers - not so different from those mentioned in a recent post about seamen, ships in port and party girls. Note, too, that the first sex tourist mentioned is a young Saudi woman who enjoys freedom and night life in Beirut: no mention of paying for sex in her case.

The concept of sex tourism is another that gets thrown around without much investigation about what it means in specific circumstances. Many people on holiday feel like experimenting, want to go wild, enjoy breaking their hometown’s sexual norms. Paying may be involved, but payments may be made to guides, translators and natives who present as pick-ups. To say sex tourist is to imply that someone conspired to travel abroad for the express purpose of having sex; more often tourists buy all sorts of services, sometimes including sex, and sometimes not getting what they bargained for.

I talked not long ago about different prices for sex workers from different ethnic groups, in relation to a sign in Hong Kong. This issue arises here, too.

Beirut’s seamy side offers sex and fun for Arab tourists

Weedah Hamzah, 22 August 2009, m&c

Beirut: On the surface, the Mediterranean coastal city of Beirut is an upmarket tourist destination, offering Arab tourists good weather, good food, and good times. But beyond the tables heavy with food and the shining lights, Beirut’s greatest attraction is sex. Arab tourists flock in the thousands to Lebanon from Gulf countries every summer. More and more, Arab men seem to be attracted by the growing opportunities to engage in sex tourism.

Lebanon has long been known to cater to all desires: a place where Arab tourists can break taboos they must contend with in their home countries. Some just want some freedom. Hind, an 18-year-old Saudi girl, is spending her summer in Lebanon, enjoying the chance to show off her striking red lipstick, large black eyes and black veil. She cruises in her three-wheel all-terrain vehicle at midnight in the overcrowded main streets of Aley, a town 30 kilometres from Beirut, where most of the cafes and restaurants are packed with Gulf tourists and Lebanese expatriates.  “For me this is total freedom, I can meet people and enjoy the night life as well,” Hind told the German Press Agency dpa.

But much of the growing tourism industry is still focused on men interested in sex. One man from Saudi Arabia, who requested not to be identified told dpa, “in Beirut there is good life, good weather, good service and most of all beautiful girls.” Lebanese women – with their outgoing characters, love of life and, most of all, their trendy European looks – have in recent years become central to attracting more Arab tourists into the country.

One of the hottest spots for such tourism is Maameltein, the red- light district of Lebanon, 20 kilometres north of Beirut. It’s a place where Arab tourists can watch beautiful women from Belarus, Ukraine, and Romania performing naked on stage. A night out with one of the dancers can cost 1,000 dollars.

One pimp in Maameltein, who asked to be identified as Carlos, told dpa that there’s no shortage of women, either local or from Europe, in Maameltein. ‘The rates vary, the Eastern European girls are the most highly paid, Lebanese come next, and then Iraqis,’ Carlos said. ‘During the summer our main clients are men from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Gulf states, while in winter we have many Lebanese clients,’ he said. In his late 40s, Carlos is often described as the best pimp in the district, catering to a clientele of mostly rich Saudi men.

Touring Maameltein with Carlos, one can see dozens of cars packed with young and middle-aged Gulf tourists cruising the area to get what Carlos describes as a ‘good catch.’ During the drive, Carlos receives calls from his clients. ‘My friend, I need three Ukrainian and one Lebanese for tonight to come to a party at my residence,’ Carlos quoted the caller, whom he said was from Saudi Arabia. This would cost ‘between 5,000 and 6,000 dollars per night because this is delivery to the residence,’ he said, puffing a large cigar.

Elsewhere, many of the women are Iraqis who have fled their wartorn country and discovered prostitution as an easy way to earn money. ‘I fled to Lebanon after the war in Iraq, with my mother and sister after my father and two brothers were killed,’ said one woman who wanted to be identified as Noura. ‘We were without money, so we started working here.’ Noura, her mother and sister work in three different bars. I know this is not a good job but we want to live and this is the easiest way to earn a living,’ she said, waving goodbye as her client arrived.

Noura’s pimp, who asked to be identified as Kamal, said Iraqi women find that ‘this is their only means of survival, especially if they have no other training or skills in which to support themselves.’ Asked the rate for an Iraqi woman, Kamal says: ‘If they are virgins and it is their first time, I can get a good price: between 1,000 and 1,500 dollars. If they are experienced, then it’s between 400 and 500 dollars.’ As for Lebanese women, ‘we sell them only to foreign men for fear that one day their families would know about their secret job,’ added Kamal. ‘I can tell you this has been a good season this year for us here,’ Kamal said as he drove away.

Prostitution in Lebanon is practised undercover after a 1998 law forbidding brothels. Legal licenses are limited to places offering sex shows. Read the rest of this entry »

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