During the 1990s, the global sex trade has emerged in the public eye as an underground institution of male sexual violence. As researchers, activists and global organizations try to promote development in Third World countries, women involved in sex tourism and trafficking are victimized within the singular framework of male sexual violence (Kempadoo). There is a rising trend of women sex workers from Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America entering Western European sex industries (either voluntarily or by force) who often become criminalized and discriminated against because of their participation in a “deviant” activity (Kempadoo 29). Women of color especially have been sexualized and racialized by white, Western tourists and I will argue that these tourist-to-sex worker relationships are manifestations of the Western world’s exploitation and extraction of the Global South as well as a manifestation of men exploiting women. These sex workers not only exist within a patriarchy, but also within a framework of development based on the modernization perspective. Through this framework, the United States and Europe are at the top of an international hierarchy, seen as the ideal conclusion of an evolutionary path towards development. To look in depth at the reality of sex tourism, I will focus on women sex workers trafficked from Nepal into India and child sex workers who entertain tourists in small Indian state of Goa. I argue that while women sex workers have the agency to choose sex work within a context of limited economic opportunity, child sex workers are stripped of all agency and fall to manipulative exploitation for the entertainment of white foreigners. For both women and children engaged in sex work, sex workers should not be criminalized for their choices and actions but be provided with actual economic/educational opportunities. However, for this be to be achieved on a wide-scale level, this may require a complete restructuring of the global development project.
The development of India’s sex tourism sector has roots in imperialism and British military occupation. For many countries occupied by foreign troops, local governments tolerated or even encouraged the prostitution of local women. Militarized prostitution is based on the construction that military men must satisfy their their heterosexual desires, demanding access to local women of color. Within the context of militarized prostitution, these women are treated as mere Brown/Black bodies that are used to ensure masculinity, hetereosexuality, and male dominance (Kempadoo 30-31). Although the British Empire often tried to push policies of “purity” onto colonized Indian communities and ban religious/cultural practices that they incorrectly viewed as sexual, moral reformers failed to prevent British troops from engaging with prostitution with local Indian women even with the passing of the Contagious Diseases Acts. Indian women who worked as prostitutes would be forced to undergo medical examinations and be detained if found to be diseased (Pivar 257-258). Despite reform efforts, Indian military brothels flourished. Within these sexual relationships, the relationship between exploitative Great Britain and India manifested as British military clients were advantaged by their financial superiority/higher status. Although India is now an independent nation, these sexual dynamics rooted in a colonial legacy persist within India’s underground sex tourism industry.
Today, sex tourism primarily involves wealthy, Western tourists traveling to “exotic” Third World countries to satisfy sexual desires that cannot be fulfilled at home. Similar to the colonial era and times of foreign military occupation, local governments encourage women to be sexually appealing, racializing them into exotic figures of beauty and tolerating sex work in order to make their country a hot vacation spot. With the promotion of tourism as an important method for Third World countries to enter the global economy, national governments have relied on the sexual labor of their women (Kempadoo 32). Indian women are racialized for being exotic and erotic with the hopes of luring in wealthy tourists. Even in tourist industries where sex is not an explicitly granted, working in the hospitality field involves a certain level of sexual appeal and manufactured intimacy (Cabezas 102). In Goa, massage parlours skate the line between hospitality and sexuality. Often, tourists seek out massages from beautiful women in these parlours with “massages” implicitly suggesting sexual favors. These parlours offer women who are both “smart, college Punjabi girls” as well as women from other countries, but these women come at an even greater cost (Nagvenkar 1). At massage parlors, brothels, and more typical service jobs, Indian women are expected to serve and make their clients feel as comfortable and happy as possible. Sexuality becomes an essential feature of women’s labor as they must be both economically productive and sexually productive workers (Cabezas 102). In this way, Brown women are used as an export commodity, and although the tourism sector is promised to benefit everyone in society, ultimately sex tourism solely profits government elites and foreign corporations that control tourism industries in the long-term.
In widespread depictions of the global sex trade, women from developing countries are framed as trafficked victims. If you are a Third World woman, your experience to the global sex trade is solely that of abuse, entrapment, and male violence. In India, human trafficking is a prevalent issue as many women are trafficked from Nepal into India. One community-based cross-sectional study conducted among the sex workers of West Bengal found that almost one out of every four sex workers (24%) were trafficked. Rates of violence within the profession is higher for workers who were trafficked at 57% compared to workers who entered sex work voluntarily (who experience violence within the profession at rates of 15%) (Sarkar 1). This rising problem has not gone unnoticed as the Asian Women’s Human Rights Council convened in Delhi in 1996 to condemn the trafficking of women is an “escalating form of violence,” and that trafficking women is a “contemporary form of slavery,” (Kempadoo 36). However, Kempadoo argues that looking at trafficking and sex work (especially within the sex tourism sector) as only one of sexual slavery and male violence ignores the broader context of oppression and experiences for women of color. This framework threatens to `leave Indian sex workers as simply patriarchal victims when in reality, these women are working within much more complex frameworks of development, colonial legacies, and cultural imperialisms. For example, in regards to the women trafficked from Nepal into India, factors such as the caste system and power disparities in terms of poverty and political standing are involved in who becomes
forced sexual into labor (Kempadoo 38). For women who have voluntarily participated in sex tourism, sex work enables them to be the family breadwinner and take care of those that they love. Because of the centuries of extraction and economic restructuring of India by the British Empire and continued neoliberal interventions by Western-led institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank, millions of Indian men and women have little economic opportunity to escape poverty. Rather than work potentially dangerous and vulnerable jobs, sex work became a viable alternative. Women involved in sex work are not only oppressed by the patriarchy, but by neocolonial constructions that poses them as products to be extracted (Kempadoo 39). Kempadoo explains, “For several centuries women of color have been positioned as sexual servants to the white world… a continuous theme is the unconditional sexual access that white men had to Black and Brown women’s bodies and the force and coercion that was involved,” (Kempadoo 40). In other words, women of color are objectified not only sexually, but racially as black and brown bodies are perpetually viewed as products to be taken and used. Their labor, both economic and sexual, is ignored because they are naturally expected to serve.
Within the small Indian of Goa especially, child sex tourism is on the rise. Freddy Peats is a famous example of a man who created an “orphanage” of over 150 boys from poor migrant households. These boys were offered to Western tourists for sexual favors. The state government strove to pose Freddy Peats as an isolated example in order to not harm Goa’s booming tourism industry as ⅙ of Goa’s population is employed by the tourism industry
(Noronha 1). However, organized child sex services is becoming increasingly more common with push factors accredited to poverty, illiteracy, and unemployment (Equations 5). There are some 400,000 to 500,000 children in forced prostitution in India, according to estimates by UNICEF and ECPAT International. Goa is seen as ideal for child sex tourism because of its large, floating migrant children population, “indifferent” police force, and a state government that is eager to push tourism (Baria 1). Children from drought-prone areas come to Goa in hopes of making money through different means but become vulnerable to sex work. one woman from a local child rights group says, "Many come to sell flowers, fruit or mungfali (groundnuts) and end up selling themselves,” (Baria 1). Ultimately child sex tourism in India is allowed to flourish because it is characterized by invisibility and mobility. The oppression and experiences of women of color in relation to Westerners are deeply ignored, but the taboo topic of pedophilia and exploitation of children is erased even further, allowing more and more children to experience sexual abuse.
Global sex trade must not be reduced to male violence against women because ignores layers of history, varying identities, and different experiences of women involved in global sex tourism. Continually, it erases the experiences of child sex abuse and through erasure, allows the abuse to continue. In order to move forward, we should take the lead of women of color involved in sex trade and regard their labor as real work rather than criminalized, deviant activity. These women should be offered support. Policies should be made to improve their working conditions rather than installing a widespread elimination of prostitution. Most importantly, the woman’s agency needs to be respected and there needs to be a recognition of her role in a hierarchical global development project. For child sex tourism, however, this must be regarded as abuse. Children are vulnerable to extreme exploitation and lack the agency of adult women sex workers. Goa’s state government needs to recognize the growing trend of organized child sex exploitation and work on abolishing this industry even if it risks Goa’s reputation as an ideal tourist spot for foreigners.
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