Sex tourism is a much discussed topic within tourism research and the social sciences, both from the angle of prostitution and the behavioural attitudes of the tourists. How authors use the term sex tourism and the sex tourist could make an interesting topic in itself entirety. Are Club 18-30's holiday's sex tourism? Is a sex tourist one that travels simply to exchange money for the sexual act? Is it one that travels to a destination for other reasons and sex is just a part of the trip? All of which create arguments. Another is who is the victim in the transaction, the tourist or the 'prostitute'?
Most of us may have come across Thailand as a popular destination for sex tourists in search of their Thai bride or to get picked up in the go-go bars of Bangkok for a night of 'fun.' The economic development of Thailand emerged from the government's recognition of Bangkok's reputation as a 'sex-capital.' Since Thai women seek out economic support in gaining the affections of well-financed Western tourists and men seek out the attention and lifestyle in paradise consequently sex tourism is successful as a niche within the tourist industry in areas of Thailand (Ryan and Hall, 2001)
The topic of Thai brides is very close to home for myself, I've been a child on looking at the pretty girls in the bars trying to grab my younger brother and giving my Dad flirtatious attention. Continuous trips to this intriguing country are as a result of my grandfather marrying a Thai woman; he built a better life for her and her family of which we were and are still involved in. However this situation is not often the case for the majority of men that travel to Thailand, investigations into the experiences of Western men prove to be revealing concerning the question of who is the victim.
Tourist behaviour whilst on holiday most commonly tends to differ from their tendencies in behaviour whilst at home. There are the stories that commonly appear in the literature about Western men losing their inhibitions, finding love and losing their money. Acclaimed by authors Del Casino and Hanna (2003) 'Thailand is safe, not only because of the traces of a familiar West, but also because it is a space outside the everyday routine of tourists. Thus acts that might be deemed inappropriate are more manifest in this unique and socially distant place.' The foreign currency that is spent in the country by Western tourists contributes to a large proportion of the economies income, and it is these skill-full women that are at the hub of it all (Sims, 2011).
It cannot be taken lightly that sex work is not a glamorous trade, and there are risks that coincide with the prostitution of young women. Although those Western men that travel to the destination with the expectation to find love admiration and become compelled, besotted and often blinded by their charm and attention. Statements from Seabrook (2001) express the experiences of men that get caught into the commodity of Thai girlfriends 'You feel sorry for them, and you know they're poor. She took me up-country, Nakhon Ratchasima. Her house was the biggest in the village. She'd built it on the men who'd been through her; ...I think women have an instinct. They know what they can get away with and what they can't.'
Thai women looking for a better style of life for themselves and their family, have in recent years moved away from the rural villages and to the 'sex capitals.' Often it is their choice, a change in career paths, hopefully short term but they are still open to the risks that exist with sex work. Although it has been said that tourist's behaviours differ on holiday, we are still human and there are aspects of different cultures that we don't understand that create limitations. Commonly there are several differences that Western men struggle with; accepting that the Thai women that they fall for still have to work when they are not around, the multiple boyfriends can in some cases lead to violence. Also, when travelling there is often a language barrier, when married the Western man can demand and expect the Thai woman to learn English; hence communication in long term relationships is a limitation.
The argument of who is the victim in this transaction has been swayed towards to Western man, but classing them as a victim would mean that they have no knowledge of what they are getting themselves into when in fact, they've heard the stories too and still get sucked into the commodity of Thai brides.
After reading, do your thoughts on who is the victim still remain?
Del Casino, V. and S. Hanna (2003) 'Mapping identities, reading maps: the politics of representation in Bangkok's sex tourism industry' in their (Eds) Mapping Tourism University of Minnesota Press pp. 161
Seabrook, J. (2001) Travels in the skin trade: tourism and the sex industry. London, Pluto
Sims, M, J. (2011) Beyond the Stereotype of the 'Thai-Bride': visibility, invisibility and community [online] Available at: http://xa.yimg.com/kq/groups/23100008/1581460396/name/Sims-ThaiChpv4kcedits.docx [Accessed: 25 May 2012]