What is Sex Tourism, and is it Trafficking?

(The following is an excerpt from my book, The Essential Abolitionist: What you need to know about human trafficking & modern slavery (2016). Beginning on January 11th, every other day I’ll be posting excerpts from my book to help readers learn more about this issue during National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. The Essential Abolitionist answers the most often-asked questions about human trafficking, and the response to modern slavery.)


When hearing the phrase sex tourism, what immediately comes to mind? Usually we envision a white male, probably middle-aged or older, who travels to Asia to engage in sex with children, possibly very young children. While this is sex tourism, it is only the stereotypical image of sex tourism.

We need to adopt a broader definition of sex tourism, one that includes going anywhere to engage in commercial sex with a person whether female or male, of any age.

Traveling away from home reduces the likelihood of discovery, arrest, and being publically exposed and thus removes impediments to paying for sex. And a john who travels to any location to engage in lawful commercial sex is still involved in sex tourism; it just isn’t illegal sex tourism.

While we read about major sporting events and their link to trafficking, other circumstances can just as easily provide the conditions needed for commercial sex, conditions that increase demand—and thereby, supply. Any circumstance that brings a large number of men to an area for a short duration of time, such as conventions or sporting events, may provide the opportunity for traffickers and pimps to exploit the demand for sex by providing the supply: victims of human trafficking. As reported in the Monterey County Weekly in 2011, events such as the ATT Pro-Am and the Concours d’Elegance car show, both of which occur in Pebble Beach, California, have the potential to create the demand and hence, the opportunity for traffickers to provide the “supply” for commercial sex.[i] Trafficking can potentially increase during these and similar types of events.

Some advertisers even suggest the opportunities available once away from home. Euphemisms like, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” may provide some tacit level of approval, allowing the purchaser of sex to rationalize their activity.

Sex tourism should be defined for what it is: an easier opportunity to engage in commercial sex with someone who is likely forced to do so. The term should be used to describe any activity of this nature.

[i] Robinson, R. (2011, July 21). Undocumented women servicing field workers, streetwalkers in seeding motels, high-end flesh sold at high-end events: Sex sells in Monterey County. Monterey County Weekly. Available at: http://www.montereycountyweekly.com/news/cover/undocumented-women-servicing-field-workers-streetwalkers-in-seedy-motels-high/article_f16d4c7d-bb82-5835-a504-a63928bc2884.html



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