Sex tourists are often considered to be dirty old paedophiles flying to Thailand to deliberately exploit children. What remains unknown is that the majority of them are situational offenders without an exclusive sexual preference for children.
„They don’t necessarily have to be businesspeople or backpackers. They can be young or old, high or low educated. The situational abusers are a cross cut of society.“ Giorgio Berardi is programme officer for combating child sex tourism at ECPAT (End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism).
It is hard to figure out the stereotypical sex tourist. Although no distinguishing physical features, patterns of social behaviour or particular mannerisms can be made out, ECPAT has separated them into three distinct categories: the situational Child Sex Tourist, the preferential Child Sex Tourist and the paedophile.
Other than the last two categories, people from the first category do not have an active sexual preference for children. By ways of experimentation or opportunities that emerge by being a tourist in a poor country, he or she chooses to interact sexually with a person under 18. He or she does not have an exclusive sexual inclination for children. Nevertheless, the majority of child sex tourists consist of situational Child Sex Tourists.
Exact figures or statistics are hard to provide, according to Berardi. The only sources of investigation are the child victims and legal records. „The difficulty is that the situational perpetrators hardly even get caught“, explains the 48 year-old Italian from his Bangkok office. Most lawsuits are based on video evidence. Situational Child Sex Tourists do not make pictures because they do not seem to value recording what they did and fear the consequences of possessing such material. The lack of evidence makes it very hard to prosecute them.
The major important feature of ECPAT policy is the Code of Conduct. Signatory companies must implement the Code’s criteria of a set of minimum standards, a timeframe or action plan for the implementation of the Code across their operations. Through the code ECPAT attempts to hand certain amount of responsibility for sex tourism to tourist companies by getting them involved in the part (awareness-raising and prevention) they can do best.
Local staff members can act as deterrents. „We are not training them as policemen“, Berardi points out, „we are teaching them to see things with an alert eye. In that way we can involve people on the forefront to confront tourists with what they are about to do and what the consequences can be.“
A global struggle
Child Sex Tourism (CST) is found everywhere. After the fall off the Berlin Wall, the economic gap and kids living under bad circumstances in Eastern Europe attracted paedophile-minded people. The EU acted very alert on the influx of Sex Tourists visiting problem areas in Estonia and at the Czech border to Germany and Austria. Those regions are now turning into to a more on adult-focused sex-industry.
Asia remains problematic. Thailand is not necessarily the worst country, but definitely has the worst reputation, Berardi explains. While authorities in cheaper destinations like Cambodia and Vietnam are reacting, the Thai remain reluctant regarding measures on combating CST.
In his struggle of lobbying with governments and tourist organisations, Berardi is often confronted with short sightedness and fear that the measures will negatively influence the tourist business. But the Italian remains positive: „The countries that are economically relying on tourism know that this kind of tourism does not pay off in the long term. Conventional tourists usually do not like the atmosphere and will search for a more sustainable location.“
This article is written by Fleur de Weerd and is published in the magazine GLOBAL VIEW 02/2009 (end of June 2009).