A few years ago a friend made a comment…

“Whenever I hear about a single guy going to Thailand I assume he is going for the prostitutes.”

It’s inaccurate and unfair to lump every guy in that category, but it did get me thinking; who is going abroad for sex?

I’ll share the answer in a moment.

First, let me give you some context…

The CDC defines “sex tourism” as travel planned specifically for the purpose of sex, generally to a country where prostitution is legal.

For this article:

  • The purpose of the trip is irrelevant. If you go abroad and pay for sex then you are a sex tourist
  • “Is it legal?” is a pretty useless question compared to “is it moral?”
  • In many cases, “sex tourism” is a gentle way of saying “rape.”

Not everyone believes prostitution is immoral. In cases where the person accepting money for sex has the mental and emotional capacity, plus the means to make an informed and consensual decision, there is a nuanced argument in favor of choice. That standard is high and is the minority of cases.

For the majority of cases, prostitution is not an informed choice. Around the world, 4.8 million adults and children of all genders are enslaved for sexual exploitation, and countless more are “choosing” this dangerous work without viable alternatives. Risk factors for prostitution include being born female, being part of a socially disadvantaged race or class, poverty, and prior sexual abuse; nobody chooses these attributes. The vast majority of these people are amongst the world’s poorest and least educated, and over 1 million of them are children, who do not have the capacity for consent.

And if you believe these people are choosing prostitution and are therefore consenting to the sexual actions, then is it informed consent? The United Nations defines informed consent as “the individual concerned must have all relevant facts at the time consent is given and be able to evaluate and understand the consequences of an action. They also must be aware of and have the power to exercise their right to refuse to engage in an action and/or to not be coerced.”

Consider this:

  • A recent field study surveyed 854 prostituted women in nine countries. The study concluded that 60 – 75% of women in prostitution were raped, 70 – 95% were physically assaulted, and 68% met the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder. 89% of the women urgently wanted to escape prostitution.
  • The World Health Organization recognizes that prostituted women are at a much higher risk for HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases than the general population.
  • A study in the American Journal of Epidemiology found the mortality rate of women in prostitution to be 200 times higher than that of the general population.

These are just a few of the data points someone must consider to give informed consent to prostitution. No one able to understand these consequences and uncoerced would make that choice; and coercion is more than just beating someone into submission, it’s also absolute destitution or the fear of it.

Here is the United Nation’s definition of rape: “Penetration – even if slightly – of any body part of a person who does not consent with a sexual organ and/or the invasion of the genital or anal opening of a person who does not consent with any object or body part.”

Alright, back to my point.

Non-consensual sex is rape, and that’s what the majority of “sex tourists” are buying; sex from people forced into prostitution without the ability to give consent.

You could argue these sex tourists didn’t know they were committing rape, either because they hadn’t considered it or because the purchase of sex was legal. Rape law around the world is inconsistent and in some cases not very good, but the simplest definition of rape is penetration without consent; it doesn’t require an intent to rape. Also FYI, choosing to be ignorant of basic morality doesn’t relieve your culpability.

Forced prostitution exists because there is a market for it, with incentives for both supply and demand. I believe part of the solution to end slavery is in challenging those incentives. For example, if you can raise the “cost of doing business” for the supply side, then prices should go up and you should see a correlated decrease in demand. Maybe.

The supply side is made up of organized crime, corrupt government workers, shitty law enforcement, and opportunists.

The demand side is both locals and rape tourists.

Here are the facts:

  • Rape tourists typically come from developed, wealthier countries; think America, Western Europe, Japan, China, etc.
  • Rape tourists include both men and women, but it’s mostly men.
  • Non-profit research says 15 – 20% of American men have paid for sex, which is 20+ million men. In Japan it’s 37%. Cambodia is up to a sickening 80%. That is only counting living people, and doesn’t distinguish between domestic and international rape.
  • Bangkok, Thailand is one of the largest sex tourism destinations in the world, and 89% of tourists that visit Bangkok are men. That’s atleast correlation, though the demographics are shifting.
  • Foreign military presence also correlates to and may cause a more robust local sex trade. Here. Here. Here. Here.

All the data leads to at least one clear takeaway: millions of men from developed countries have gone abroad to pay for rape. It’s easy to think of these men as a shady underbelly of society that have no direct connections to us or other good people, but that’s improbable. One in five American men have paid for sex, and they are amongst our friends, brothers, fathers, grandfathers, uncles, cousins, nephews, and coworkers.

Am I calling your friend that went to Thailand and paid for sex a rapist? Yes.

Think about that.

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