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20 Jahre Tatort – Straßen der Welt e.V.

20 Jahre Tatort – Straßen der Welt e.V.

20 Jahre Tatort – Straßen der Welt e.V.

23.05.2019 Reflections by Fr. Shay Cullen, - The Curse of Sex Tourism Part 2

Hundreds of thousands of young girls and boys are lured, forced or trafficked into the sex industry every day worldwide.  Human traffickers are the curse of the nation but they operate with relative impunity and sell the youth into the sex bars and clubs that are given government permits and operating licences. This makes the State part of the corrupt industry where drugs and sex dominate and young people are sold as commodities in a slave market for the wealthy sex tourists. 

The behind-the-scenes reality of sex clubs is devastating. Provided with a bed in a crowded dormitory, usually at the back of the sex bar or club or hotel, as many as forty girls can be living in inhumane conditions. They have to pay for their accommodation and for their daily food. It is all marked up against their expenses and billed to them at a high price. Despite the vaunted war-on-drugs in the Philippines, the illegal drugs are everywhere in the sex tourist industry. The young girls are addicted or dependent and owe the pusher and can never escape, unless they take the risk of being arrested and charged with prostitution and drug use.

In sex tourism, young women are paid a basic wage for dancing. If a customer wants to have them for sex, the sex bar gets paid for that. It’s called a “bar fine.” The customer has to pay but the bar owner keeps most of the money. It is a lucrative business. 

The freedom and impunity of the sex industry in the tourist belt is a very bad precedent. Some local men are influenced by it and abuse their own children. The children run to the streets and end up in sex bars. It’s a vicious circle of abuse and exploitation. 

Money is king. The tourism industry is one of the biggest money earners in most developing economies but the fact is that it is seldom reported upon, investigated or exposed by the media. The church too is silent about the corrupt industry. Though some think sex tourism is confined to red light districts, it is there in beach resorts and fancy tourist hotels. I was sitting in the lobby of a posh hotel in Manila waiting for some journalists.  A waiter approached me. “Sir, can I get you a drink?” he asked politely. “Just coffee, thanks,” I replied. He continued, “You are alone and it is getting to evening. Do you want anything else sir?” I thought he was referring to me having a meal. “You seem to be alone, would you like me to arrange a companion for you?” I was immediately alert. What was this offer in a four-star tourist hotel? I decided to play along and find out. “Oh, really, can you arrange that?” I asked. “How young would you like?” he asked. “How young can you provide?” I asked him. “Well, sir, it depends on how much you are willing to pay. A twelve-year-old will cost six thousand pesos.”

 I was really shocked at this: a twelve-year-old child was offered to a foreign-looking tourist right in the hotel lobby! I realized I should have recorded it on my cell phone. I answered, “No, no, not now. If I want anything more, I will contact you.” When I tried to have him arrested for human trafficking and pimping minors, he had disappeared. The hotel staff tipped him off most likely.  However, it was strong evidence that this sex tourism pervades hotels and resorts.  

Sex tourism is here to stay but we should never condone, tolerate and stop opposing it and helping the victims. It seems to be government-supported or at least tolerated as a normal part of human life. Though many condemn the human exploitation of women and minors, the trade in sex tourism flourishes. Non-government organizations continue to campaign to curb the abuse of children that are in the sex tourism industry. 

The PREDA Foundation, for example, has in recent months received more than twenty rescued victims aged between 14 and 17 years, all of them lured and coerced into brothel hotels and tourist resorts. It gives shelter and therapy to as many as 63 children at times.  After the rescue, they told of their harrowing experiences of being sexually abused and exploited. They are recovering with the help of Emotional Release Therapy at the PREDA Home for Girls at present.   

But thousands more remain in the sex tourist industry and are at grave risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases like HIV and being subjected to brutality and rape. The PREDA Foundation has prosecuted several foreigners and local tourists and abusers on behalf of the victims in past years. Some foreign child sex abusers retaliate and harass the Preda advocates and social workers with baseless complaints. But they stand their ground and defeat the sex abusers.  

Preda supports legal action for the child victims so justice will be done. There is success with eight convictions being won on average per year. In 2018, sixteen child abusers were found guilty and received life sentences for child sexual abuse. By May 2019, Preda legal action saw eight more child sex abusers convicted. More are expected. So there is hope that justice can be done for many more victims. 

The foreign sex tourists that abuse youngsters in developing countries will become dependent upon and addicted to underage sex. They will return to their own countries with a strong appetite for it and will abuse many more children there. That is another curse of the sex tourism business. 

Governments need to provide alternatives for young people. All operating permits and licenses must be cancelled. More educational opportunities and support for the very poor- especially girls- and dignified work for adults must be provided to end the cruel, dehumanizing sex tourist industry.  Taking a principled stand for the victims of sex tourism and challenging a society to accept and live out the spiritual and human values of the Christian gospel- especially by respecting the rights of all to a life of freedom from poverty, oppression, and injustice- must be a priority for all the faithful.