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WGBH Investigations reports: Phillip Martin introduces the decade long fight against a New York tour operator who is accused of abetting human trafficking in Asia and the role of the United States military in its propagation.
Sex tourism is the term used for travel with the intent to engage in sexual activity. The United Nations World Tourism Association defines sex tourism in their Global Code of Ethics for Tourism as "trips organized 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 the destination."
A number of countries have become known as sex tourism hotspots, among them the city of Pattaya in Thailand. Other locations exist in Asia, Europe, and Central and South America. Some sex tourism destinations developed around U.S. military bases. Where prostitution is illegal, police usually turn a blind eye.
Human rights organizations blame sex tourism, and those who offer the service, for promoting illicit sexual exploitation of non-consenting adults and children.
The following 2010 report by France24 Reporters begins in Pattaya, Thailand with visits to a massage parlor operated by a one-time priest, and ends in Cambodia where they say the industry is more visible, "where everything is for sale."
End Child Prostitution and Trafficking (ECPAT), an international organization based in Thailand, says "child sex tourism takes various forms, but generally it is about adult men who, in the course of travelling away from home, pay in cash or kind for sex with children. While some women engage in such violations, they represent less than 5% of sexual offenders." ECPAT USA says that one quarter of all "sex tourists abusing children outside the United States are American and Canadian" citizens.
A Canadian Press news report says Canadian "predators travel abroad to have sex with children because they believe themselves immune to consequences" but "only five men have been punished under Canadian laws against child sex tourism over the past 15 years." Contrast this, they say, "with the arrests of 93 men in the U.S. since 2003, and about 34 prosecutions in Australia since 1994. While not all those cases have concluded with convictions, more than 1,200 Aussie sex offenders were known to have traveled overseas for sex" in 2011.
In the United States following a five-week federal sting operation called Operation Sunflower, special agents arrested 245 persons on suspicion of child sexual exploitation, including child sex tourism. In New York, a Poughkeepsie man will be prosecuted on charges for running prostitution tours to Asia, and three Pennsylvania police lieutenants are under investigation for hiring prostitutes during vacations they took to Southeast Asia.
There are some in the travel and tourism industry that are taking measures to protect children and victims of human trafficking by way of a Code of Conduct. Companies, including airlines and hotels, voluntarily adopt policies and implement strategies aimed at stopping the exploitation of children in the tourism industry.
Although perhaps rare, there is another side to sex tourism. For example, the British sex tourists featured in the following mini-documentary, say they went to Thailand for sex—but found love and marriage as well.
While it may appear that some Thai women are making personal choices to work in the sex industry, if other opportunities for economic prosperity existed, would they make the same choices, or not?
Special Report: Human Trafficking Underground Trade: From Boston to Bangkok is an eight-part investigation into human trafficking from East Asia to the Northeast Corridor of the United States by
Phillip Martin, senior investigative reporter at WGBH Boston Public Radio and a senior fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University.
The WGBH investigation was done in collaboration with the International Center for Journalists, the Ford Foundation, and the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism.
The series will broadcast Tuesdays and Thursdays through January.
Claire Pavlik Purgus, Schuster Institute managing editor, conceptualized, designed and edited this site which provides supporting documentation and context for WGBH Radio's human trafficking investigation, "Underground Trade: From Boston to Bangkok" and
PBS American Experience's
Sophie Elsner, Schuster Institute research editor, supervised research by Brandeis students who work as Research Assistants at the Schuster Institute.
This YouTube playlist (above), compiled by Nicholas Kristof's Half the Sky movement, includes videos by and interviews with journalists, experts, and NGO leaders / members to provide a broad context for the problem of human trafficking and forced prostitution, especially as it exists in Asia.
The videos offer both background on the problem as well as steps forward provided by prominent NGOs like the Clinton Global Initiative Foundation and the Somaly Mam Foundation.
Be sure to watch Kristof's trio of videos on his trips to investigate prostitution in Cambodia.
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