Donna M. Hughes
Promoters of sex tours are pimping women's bodies and sexuality through out the world on the Internet. This international communication network of computers is being used to sell women to a global market of men mostly from industrialized countries. In the last two years multi-media capabilities were added to the Internet which enables transmission of color, graphics, photographs, animation, sound and moving images. This new vibrant feature of the Internet is called the World Wide Web. Commercial interests are moving rapidly to take advantage of this new capability and the sex industry is leading the way. Advertisements and endorsements for sex tours, mail order brides, brothels, strip bars and escort services are easily and openly found on The World Wide Web.
A few examples: * Men who have traveled and bought prostitutes use the Internet discussion groups, such as alt.sex.services, alt.sex.prostitution, and alt.sex.brothels, to give each other information and advice on buying women and girls. Descriptions of their sex tours are compiled into The World Sex Guide which includes: detailed information on where to go to find prostitutes, hotel prices, telephone numbers, taxi fares, cost of alcohol, the sex acts that can be bought, the price for each act, and misogynistic comments about the women. Often men include pornographic descriptions of what they did to the women (Atta and M. 9 October 1995). * In Summer 1995 an American man operating as PIMPS 'R' US advertised sex tours to the Dominican Republic on the Internet. He offered a four day, three night tour with a guide who would provide "practical information about how to find and deal with prostitutes and how to arrange group orgies." The price of the tour included "oral sex....provided by an attractive female whore chosen by the tour guide" (Mann, Summer 1995)i. * An advertisement for Erotic Vacations to Costa Rica quotes a price which includes double occupancy rooms and intra-country flights booked for two. "Your companion [a euphemism for prostitute] will meet you at your hotel..." If the tourist chooses a longer tour his "companion" is changed half way through the trip (The Travel Connection, 1995). * Degrading sex shows in Bangkok are advertised and promoted on the Internet. One promoter, claiming to be a sex researcher, shows a picture of a woman dancing and pulling razor blades from her vagina. A text description appears with the photograph (Odzer, 1995).
Sex tourism, mail order brides and prostitution are variations on the theme of sexual exploitation. I will take a series of advertisements from a U.S. based agency and describe what is offered and show the connections among the forms of sexual exploitation.
A picture of a Filipina tops the first page of Travel Philippines. She invites the reader (who I will refer to as a man from now on) to "Come explore the Philippines with me!" The advertisement describes the Philippines as an "exotic and interesting place to visit." Information is given on tickets, lodging, food and water, money changing, night life and the tour schedule. Prostitution is briefly mentioned as being "everywhere," and a price range for prostitutes is listed. Men are told, "You can partake or not, it's up to you. Most do partake." Marriage is also briefly mentioned: "As most of you know, the Philippines is the happy hunting ground for men seeking a wife. There are all kinds of women of every description. It's hard to go to the Philippines and not get caught up in the idea of marriage. The whole lifestyle seems to revolve around love, marriage and kids" (Craven, Come Explore, Fall 1995)
On the next linked page the man is asked "would you like to have a beautiful female companion as a private tour guide?" or "would you like to have introductions to 'decent' marriage minded ladies?" (Craven, Tour Philippines, Fall 1995) If he chooses the private tour guide he is directed to the X-rated escorted tours. At the top of this page a picture of the same Filipina from the introductory page appears, this time with her breasts exposed. Much of the same travel information is repeated, but here the man finds out how much it costs to have an "escort" during his trip. The fee is paid to the travel agent-pimp, not the woman. The agent-pimp suggests that the tourist tip the woman, although it is not required (Craven, Come Explore Me, Fall 1995).
If the man chooses the marriage option he is directed to the linked page on Over Seas Ladies. There he is asked if he is tired of watching TV and having women make him jump through hoops. He is told that the women for sale here "respond to every gesture and kindness, no matter how small." He is reassured that these women are not concerned about his age, appearance, or wealth. Next comes thirteen pages of pictures of women from which he can choose (Craven, Over Seas Ladies, Summer 1995). The agent-pimp sells the addresses of the women to the man. For an extra fee he can have a life-time membership which entitles him to the addresses of all the women, those currently available and those in the future. (If the man is seeking a permanent relationship, why he might want or need a life-time membership is not explained.) The whole sexual exploitation racket comes full circle with the next linked page on Escorted Wife Seeking Tours. The man is told "You will meet a lot of beautiful women there. Your penpals that you have been writing to will be happy to see you. The new women you meet will be generally 'good' girls, but there are plenty of bar girls there too and you will surely encounter some" (Craven, Escorted Wife Seeking Tours, Fall 1995). Bar girls, X-rated tours with "private tour guides," mail order brides - all are forms of sexual exploitation organized by the same agency for the profit of pimps, hotels and bars.
With mail order brides there is one difference - the women agree to return home with the tourist. There is a romantic image of two people finding companionship through these agencies, but the reality is often quite different. An investigation conducted by the Australian Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs into the mail order bride trade from the Philippines uncovered what they term "serial sponsorship," in which a man brings a woman back to Australia, when that relationship fails, often due to his violence, he abandons her and returns to the Philippines to acquire another woman. They have identified men who have sponsored up to seven women (Carla Gorton, 25 October 1995).
Sex tours enable men to travel to "exotic" places and step outside whatever community bounds may constrain them at home. In foreign cities they can abuse women and girls in ways that are more risky or difficult for them in their home towns. For some men the attractions of Bangkok are slavery and very young girls. Men promote both of these abuses on the Internet. One man tells others, "Yes, there is slavery in Bangkok. Some girls work against their will. ..... They are in effect 'owned' by the hotel." He describes where those "kept" girls are to be found and gives other men two options, either "be gentle.....and give the girl a good time whether she is a slave or not," or "treat them more or less any way you want - and many men do..... hotels like this should be like paradise for those of us who are into S&M;" (Anonymous, Date Unknown).
The powerful forces of racism, misogyny, "First World" domination and economic exploitation are merged in the selling of "exotic and erotic" women. Major sites of sex tourism in the Southern Hemisphere, such as Thailand and the Philippines, had their start years ago from a demand for prostituted sex from United States military personnel. As the military left those areas the pimps and operators found a new market for the women in sex tours organized in Japan and Europe. Trans-national corporations, such as airlines, hotels and restaurants, profit enormously from sex tours.
As prostitution has become a form of tourism for men, it has become a form of economic development for poor countries. Tourism was recommended by the United Nations, the World Bank and United States advisory boards as a way to generate income and repay foreign debts (Lee 1991). States set their own tourism policies and could, if they wanted, prevent or suppress the development of prostitution as a form of tourism. Instead communities and countries have come to rely on the sale of women's bodies as their cash crop. As the sex industry grows more girls and women in a city or country are turned into sexual commodities to be sold to tourists. In the bars in Bangkok women and girls don't have names; they have numbers to pinned to their skimpy clothes. The men pick them by number. They are literally interchangeable sexual objects. By one estimate ten percent of the female population in Thailand is in the sex industry (Global Child Health News, 4 July 1995).
In centers of sex tourism, such as Bangkok, Thailand the demand for women to be used in prostitution has outstripped the native population's capacity to supply enough women to meet the demands of the tourists. Pimps and procurers have turned to other countries where economic and political crises have made women vulnerable and desperate. Thai officials estimate that there are: 20,000 women from Burma in brothels with 10,000 more imported each year; 10,000 women from the former Soviet Union; and 5,000 Chinese women brought in each year (Global Child Health News and Review, 4 July 1995).
Men writing to each other on the Internet recommend visiting countries hit hardest by poverty. As the annual income drops, women become more desperate and less resistant to propositions and prices for prostituted sex also drops. Men on the Internet frequently give the average local income as part of the general information about the country or city. This information is used to explain and justify why the women can be bought for so little money compared to a man's income in an industrialized country.
As sex tourism grows cities and countries gain international notoriety for prostitution. With pimping and soliciting saturating the environment, all women in public are seen as prostitutes and all men as pimps. One promotion on the Internet identifies Cuba as the new "In-place" for European men in the Caribbean (Travel and the Single Man, 1995). In Cuba, one man writes, "You can have any girl you want. Just stop any one on the street and ask her if she wants to go with you and she will......Bring little gifts like panty hose and perfume and you'll be treated like a king" (Anonymous, 20 January 1995). Another Cuban tourist says, "Actually just about any unmarried Cuban girl is available, many of them just don't know it, until they make friends with a tourist" (Anonymous, 2 July 1995). Another man, writing about where to buy pre-teen girls for sex in Bangkok, says to look for men at a certain site, but "if you talk with the wrong guy, he will usually know just who is the right one" (Anonymous, Date Unknown).
Turning a woman's sexuality into a commodity to be bought by any man deprives her of dignity and bodily integrity which are basic human rights. Prostitution is a violation of women's human rights. Documents drafted at the NGO Forum and Fourth World Conference in Women in Beijing all firmly state the need for an end to the sexual exploitation of women. The strongest language in the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Beijing Declaration calls for an end to sexual exploitation and sex tours: "We demand an end to rape, and to all forms of violence, sexual exploitation and harassment of women and children. We further demand an end to the trafficking of women and children as well as sex tourism" (15 September 1995).
The promotion of prostitution of women through sex tours on the Internet expands men's treatment and access to women as sexual commodities. The Internet is the fastest growing and most unregulated communication network in the world. It is a rapid publishing medium that can reach its readership anywhere in the world within minutes. These factors make it a thriving site for the global trafficking in women leading to an escalation of the global sex trade. And yet the entrance and growth of the sex industry on the Internet is a symptom and evidence of the harm that is being done to women. The primary harm is the sexual exploitation of women and abrogation of their human rights. Those interested in stopping this violation of women and children's human rights must work on all levels - political, social, economic, local, national and international - to build communities, nations and a world that will not allow men to sexually exploit women and children.
Anonymous. 20 January 1995. "Bits and Pieces," Cuba, The World Sex Guide (Updated 7 August 1995), Word Wide Web http://www.paranoia.com/faq/prostitution/cuba_bits.txt
Donna M. Hughes, PhD, is a Lecturer in Women's Studies at the University of Bradford, UK. She works with The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (NGO, Category II) which has proposed a new United Nations Convention Against All Forms of Sexual Exploitation. The Coalition has a vision for women and girls: "A world in which women's rights are human rights; where prostitution and sex trafficking do not exist; where women are born free and equal in dignity and rights; where no woman is sexually exploited; that recognizes and values the great genius of women in the development of civilizations and cultures; where women have sexual integrity and autonomy." Donna Hughes can be contacted on the Internet at email@example.com The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women's web site is located at http://www.uri.edu/artsci/wms/hughes/catw
We welcome your comments on this and other topics. Please visit our message board.
i This man claims PIMPS 'R' US, CompuPimp, Cybersuck and Frequent Fornicators Club are all his service marks. Donna Hughes Sex tours via the Internet 4