I truly believe that if everyone traveled, the world would be a better place. However, that’s not to say that all travel is good travel. Sometimes travel exploits vulnerable populations for the benefit of wealthy tourists. In this case, I’m talking about sex tourism.
If you’re not familiar, sex tourism is travel designed specifically for the purpose of sexual activities, often (but not always) from developed countries to undeveloped countries. It’s a multibillion-dollar industry, and places such as Thailand, Brazil, India, Mexico and Costa Rica are popular destinations.
Backers of the sex tourism industry claim that in some countries prostitution is legal. Women above the age of 18 enter the occupation willingly, often with the knowledge that they will earn more in a few months to feed and empower their families than others will in a year.
The issue of legal versus illegal prostitution is extremely complex. However, most experts will agree that sex tourism fuels sex trafficking. This is largely due to the fact that developing countries are popular destinations for sex tourism. In turn, predators victimize those suffering from poverty and low education, manipulating and exploiting the most vulnerable to fill an extremely profitable industry.
Worse even, many sex trafficking victims are children. While statistics are difficult to measure, it is estimated that there are over 2 million children affected by the sex trade. That’s not to say that all of them are involved in sex tourism, but some of them certainly are.
Luckily, there are steps that travelers can take to help victims of sex trafficking in the sex tourism industry.
1. Look for businesses and companies that support The Code
Any company or business in the tourism industry is eligible to join The Code and tell their clients that they protect children from sexual exploitation. It’s easy to search the website to navigate which companies around the world have made a stand.
2. Support the Protect the Children Campaign
The UNWTO (United Nations World Tourism Organization) believes that the tourism industry has a moral obligation and a special responsibility to combat child sexual exploitation. (UNWTO website) Learn how you can help raise awareness of their Protect the Children Campaign here.
3. Speak Up
ECPAT USA says one quarter of sex tourists abusing children outside of the USA are from America and Canada. Speak up if your friends or travel companions make jokes about sex tourism. Inform them that many people—especially children—are being exploited.
4. Know Applicable Hotlines
Some countries have hotlines to call if you witness child abuse or exploitation. For example, in Cambodia, the NGO Friends International has a Child Safe Hotline. Research the country you will be traveling to and see if there is a specific hotline number to call should you witness something sketchy.
If you’ve never really seen it before, sex tourism can be shocking and uncomfortable. Though women can and should be able to make their own choices as to whether or not they’d like to work in sex tourism, the choice isn’t always their own. If you see something that looks suspicious, say something to the authorities listed above.
Have you come across sex tourism in your own travels? What was your reaction? Do you know any additional measures travelers can take?