web analytics
The Naked Anthropologist · sex tourism

sex tourism

You are currently browsing articles tagged sex tourism.

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

Share

Tags: , , , ,

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

 

Share

Tags: , , , ,

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

Share

Tags: , , , ,

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.

 

Share

Tags: , , ,

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

Share

Tags: , , , ,

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”. . .

Share