Rationalizing Sexual Tourism: How Some Countries Benefit from Selling Sex

By Jennifer M. Ward-Pelar
2010, Vol. 2 No. 04 | pg. 2/2 |

Further Interpretation

Though it was said countless times by various people that sexual tourism did not bring money into the economy of the city, observation records proved the opposite. Following tourists throughout the city, I saw money constantly changing hands. Lingerie, luggage and shoes were purchased in the shopping mall for scantily dressed, young, local girls. Taxi drivers were paid. Hotel and apartment bills were settled. Food was purchased at the grocery store. Tips were given. Bars and restaurant bills were paid. Airline tickets were purchased. Tourists on the beach bought coconut water and fake tattoos for their female companions. A large amount of alcohol was paid for. Admission tickets into high-end clubs were purchased every night of the week. One ticket to Italy for Christmas vacation was offered.

The American truck drivers in Mexico said they gave the prostitutes money, diapers, baby formula, or clothes. Sometimes they paid in cash, other times if they were with a girl on a regular basis and looked at her more as a girlfriend, they paid her bills or bought what she said she needed. The girls spent money on taxis, groceries, bills, medicine, make-up or drugs. “The girl attracts the tourist. The tourist buys the beer. That money goes to the bar and its electricity bills so the owner of the bar makes money because of the girl. So the bar usually gives the girl a dollar on every drink you buy for her. She’s selling those drinks. The more you drink, the more the bar and the girl get paid. The money she gets from you goes to milk, diapers, food, the government, taxes, local farmers get the money from food she buys at the grocery store. That money is going somewhere. How can it not benefit the economy? If it didn’t, the bar would not be open.” (Personal communication, April 19, 2008.)

I spent a day with a working transvestite called Star. We met at the gay porn theatre where he worked and I was allowed inside as long as I did not or take photographs. A porn film ran on a rolling basis downstairs. The entrance fee was R$10 to enter and the facility was open from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Transvestites and female prostitutes worked at the theatre. Customers entered and either sat down to watch the film and were approached by prostitutes or entered and went upstairs to the bar where they were also approached.  The upstairs bar area was well lit with a pole in the middle of the room.

 Hidden from view of the bar were small rooms. In the room, a prison-type bed with a plastic mattress, bare of sheet or pillow was attached to the wall. Pornography played on the above the bed. When the door closed, a sign reading “occupied” in Portuguese let the other customers/prostitutes know the room was taken. The sex workers could work as long as they liked. Star said he only wanted to work long enough to buy a new purse.

Star and I left the theatre two hours later in the middle of the day and had lunch at a local café. He said eating after anal sex made him sick so he only had juice. On the way home, Star stopped and bought the purse he had been looking at all week. He also purchased bus fare with the money he earned and fresh bread and milk from the local bakery for an evening “coffee break”. He didn’t have a set income every week.  He worked when he needed to and always had money. “I don’t have to ask anyone for money. I do this because I want to. I have a teaching degree in geography, you know. It’s just I make so much more money doing this. And I like it much better.”

He waved at the neighbor’s on the streets and stopped to talk with everyone he knew. “I’ve lived in this neighborhood my entire life. I “came out” when I was 17 and that’s also when I started prostituting. Everyone knows what I do. They might not like it but they accept it.”

Star was in his early 40’s but lived at home with his parents. “My parents don’t want me to live out on my own because of what I do. They’re afraid I’ll get killed.” He had a small, clean, feminine room.  Once inside, Star immediately checked his e-mail and web site to make sure he didn’t have any new customers. “Oh, I’ve got two!”  He got on the phone and agreed to meet them at a local hotel after describing his appearance on the phone.

Star had silicone injected into his buttocks, hips and breasts five years ago, an extremely dangerous surgery used in Brazil by many transvestites in order to attract more customers. From a distance with his long, straight hair, he looked like a curvaceous woman and received constant whistles as we walked to his house.  He lived in his parent’s middle-class home. They owned two cars, a computer and both his parents worked. His 25-year-old brother also lived in the house and worked as a physical teacher. Though he called his brother Star he refused to refer to him as “her”.

“Prostitution was legalized shortly after Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was elected into office. If prostitution was illegal, 1,000 tourism doors would close,” said a federal police officer that worked with human trafficking. (Personal communication, July 21, 2007). “Since the election of 2004, I haven’t seen much improvement, not one specific politician has addressed the problem of sexual tourism in Ceara,” claimed a state representative. (Personal communication, July 19, 2007). The interviewees claimed that within the police department and the federal government would never allow prostitution to become illegal. “Many times the judges and the police are involved in prostitution. Do you think they are going to create a law that will make prostitution illegal? They are involved in it,” another federal police officer said. (Personal communication, July 21, 2007). Clancy says in his article about Cuba that in order for sexual tourism to flourish, government inaction or approval must take place.

A state representative said, “Our is permissive and anything goes. There is an acceptance of prostitution, of child labor here. This mentality has to end or the situation will not improve, no matter how many laws there are.” Many people said politicians, police and the public turned a blind eye to what was going on. “The motto is what I don’t see, I don’t know about,” said a librarian. (Personal communication, August 31, 2007).

U.S. State Department of Country Reports on Practices (2006) show the Joint Parliamentary Investigative Commission indicted politicians, aldermen, police officers, mayors, and legislators in 2005 throughout 22 states in Brazil for the sexual exploitation of children and teens. A rape and pandering charge of seven girls was later dismissed against former Goias mayor Boadyr Veloso.

Throughout the interviews, the same concepts were repeated. The laws and legislation are solid, enforcement is lacking and the judicial process drags its feet. The legislative branch blamed the executive. The executive blamed the judicial branch. The laws were sound but often not carried out or applied when they should have been. Though the laws are the same for the local Brazilian or the tourist, the difference is where the foreigner is punished.

If the foreigner is sent back to his country usually nothing happens to him. The process does not continue once he/she leaves Brazil. The victim often does not give a testimony, witnesses are paid off and the judicial branch in turn does not prosecute. There are no special rules or processes for the person being deported. The judicial system is slow. Once arrested, the perpetrator has eight days to leave the country. If the perpetrator does not leave, Brazil must pay for his/her deportation. Brazil does not have the money to pay and the perpetrator often stays illegally for years continuing to commit crimes. If the perpetrator is sentenced, he/she will go to prison, as would the Brazilian local. The chances of being sentenced is much less however if one is a foreigner.

A state representative (personal communication, July 19, 2007) said, “The jail system here is not effective. Even if the police put the pimps in jail, they can’t be kept there for very long and the impression is that the laws aren’t working. Our jail system is extremely ineffective. This is common knowledge among the people that the laws don’t work so people do what they want, knowing they won’t be punished.”

Conclusion

From the observation and interviews conducted, review of written academic research on sexual tourism in Brazil, and based on the economic statistics of the growth of tourism in Fortaleza, one can conclude that the lack of anti-prostitution legislation in Brazil fits the rational choice theory. Economically, sexual tourism appears to aid the city of Fortaleza.

“Brazil isn’t going to want a fight over this with other countries," stated another federal police officer. "There’s too much coming in financially from these other countries. We’re not going to fight about something as small as prostitution, which isn’t even illegal in the first place and lose the support of that country, whose dollar or Euro is strong. The money the President and huge corporations are bringing into the government would be at risk,” adding, “With children and adolescents it is a fight but with adults it isn’t that important because for one, it’s legal and for two, it will cause problems with other countries”. (Personal communication, July 21, 2007).


References

Arreola, Daniel, D. 1996. “Border-City Idee Fixe.” Geographical Review 86: 356-369.

Brazilian Ministry of Tourism. 2004. Campaign of Brasilia: Those who love it protect it. Brazilian Government Printing, no. 559, p. 345.

Clancy, Michael. 2002. “The of Sex Tourism and Cuba: A Commodity Chains Approach.” Studies in Comparative International Development: 4: 63-88.

El-Gawhary, Karim. 1995. “Sex Tourism in Cairo.” Report 196: 26-27.

Graburn, Nelson. 1993. “Tourism and Prostitution.” Annals of Tourism Research 10: 437-442.

Kogan, Lawrence, and Pachovski, Slavi. 2005. “The Wolf and the Stork: How Brazil’s Breaking of U.S. Drug Patents Threatens Global Trade and .” Institute For Trade, Standards, And Sustainable Development.

Lie, John. 1995. “The Transformation of sexual work in 20th Century Korea.” Gender and Society 9: 310-327.

Meaney, Glenn, and Rye, B.J., 2007. “The Pursuit of Sexual Pleasure.” & Culture 11: 28-51.

Oppermann, Martin. 1998. Sex tourism and Prostitution: Aspects of Leisure, Recreation, and Work. New York: Cognizant Communication Corp.

Oppermann, Martin. 1999. “Sex tourism.” Annals of Tourism Research 26: 251-266.

Overall, Christine. 1992. “What’s wrong with Prostitution? Evaluating sex work.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 17: 705-724.

Pettman, Jan. 1997. “Body politics: international sex tourism.” Third World Quarterly 18: 93-108.

Piscitelli, Adriana. 2002. “Exoticism and authenticity: tales of travelers in search of sex.” Cadernos Pagu 19: 195-231.

Piscitelli, Adriana. 2005. “Presentation: Gender in the Sex Market.” Cadernos Pagu 25: 7-23.

Piscitelli, Adriana. 2005. “Travels and sex on-line: the Internet in the geography of sexual tourism.” Cadernos Pagu 25: 281-326.

Reinhardt, S. 1989. “Sexualitat: suche nach einer neuen sichtweise.” In Frauenhandel in Deutschland. 88-92.

Secretaria Do Turismo Do Estado Do Ceara. 2006. Evolucao Recente do Turismo no Ceara. Estudos Turisticos da SETUR No. 17. Segundo Edicao do Secretaria Do Turismo Do Estado Do Ceara.

Taylor, Jacqueline. 2001. “Dollars Are A Girl’s Best Friend? Female Tourists’ Sexual Behaviour in the Caribbean.” Sociology  35:749-764.

Trindade, Eliane. 2005. As Meninas Da Esquina: Diarios dos sonhos, dores e aventuras de seis adolescents do Brasil. Rio de Janeiro: Editora Record.

Truong, Thanh-Dam. 1990.  Sex, money and morality: Prostitution and Tourism in southeast Asia. London: Zed Books.

United States Bureau of . Human Rights and Labor. 2006. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2005.

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