Share via Email Selling sex to male foreigners is an all too common occupation for many young women in poor and developing countries. Prostitution is a horrible job - we know this from the countless stories from the women involved.
Women in popular sex tourist destinations such as the Philippines have spoken out about how women are sold from childhood in order to meet the massive demand from western men for cheap sex on tap with "exotic" females. But now there is an emerging market in the "girlfriend trade", where men do not just buy sex, but have a woman thrown in for the duration of their stay.
Director Monica Garnsey travelled to Venezuela and Thailand to look at the growing demand for "commercialised love". Her two-part documentary, My Boyfriend, the Sex Tourist, is told through the stories of the women for sale. With the UK government currently considering whether or not to criminalise the buying of sexual services, is this not the moment to push for UK men to be deterred from buying sex abroad? Sex tourism deters regular tourism, adversely affects the economy, and leads to abuse and degradation of the women caught up in it.
At Total Satisfaction, a resort on an island off Venezuela, white, middle-aged men arrive alone. As well as the sun, sea, sand and constant flow of alcohol, they are waiting for the line-up which greets all newcomers. Euphemistically known as an "audition", several scantily-clad women come running to the bar when the bell rings.
If they are not chosen, they do not make any money, so they do their best to look enthusiastic and keen. Whoever is picked by a customer is required to move her belongings into his room. Unlike regular prostitution, where the women at least get a break between customers and shifts, these women never stop. If the customer gets ill while she is in his employ, she will be required to clean up his vomit. Although the publicity for such package holidays promotes the "real girlfriend experience", it is anything but.
Men who travel to such destinations are buying a dangerous delusion - that there are plenty of women in far-away "exotic" locations who will pander to their every desire, and love it to boot.
While the customers in such resorts can enjoy 24 hours of constant attention and pure, hedonistic pleasure, the women hate the experience. The worst of it, the women admit to each other, is the fact that there is no escape.
Their facial muscles look almost fixed in fake smiles, and the voices sound hoarse from laughing at the unfunny jokes, coming out of the mouths of men they would not glance at twice, were it not for the money.
Sex tourism promotes an insidious form of racism. The men view the women for sale as "exotic" and "other" - so unlike their mothers and sisters that they can treat them as mere commodities. Research has shown that many sex tourists do not consider the women as prostitutes. They believe that women from the countries they visit simply love having loads of sex with western men. Two years ago, British police visited Thailand to train local officers in methods of combating sexual abuse of children by sex tourists.
It was recently announced that police would be working with Cambodian authorities to track down sex tourists who travel from the UK to abuse children. This is good stuff, but what about the adult women bought and abused by UK men? Many of the women enter the trade as children, and there are those who are under 16, posing as older.
Would it not make sense to simply criminalise sex tourism and set an example to other countries whose men travel abroad to buy women? Sex tourists in Thailand often go further than buying a "girlfriend" and look for a wife. For the women in the Thai sex industry, the prospect of a foreign husband and a nice house in the west is a far better prospect than dire poverty.
But the fact that some women are desperate enough to sell themselves to such men is no excuse for us to accept the fact that thousands of British men take advantage of their lack of choice. If a man cannot acquire a girlfriend the old-fashioned way, he should accept that it is unlikely a beautiful young woman in a far-away country will want him as her personal sex-god. The UK government should take a stand against men who travel abroad to buy sex, as it allows poorer countries to sell its women like cheap, holiday tat.