Spring Break provides an ideal excuse to escape from home. With the kids out of school, you can trade dreary, gray and brown landscapes for palm trees and azure skies. Boots can be tossed into the corner and exchanged for flip flops. Sand castles replace snowmen, beach chairs substitute for office chairs, and thundering seas displace frozen puddles of slush. For seven days, your world is filled with warm sunshine, frosty drinks, and the unmistakable scents of chlorine and sun screen.
As wonderful as spring break is, it offers a potential for sinister activities, like sex tourism. This industry treats sex as just another visitor attraction, and it can also open doors for human trafficking. Some tourists venture away from home for the purpose of going to bed with strangers; others buy prostitutes on an impulse. Whatever the case, perpetrators can be male or female, and victims can be men, women, or children.
Sex tourism exists in several different countries, but some common destinations include Thailand, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Kenya, Mexico, the Philippines, and the Netherlands (specifically Amsterdam). But it’s more than an international problem; it can also occur in our homeland, particularly in sensual cities like Las Vegas and Montreal, Quebec (also known as the sex tourism capital of North America) (Baklinski 2013). In some of these areas, prostitution is legal (countries that permit prostitution may see higher rates of human trafficking, evidence suggests [Cho, Dreher, and Neumayer 2013]). In other areas, laws are lax and easy to evade.
Perhaps the most troubling segment of sex tourism is that which sells children under the age of 18. And it’s not just pedophiles that purchase sex from minors. Most child sex tourists are “situational”—that is, they are not exclusively attracted to children (as are pedophiles). Rather, they are experimenters. Traveling to other countries or cities offers them the perfect opportunity to do this because of the “anonymity and impunity” it entails (The Code). Those who pursue these activities may try to rationalize them by assuring themselves, “This is helping [the victim] survive/make a living” or “Things are different in this country.”
These are convenient lies. The sex tourism industry is toxic for victims caught in its web, imparting onto them multitudes of problems: dangerous pregnancy, STDs, psychological trauma, substance addiction, bodily damage, and poverty. It is nothing short of abuse. And it doesn’t matter where in the world perpetrators are, nor does it matter what a specific country’s policy is; thanks to the PROTECT Act, U.S. citizens are considered criminals when they exploit children, and those found guilty will be imprisoned for a maximum of thirty years.
In spite of legislation, a fourth of the world’s international child sex tourists come from North America, according to End Child Prostitution and Trafficking (ECPAT) (as cited in Martin, 2013). We have made progress, but our work here is far from over.
There are several ways you can help during this spring break. Supporting Threads of Hope, located in the Philippines, is one. In a country where sex tourism thrives, this organization offers an empowering alternative to walking the streets at night: weaving beautiful bracelets, which you can purchase through the WAR Chest Boutique. When you knot the ends around your wrist, you can rest assured that you have granted a new life to a human soul.
If you are involved in the tourism industry, you have a special and unique privilege to combat this form of human trafficking. When working directly with clients—or speaking with those who do—inform them about sex tourism and encourage them to take action alongside of you. Your company can also join organizations like the Code, which will provide you with tools and resources to fight child sex tourism. Flight attendants and other airline workers can help, too, by educating themselves about the signs of human trafficking and watching for potential victims.
Whether you decide to stay home or venture abroad this spring break, make sure to enjoy some quality time with your family. But also seize the opportunity to boycott sexual exploitation. Say “no” to pornography, casual sex, strip clubs, wet t-shirt contests, and other activities that objectify people. The heart of human trafficking—the mechanism by which it continues—is the demand for commercialized sex. So refuse to fuel it, and encourage others to do the same. In doing this—or anything else to stop sex tourism—you will begin to loosen the chains of modern-day slavery.