WASHINGTON – One New Orleans travel agency promises to guide clients to “satisfaction” with a variety of Asian sex tour packages,a type of tourism some members of Congress want stopped.
G&F Tours specializes in sex travel,a type of international tourism that guides travelers to international brothels,massage parlors and bars where prostitution is legal or ignored by police.
U.S. Internet users can find information about tours to Thailand and the Philippines with a click of a mouse. Potential travelers can request a G&F pamphlet with a testimonial allegedly from a former customer,which begins like a typical travelogue and quickly changes into pornographic descriptions of nightlife escapades.
One way to decrease demand is to prosecute Americans who travel abroad to purchase sex,particularly with minors,said Rep. Carolyn Maloney,D-N.Y.,at a recent House subcommittee hearing.
“We need to do more to focus on the demand side of the equation,” Maloney said. “The buyers of sex and the pimps are the perpetrators.”
Humanitarian groups and six members of Congress are attempting to stop international sex trade and human trafficking by supporting legislation that would clarify the law to allow prosecutors to bring charges against those who visit prostitutes abroad and sex tour travel agencies.
The House bill would amend the Mann Act,which prohibits transporting a person across state lines for prostitution. Although some say the law's language could be interpreted to apply to purchasers of sex,it has never been used that way.
Overt travel operations such as G&F Tours function as only a small part of a much larger sex tourism industry,said Ken Franzblau,an attorney with Equality Now,a nonprofit women's rights organization in New York.
“It's a bunch of guys who have no regard for the situation that these women are in,” Franzblau said in a phone interview. “They don't really care where these women came from,how they end up the in the situation,how much money they get to keep.”
A disclaimer at the bottom of G&F Tours' Web page warns against men looking for sex with minors,but Jessica Neuwirth,Equality Now president,said even traveling abroad for the purpose of adult sex should be stopped because it helps fuel the larger sex trade and trafficking.
“We actually know that there are children involved,but we can't prove it,” Neuwirth said.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation reported that human trafficking generates $9.5 billion annually. Human trafficking helps fuel organized crime and is closely related to money laundering,document forging and drug trafficking,according to the 2005 State Department report on human trafficking.
“It's enormous,and it's just getting bigger as people can communicate easier and travel easier,” Franzblau said.
Prosecuting prostitutes has been the traditional approach to sex trade,but a 2003 study published in the Journal of Trauma Practice,which specializes in psychology,found that 89 percent of 854 prostitutes in nine countries wanted out of the industry.
A recent study by University of Rhode Island Professor Donna M. Hughes said law enforcement must focus on those demanding sex acts.
Few men are ever prosecuted or shunned for buying sex. And while the English language has a number of slang synonyms for prostitute,Neuwirth said,the only slang word to describe purchasers of sex is “john.”
“In the English language,there's not even a word for ‘johns,'” Neuwirth said. “It shows the invisibility of those people.”
Another group,the Polaris Project,also focuses on human trafficking and the silence surrounding it.
Sex traders “are able to build up this mystery of what's going on,” said Katherine Chon,Polaris Project co-director.
Equality Now has been investigating cases of international sex tourism for years,Franzblau said.
New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer brought civil charges against owners of a sex tour company in his state,which yielded a restraining order prohibiting advertising and promotion and effectively led to the company's closure.
However,no action has been taken in Louisiana against G&F Tours. But the proposed sex tourism legislation would allow U.S. attorneys to prosecute tour company owners and travelers. Convicting one of the big companies might discourage tourists across the country from signing up for trips,Franzblau said.