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in the Vietnam War is stationed in Thailand. Combat-weary, his commanding officer takes the G.I. And ten other troops to Bangkok, under the new "R& R" programs. In Bangkok, the young G.I. And his buddies traipse down the streets and back-alleys of the Patpong area in Thailand's capital and before long find themselves each in the arms of a young Thai woman. Recreation and Relaxation -- R& R -- would become one of the origins for the international sex trade and sex tourism, a flourishing industry. Sponsored in part by the United States Department of Labor in conjunction with the Thai government during the Vietnam War, R& R. sparked a profitable trend. Now, throngs of tourists from nations around the world, mainly from the United States and Western Europe flock to Thailand and other countries in Southeast Asia like the Philippines for sex tourism. Barely short of state-sponsored prostitution, sex tourism brings in countless dollars to the Thai economy. On a large scale, sex tourism was partly responsible for the Southeast Asian economic boom, which is why the World Bank chose to allocate billions of dollars in funds to nations that were overtly using the money to propagate the sex trade (Haney 2001).
Gareth is a nineteen-year-old male from Canada. He travels to Thailand and Indonesia during summer break from college. Although he wasn't looking to meet young Thai women, he is enthralled by the flashy bars and nightlife in the Patpong area in Bangkok. After enjoying a few beers with some new friends from Australia, Gareth engages one of the bar girls in a game of pool. She asks him to buy her a drink and later that evening they go back to Gareth's hotel. After they make love, she asks Gareth for some money to help feed her family.
Decades after the R& R. trend, sex tourism has become such big business that Thai law enforcement officials willingly look the other way even though prostitution is illegal in their country. In fact, the sex trade has become an integral part of the financial infrastructure in countries like Thailand and is a major part of the tourism industry in those countries.
Hans is a fifty-year-old divorced businessman from Berlin. He visits his local travel agency, having heard that more than just fun in the sun awaits him on the beaches of Phuket, Thailand. Without a word, the man behind the counter books him a trip, including airfare and a hotel known for its good food and its lovely bar room hostesses. Hans returns to the same hotel the following year, and that time he brings two of his friends from Germany. They cannot help but notice how easy -- and cheap -- it is to hire an escort for the evening.
The sex tourism industry is so entrenched in the worldwide tourism industry that it is dangerously close to becoming mainstream. Thailand is not the only nation that half-unwittingly sponsors sex tourism. In addition to Thailand, the Philippines, Cuba, Indonesia, Costa Rica, Brazil, Cambodia, the Dominican Republic, and more recently, former Eastern bloc nations like the Czech Republic, Russia, and Hungary are in on the business. One noticeable traits these countries have in common is their economic conditions: sex tourism flourishes in the Third World, in developing nations. According to the Third World Women's Health website, one girl's work can feed and clothe her entire family (Haney 2001). When making ends meet is impossible, families are hard-pressed not to send their girls off to hot spots and hungrily wait for the profits to flood in.
And it is girls who are the main targets and victims of the bustling sex tourism industry. Partly because of a market demand for young girls, and partly because of the need to indoctrinate pliable minds, the sex trade recruits girls as young as six years old (Haney 2001). According to the Third World Women's Health website, about one-third of all prostitutes in Thailand are under eighteen years old, and most prostitutes started off as children.
In some cases, girls who are sold into the sex trade have no idea what they were getting into. Often, girls and young women land jobs at local bars, restaurants, hotels, and country clubs thinking that they will have a normal job. Before long, they are told by their supervisors that part of their job description requires that they 'hang out' with some of the tourists or guests. Inevitably, the girls become pimped off and have become full-fledge prostitutes with no conceivable way out of the industry.
Changing Attitudes, Morals, Values
Until fairly recently, sex tourism was widely ignored and in some cases supported. Especially in its early days: when foreign armed forces helped to create the sex tourism industry, host nations and international organizations alike turned a blind eye toward the potential humanitarian problems associated with sex tourism and sex trade. Moreover, because the sex tourism industry is so profitable, it enabled host nations and foreign interests alike to better ignore the economic, social, and political causes that drive young girls into prostitution. Many so-called "love children" were the products of sexual unions between American G.I.s and their foreign consorts during their R& R. breaks. Prevailing moral values at the time, and prevailing attitudes toward Asian people in general, enabled early sex tourism to flourish relatively unchecked. In 1975, the World Bank actually "built an economic plan for Thailand around the sex tourism industry," (Haney 2001). The World Bank continues to indirectly support the sex tourism industry by providing $1.9 billion to Thailand in loans (Haney 2001). With such financial and moral support, the sex tourism became almost commonplace, especially in the Asia-Pacific region. Because the sex tourism industry has direct and indirect support at the upper echelons of power in the worlds of government, business, and international financing, eradicating the sex tourism industry will be difficult at best. Any program of eradication will likely be done on a grassroots, rather than on an institutional level.
Since the 1960s, the sex tourism industry has become far more sophisticated in terms of marketing and in terms of semantics. Globalization has directly resulted in the expansion of sex tourism. Because it is now so easy to travel around the world and so affordable to do so, sex tourists from all walks of life can jump on a plane and fly over to Phuket. Moreover, globalization has increased the appeal of many previously remote, exotic locations in the Asia-Pacific region because of improvements in tourism infrastructure.
As the mainstream tourist industry thrived, so too did the sex trade industry. In fact, the Asian economic boom contributed most of all to the flourishing of the sex trade in that region, but even after the market crash in the late 1990s, sex tourism remained a significant source of income for many people and a significant source of R& R. For sex tourists. Because tourism will continue to be a major source of revenue for the Asia-Pacific region, and for good reason, the tourism industry itself is one of the main keys to eradicating sex tourism.
Another way sex tourism has become more sophisticated is through advertising and infrastructure. As with all forms of advertising, sex sells. The so-called "sexual revolution" that supposedly empowered women only resulted in "sex being marketed more than ever before," (Thorbek and Pattanaik 2002 p. 36-37). Even the most innocuous tourism package deal can be laced with innuendo to lure the traveler hoping to find R& R. On the road. However, in some cases, sex tourism is blatantly touted. Many internet sites cater to the sex tourist, and many travel agencies willingly offer their clients packages that include a thinly veiled assurance of sexual pleasure. The massage parlor is one of the most notorious covers for prostitution. As T.J. Iverson and J.C. Dierking point out, massage parlor prostitution is a gray area, "viewed by many as a consensual business with no third party consequences, it is often not a high priority for law enforcement," (1998; p. 86). Promoting sex tourism is done both overtly and covertly, through blatant word-of-mouth advertising to convenient justifications. Therefore, the tourism industry: from marketing executives working for large-scale resorts to small-town travel agents, needs to conscientiously work toward eradicating sex tourism. This can be done by outright refusal to cater to clients who seek sex tourism, by doing business only with reputable hotels and institutions abroad, by including pamphlets and brochures in their sales material, and by supporting local businesses in host countries that are not associated with the sex trade.
The semantics of sex tourism has become highly sophisticated. Massage parlors are only one of the ways that prostitution hides behind respectable businesses. In Thailand and other parts of Asia where the sex tourism trade flourishes, many hotels and bars openly cater to sex tourists. As a result, tourists like nineteen-year-old Gareth can easily lose sight of the ethical, social, and humanitarian implications of his escapades in Patpong. Sometimes, sex…[continue]
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