Sex Tourism

Every year millions of Americans travel to countries in the Caribbean, Asia, and South America for the scenic beauty and exotic food. A less public aspect of the tourist industry however, consists of thousands of people who travel overseas in order to engage in sex with or take pornographic pictures of children. Sex tourism, traveling to a foreign country in search of sex, has become a main reason behind commercial sexual exploitation of women and children. Although there is commercial sex abuse of young people in the United States, it is much more prevalent in developing countries where brothels can employ girls (and sometimes boys) ages 7 to 17. More than a million children enter the sex trade each year worldwide.                                                                                              

Some Statistics On Commercial Sex In The U.S.

The ECPAT (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography, and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Exploitation) provided the following estimates on the sex industry within the United States.

  • Almost 4,000 children in New York City were found to be sexually exploited, 50% were boys. 
  • 45% of child commercial sexual exploitation victims in New York City were exploited in hotels. 
  • Children as young as 12 years old are trafficked for sexual exploitation.
  • 100,000-300,000 children are trafficked in U.S.
  • There are fewer than 250 shelter beds for commercially sexually exploited children in the U.S.

These statistics for the U.S. are smaller than those worldwide, and demonstrates how prevalent the commercial sex industry is even within a westernized first world country. Globally, profits obtained from the use of forced labor are estimated at $150 billion per year; about $99 billion from commercial sexual exploitation. A person can travel to any country and still sex tourism, some countries are just better known for the sex industry than others.  

Destinations for Sex Tourists

Cheap airfares, the ease of entering countries once closed because of war or politics, and the advent of the Internet have provided more opportunities for tourists looking for underage sex partners. Countries such as Cambodia and Vietnam have been well-known destinations for such tourists, but now Thailand, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka are gaining similar reputations. This trend is quickly spreading to other poverty-ridden areas of the world, such as Latin America and Eastern Europe. Offenders are increasingly coming from within Asia itself, particularly Taiwanese, Korean, and Japanese men working abroad.


 The Internet and Sex Tourism

The rapid growth of the Internet has become a highly effective tool in promoting the child-sex industry. Websites on the Internet dedicated to the selling of commercial sex, provide an international forums where individuals can promote and sell sex-tours, sometimes advertising packages for travelers complete with airfare, hotel, and directions to local brothels. More than 100 websites promote teenage commercial sex in Asia alone. The website owners may charge an average of $100-$150 in membership fees and offer extensive information about the sex industry in specific locations. The internet had made finding and selling sex worldwide much easier.


A List Of Motivations Of Sex Tourists

While abroad, sex tourists may feel free from the social constraints of their home countries, and thus be more likely to engage in inappropriate or unacceptable behaviors.

Travelers may view the children of third world countries as inferior, or justify their behavior by convincing themselves that there are no social taboos regarding having sex with children in the country they are visiting.

Sex tourists may harbor the misconception that children are less likely to contract sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV. There also exists a distorted belief in some Asian and African countries that having sex with a virgin will cure HIV. (These notions are unfounded and false. In fact, the average rate for HIV infected children rescued from brothels is 50 percent, and some rates are as high as 90 percent.)

A contributing factor to the sex tourism industry is the fact that poor countries are often under strict economic pressure to develop general tourism as a source of income, which positively correlates with the growth of sex trafficking. Sadly, sometimes the governments of these countries "turn a blind eye" toward this devastating problem in pursuit of the income boost tourism provides.

 Treatment of Sex Workers

Children are trapped and brought into the sex industry using numerous methods. Some are lured away from broken homes by "recruiters" who promise jobs to poor children in the city. After being removed from their families, the children are forced into a life of prostitution. Others are forced into prostitution by their own parents in a desperate attempt to earn extra money. Poverty often creates intense desperation, and parents sometimes sell their children into the sex industry in exchange for food, shelter, and other necessities of life.

Many of these children are beaten, tortured, or in extreme cases, murdered. Children involved in sex work commonly contract sexually transmitted diseases or die of AIDS-related illnesses. To endure their misery, many of the enslaved children turn to drugs or alcohol. Those who do survive often have emotional scars and are left grappling with the feeling that they are incapable of loving, trusting, or enjoying the warmth of human contact.

 Risks To Sex Workers'

  • Increased risk of HIV/AIDS
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Unwanted pregnancy
  • Vaginal and/or anal tearing
  • Violence
  • Rape
  • Physical, psychological, and emotional abuse
  • Imprisonment

   Detrimental Mental Health

  Non-consenting prostitution is a violation of women’s, men’s, and children’s basic human rights and treats its victims as sexual objects that can be bought, sold, and disposed. The emotional pain of being treated this poorly can lead to depression and resignation to one’s role in life. The grave state of girls' mental health is illustrated well by Poppy,

   "I found myself dancing at a club at the age of 11... I have had different kinds of customers, foreigners and Filipinos. I tried suicide but it didn't work so I turned to drugs. I want to die before my next birthday."



Working Towards A Solution

  Child-sex tourism is a complicated obstacle to overcome, especially because of its wide-reaching international scope. A heightened awareness of this extreme violation of children's (as well as adults) rights may help to curb the growing problem. There also, needs to be a two-fold effort between the consumer countries and the host countries to dispel and dissuade travelers from searching for commercial sex. Some countries affected by this problem have passed extraterritorial legislation making it illegal for its citizens to travel abroad to have sex with minors. Prosecutions of these crimes occur within the countries of origins of the offenders. This is in the hopes that the penalties will perhaps be considered more seriously.

Unfortunately, this extraterritorial legislation cannot be entirely effective until destination countries increase the enforcement of their laws against child prostitution. The tricky problem lies in bringing offenders to justice, because it is difficult to compile a court case using child witnesses, who are often either poor or homeless. If efforts were made to increase educational, employment, and financial opportunities, fewer poverty stricken women and children would be forced into dangerous and undesirable sex work.


  1. "Get Involved." ECPAT International. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Feb. 2015.
  2. "Your Shopping Cart." ECPAT USA. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Feb. 2015.


Last Updated 09 February 2014.