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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Demand for Sex Tourism

A Market-Based Analysis of the Commercial Sex Trade

Shared Hope International recently published a comparative examination of the demand for sex tourism and trafficking in Jamaica, Japan, theNetherlands, and theUnited States (“Report”). The Report outlines the results of a twelve-month market-based analysis of the culture, economy, political system, and history of prostitution and slavery in each of the four countries, in an attempt to better understand the operation of global sex tourism and human trafficking markets. Ultimately, the Report found that sex trafficking and sex tourism are intimately connected because sex trafficking funds the demand for sex tourism. Although the four countries differ greatly in regards to their respective culture, economy, political system, and history of prostitution and slavery, Shared Hope found remarkable similarities in the operation of their respective sex tourism and sex trafficking markets. This finding suggests that a collaborative and comprehensive (involving many nations) to reducing the demand for sex tourism and sex trafficking should be successful.

Sex Tourism, Human Trafficking, and Sex Trafficking Defined

“Sex tourism” occurs when an individual travels (either between cities or countries) with the intent to procure sexual services from another in exchange for money and/or goods.

Human trafficking (including sex trafficking) is defined in Article 3 of the U.N. protocol as the “recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation…; (b) The consent of a victim of trafficking in persons to the intended exploitation set forth in subparagraph (a) of this article shall be irrelevant where any of the means set forth in subparagraph (a) have been used.”

Under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, sex trafficking is defined as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act.”

Sex Trafficking Funds the Demand for Sex Tourism

The sex trade operates as a single market: (i) the demand for sex tourism exceeds the supply of women to provide commercial sex services; (ii) sex traffickers fill the demand by delivering women and children (both foreign and local) to the sex tourism markets. Buyers of commercial sex have been conditioned to expect immediate and easy access to services, which results in the trafficking of vulnerable women and girls to satisfy the demand for commercial sex services.

The rapid growth and development of sex tourism is directly linked to globalization. The typical “sex tourist” was once considered to be a Western man who traveled to a foreign country to engage in commercial sexual activity; however, the interconnectedness of our global economies and the increasing availability of international travel have made local commercial sex markets more accessible to buyers all over the world. Globalization has also made it possible to transport large numbers of foreign women and children to high demand commercial sex markets; however, increased public awareness of the transportation of foreign women and children for sex tourism has shifted the supply chain to local women and children who are “easier” to target, and pose less risk for traffickers. Because local trafficking laws have not “caught up” with the rapidly changing commercial sex market, local women and children are increasingly vulnerable to exploitation by traffickers. Below, I've set forth a few key findings from the Report.

Culture of Tolerance Facilitates the Sex Trade

Geography, history, tradition, legislation, language, and behavior (among other influences) all contribute to a “culture of tolerance for sex markets.” The commercial sex industry (including sexual images and activities) has been “normalized” to such a degree, that buyers no longer need to travel to less developed countries to obtain commercial sex services. Here are a few examples from the report:

  • Jamaica:Jamaica has created a “perception of escapism” through advertising all-inclusive adult-only resorts that encourage international tourists to engage in any pleasure they desire (including sex tours offered by small travel companies). Severe poverty and an economy dependent upon tourism have created a “make do” culture, where residents are expected to support their family by whatever means are available, including commercial sex by children and adults.
  • The Netherlands: “Legalized prostitution, promotion of red light districts as tourism activities and centuries-long tolerance of commercial sexual activity have resulted in development of extreme, ‘fringe’ commercial sex markets and the tremendous growth in demand for commercial sexual services by both local and international visitors.”
  • United States: The American culture’s glamorization of the “pimp and ho” lifestyle has reduced our moral sensitivity to commercial sex. Take for example the new Vegas slogan: “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” which encourages visitors to engage in morally deprave conduct for the sake of their personal pleasure and enjoyment.
  • Japan: The Japanese have long equated sex with physical health, and adhered to traditional gender roles which emphasize the man’s “need” for sex. Japan has also legalized all sexual services (with the exception of vaginal intercourse), all of which have normalized and allowed for easy access to commercial sex markets.

Victims are Misidentified as Criminals, and the Criminal Market for Trafficking is Thriving

Due to lack of education and awareness by government officials, law enforcement, and society, victims are frequently misidentified and mislabeled as illegal immigrants, prostitutes, “hos,” juvenile delinquents, drug mules, or thieves. The mislabeling of trafficking victims contributes to their dehumanization, and serves to facilitate sex trafficking by allowing the trafficker to operate with little fear of punishment or consequences. Further, the labeling of buyers and traffickers with normalized names (such as johns, tricks, clients, boyfriends, etc.) which do not carry the same stigma and criminal weight as those names given to the victims, contributes to the misperception that the trafficking victim (rather than the pimp or buyer) is the criminal.

In each of the four countries, Shared Hope found that the legal commercial sex market (i.e., strip clubs, escort services, adult pornography, etc.) is used not only to hide black market sex trafficking, but it’s also fueling the demand for criminal sexual exploitation. As strip clubs, “gentlemen’s clubs,” and pornography become more mainstream, the demand for young women will continue to increase as well.

The Facilitators and Buyers of Commercial Sex Tourism and Sex Trafficking

“Institutional facilitators” include businesses, governments, and other institutions that receive some benefit from the commercial sex trade. A hotel facilitates sex trafficking when it allows pimps to prostitute women and children on the premises (through inaction, poor management or tolerance of the problem). Local governments and cities facilitate sex trafficking by failing to regulate all aspects of the commercial sex market, allowing escort services and strip clubs to “cover-up” the commercial sex trade.

“Individual facilitators” include “pimps, traffickers, cab drivers, document forgers, pornographers, corrupt or negligent officials in government or business, and other individuals benefiting directly or indirectly form the commercial sex markets.” Cab drivers, pimps, and traffickers receive a direct benefit; however, the Report identifies a larger web of “indirect beneficiaries,” such as a government official who ignores the presence of trafficking because it facilitates a commercial market which benefits the city financially.

The Report also found that buyers of commercial sex services can be classified as situational, preferential, and opportunistic buyers, and each category will require differing education and prevention strategies. In the child sexual exploitation market, situational buyers engage in commercial sex acts with minors because they are available, vulnerable, and the behavior is tolerated. Preferential buyers (pedophiles), however, have sexual preferences and “shop” in specific markets for sexual services.

A third category of buyers referred to as “opportunistic” can be found in the larger commercial sex market. Opportunistic buyers have no preferences and purchase sex indiscriminately; they are “willfully blind to age or willingness of the female, or are unable to differentiate between adults and minors.” An in depth analysis of the psychology of buyers was beyond the scope of the Report, but Shared Hope’s research has revealed a culture of tolerance which both enables and condones the commercial sex market.

“Traffickers” Include Teenage Recruiters, Pimps, and Organized Crime

In the United States,Jamaica, and theNetherlands, Shared Hope found that large numbers of young males were recruiting females into the sex trade. Teenage boys are able to relate to the victim’s needs, and more easily exploit the victim’s vulnerabilities, trust, and insecurities. Young male recruiters often compliment the girls, and refer to them as their girlfriend in order to gain the young girl’s trust, and later turn to brutality to force the girl into submission.

Organized crime is also involved in sex trafficking in each of the four countries. Loosely organized crime networks in the Netherlands frequently traffick women from the Balkans and former Soviet states into the Netherlands. Tightly organized crime networks in Japan operate inJapan’s major cities and abroad, and Russian organized crime networks traffick women and children to theU.S., theNetherlands,Japan, andJamaica.

Young Women and Foreign Females are in High Demand

As the demand for sex tourism increases, the demand for young and exotic victims is increasing as well. Young girls are vulnerable and more easily recruited by pimps and traffickers, and the demand for younger girls has increased based upon the perception that they are less likely to have sexually transmitted diseases. Although the demand for younger girls has increased, the demand for “exotic” foreign girls has not diminished. In Las Vegas and Tokyo for example, “advertisements for Latin lovers, Asian beauties, and Slavic sweethearts are prolific.” Due to poverty in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, large numbers of young girls and women were found to have been trafficked to Japan,Jamaica, theNetherlands, and theU.S. Sex trafficking is no longer limited to impoverished women and girls in third world countries; women and young girls all over the world are being trafficked in their cities, towns, and countries in order to fill the local demand for commercial sexual services.

Technology is Driving the Growth of the Sex Trade

In the United States, theNetherlands, andJapan, technology is by far the single greatest driver and facilitator of the commercial sex trade. Advertisements for sex services and escort services have flooded the internet, and cell phone technology has allowed for greater connectivity between buyers, victims, and pimps. The proliferation of internet pornography has also contributed to the increased demand for commercial sex services, as pornography is frequently the gateway for situational and opportunistic buyers to purchase commercial sex services.


The global sex tourism and sex trafficking markets are intimately connected; therefore, a collaborative, comprehensive, and global approach to reducing the demand for sex tourism will be necessary to reduce the incidence and prevalence of sex trafficking.

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