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sex_tourism - THE GLOBALIZATION OF SEX TOURISM NANCY A...

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Unformatted text preview: THE GLOBALIZATION OF SEX TOURISM NANCY A. WONDERS RAYMOND MICHALOWSKI [The current era of globalization is characterized by unprecedented movement of material, informa— tion, finance, and bodies across borders. In this ar- ticle, we examine how globalization facilitates the growth of sex tourism, as well] as the particular character of sex tourism in different locales. As others have already detailed (Opperman 1998), “sex tourism” is a protean term that attempts to capture varieties of leisure travel that have as a part of their purpose the purchase of sexual ser- vices. Clearly the concepts of “prostitution” and “tourism” are both central to an analysis of sex tourism, but neither term captures the full mean- ing of sex tourism. “Sex tourism” highlights the convergence between prostitution and tourism, links the global and the local, and draws attention to both the production and consumption of sexual services. The growth in sex tourism over the last two decades is well established (Kempadoo and Doezema 1998; Opperman 1998). In this article, we focus specifically on how the global forces shaping this growth connect the practice of sex work in two disparate cities with globalized sex tourism. . . . Research provides compelling evidence that cities are strategic sites for observing the effects of globalization (Sassen 1998, 2000a, 2000b; Sassen and Roost 1997). In our analysis, we detail the way that the global forces shaping the produc— tion and consumption of sex tourism impact two very different cities: Amsterdam and Havana. We explore the global connections that link sex work in these two cities with the forces associated with globalized sex tourism. Specifically, we argue that global forces impact sex work in both cities through four mediating institutions: (1) the tourism industry, (2) labor markets, (3) the local— ized sex industry, and (4) law and policy. As me- diating institutions in these cities adjusted to the impact of global forces, they created opportunities for sex tourism to flourish. It is important to our analysis that Amster— dam and Havana are very different cities. Many argue that global forces are easily discerned in “global cities” like Amsterdam (Sassen 20003, 1998). Global cities are strategically positioned at the center of the global capitalist system as command points, key locations, and market- places for leading industries, and major sites of production. . . . In contrast, Havana is located in Cuba, one of the last self—identified socialist states in the world. Cuba is a developing island nation struggling to find a foothold in the new global capitalist econ- omy that will enable it to grow economically, while preserving its socialist accomplishments in Source: Nancy A. Wonders and Raymond Michalowski, “Bodies, Borders, and Sex Tourism in a Globalized World: A Tale of Two Cities—Amsterdam and Havana,” Social Problems, vol. 48 (2001), pp. 545*571. © 2001 by The Society for the Study of Social Problems. Reprinted with permission. 199 200 PART EIGHT HETEROSEXUAL DEVIANCE health, education, and social welfare (Dello Buono and Lara 1997). Despite their differences, we illustrate that globalization’s reach is evident in both Amsterdam and Havana. The specific responses to global forces differ, but comparison between these two cities reveals the impact of significant global con— nections on sex work in both locations. SEX TOURISM IN AMSTERDAM, HOLLAND In Amsterdam, the commodification of bodies has been perfected to the level of an art form. The red light district resembles the modern openaair shop- ping mall in the United States. Relatively clean streets, little crime, a neon atmosphere, and win- dows and windows of women to choose from—— every size, shape, and color (though not in equal amounts). The red light district seems designed to be a sex tourist’s Mecca. The range of services for the leisure traveler includes sex clubs, sex shows, lingerie and S&M clothing shops, condomories, and a sprinkling of porno stores. But the charac— ter of Amsterdam’s red light district is different from most other sex tourist locations because it is centered in an historic district between the Dude Kerk (Old Church) and de Waag (an old weighing station)—two of the most spectacular cultural tourist sites in the city—and it is surrounded by an old, well established residential neighborhood. Indeed, walking through the red light district in the daytime is not so different from walk- ing down any other shopping street in the city, though the area takes on a festival atmosphere at night. Crowds of men walk the street, stopping to gaze at the living merchandise in the window. The routine among men is much like the routine observed among women shopping for clothes, with plentiful commentary on the size, shape, color, and cost of the women on display. The smorgasbord of languages rising through the air reveals the international character of those shop- ping for bodies. In describing the Amsterdam scene, it is im- portant to make clear that women sex workers are far from passive in the shopping interaction. On quieter evenings and in the daytime, it is com- mon for women to hover near the doorways of their small window booths, hooting and calling at men to “come here!” in a number of different languages. In an odd role reversal, one male friend commented to me after a walk through the, district that: “I’ve never felt so objectified in my life. I felt like a piece of meat walking through there.” The Tourism Industry . . . It has been well established that tourism, as a global force, has affected all of Western Eu— rope. As Williams and Shaw (1998:20) note, “Europe dominates international movements of tourists. . . . Between 1950 and 1990, the number of international tourists in Europe increased 16 times.” There is strong competition among Euro- pean countries for international tourists, since they tend to spend more money than domestic tourists; additionally, starting in the 1970s, “in— ternational tourism income grew considerably faster than international merchandise trade” mak- ing it a market worth pursuing (Williams and Shaw 1998:36). [Amsterdam] was among the top ten most popular European cities for tourism throughout the 1990s, currently ranking seventh (Dahles 1998). Amsterdam’s positioning as a major tourist destination may be surprising to some. Although the city is filled with tree-studded canals and quaint narrow buildings, it lacks the tourist at— tractions characteristic of other tourist destina- tions in Europe; there is no cathedral, tower, or monument to draw visitors to the city. Yet, as one writer has noted, “foreign tourists have been at- tracted to the Netherlands in increasing numbers” and, within the country, “Amsterdam is over— whelmingly the dominant target for Visitors from abroad. 1.7 million foreigners stayed in the City in 1995, one~third of them from outside Europe” (Finder 1998:307). Dahles (1998:55) argues that: ,)__;‘... . “The. imam: nf Ametm—Aqm no n «amen... 30 WONDERS AND MICHALOWSKI THE GLOBALIZATION OF SEX TOURISM 201 tion is based on two major themes. The first is the image of the city as being dominated by the urban town design of the early modern period. . . . The second is the current popular image of Amster- dam, which was formed in the late 60s and is based on a youth culture of sexual liberation and narcotic indulgence.” Pinder (1998:310) agrees with this assessment and adds that, “The city is renowned for the ready availability of soft drugs, and tolerance has also underpinned the rise of sex tourism as a niche market.” . . . As tourism di- rected toward Amsterdam’s cultural heritage stag— nates, sex tourism plays an increasingly important role in keeping tourism dollars—and related tourism industry jobs—within the city. The Labor Market . . . By the late 1970s and 1980s, the reach of glob- alization became evident within the Netherlands in other ways as well, particularly in Amsterdam. Clearly, one of the most important global forces affecting sex work in the country was migration. Migration to the Netherlands during this period came from several sources. First, there was an influx of migrants from former Dutch colonies, particularly from Suriname and the Caribbean Is- lands. Additionally, like many other European countries, the Netherlands was affected by a surge of migrant guest workers from the Mediterranean area, most of whom were directed toward em- ployment in undesirable, low—paying service sec- tor jobs. Later in the 1980s and 1990s, another grOup of migrants arrived, including those escap— ing economic hardship in South America and Africa and the former Soviet bloc countries (Bru— insma and Meershoek 1999; de Haan 1997). km portantly, most of these migrant populations settled in the major Dutch cities, including Amsterdam. Almost half of the population of Amsterdam now consists of non—native Dutch residents making it, literally, a global city. The presence of relatively large numbers of migrants within the city plays an important role in shaping local labor markets and the current char- acter of the sex trade. For many female migrants, sex work is Virtually the only employment avail- able, particularly given the relatively high unem— ployment rate for ethnic minorities within the Netherlands (de Haan 1997). . . . One estimate put the current number of foreign prostitutes to be ap— proximately 60% of all sex workers in the city (Marshall 1993), and a “repeated count by the Amsterdam police in 1994 and 1995 indicated that about 75% of all prostitutes behind windows in the Red Light District, De Wallen, are foreigners and that 80 percent of all foreign prostitutes are in the country illegally” (Bruinsma and Meershoek 19992107). Localized Sex Work [Over the last two decades there has been] an im— portant shift within the city from a focus on the in- dividual providers of sexual services, “prostitutes,” to a focus on the sex “industry.” . . . [T]his shift is partly . . . a response to the global forces associ— ated with the production and consumption of sex tourism. This shift is reflected in two areas: (1) or— ganizational changes that reflect the growth of sex tourism as an industry and (2) the globalized char- acter of sex tourists and sex workers. In her analysis of prostitution policy in Amster- dam, Brants (1998:627) describes these changes in some detail: As conditions changed and opportunities for mak- ing money from the sex industry increased, ever more power became concentrated in the hands of a few not particularly law abiding citizens. Some of the pimps who had once controlled part of tradi— tional window prostitution now also owned highly lucrative sex clubs and sex theaters. Prostitution had become big business with a huge and partly invisible turnover that was reinvested in gambling halls, sex tourism and more sex clubs. This concentration of economic interests com- bined with consumer interest to create several or- ganizations devoted to supporting sex tourism. Interestingly, some Dutch customers developed an ll 202 PART EIGHT HETEROSEXUAL DEVIANCE organization to support the interests of the clients of prostitution; this organization is called the Men/Women and Prostitution Foundation. Al— though the number of active members in this or- ganization is small (personal conversation with a member), it is symbolically important in legit- imizing the sex industry as an important “indus- try” serving consumer desires. Members write articles that articulate client interests and the so— cial benefits of prostitution (ten Kate 1995) and collaborate with other organizations interested in greater acceptance of prostitution. Another organization that facilitates the sex trade is the Prostitute Information Centre (PIC). The Centre, which is located in the heart of the red—light district, serves as an information service for both tourists and prostitutes. Run by a former prostitute, the goals of the center are diverse—- education around STD and AIDS prevention, in- formation about prices for sex work, courses to prepare newcomers for sex work and information about how and where to sell sexual labor. For the casual tourist, the most amazing aspect of the PIC is its symbolic character and the way that it re- sembles a crossbetween a museum and a sex in- dustry Chamber of Commerce, complete with a sample Window brothel to tour (for an extra fee of course), copies of the local Sex Guide, and post— cards to purchase. A second global force shaping the sex in- dustry in Amsterdam is the wide variety of sex tourists Visiting the city. Currently, the sex in- dustry is amazingly global in character; not just in terms of the providers of sexual services, but also in terms of the consumers. Sex tourists come to Amsterdam from around the world and vary depending, in part, on national holidays. The local Pleasure Guide notes, for example, that Italians are common in August. Although Dutch men are common customers, it appears that the Red Light District exists primarily to fulfill the desires of foreign, male, leisure travelers, often executives conducting business in this global city. Unlike tourists, Dutch consumers of the sex trade can frequent the mostly white women in Window brothels down less known side streets, or they can utilize the listings in the paper and obtain door-to-door service. It is im- portant to appreciate that foreign tourists do not just pay for sex, they pay for accommodations, to eat at nice restaurants, and to attend cultural events. Indeed, the consumer behavior of sex tourists visiting this city helps to ensure that there will be many organized interests facilitat— ing the continuation of sex tourism within the city. Public Policy and Law [Current policy does not appear to be strengthen- ing the hand of sex workers. It appears that the full package of worker’s rights are withheld from pros- titutes for a variety of reasons (Brants 1998; van der Poel 1995).] The presence of drug—addicted prostitutes makes it difficult for those advocating rights for prostitutes to argue for respectability. Perhaps, more importantly, the large and growing pres- ence of non—native Dutch sex workers leads to local hostility toward sex work. One conse— quence of Dutch participation in the global econ— omy is the inability of the state to continue to provide the extensive social welfare benefits it has provided to its citizens since the 1960s (de Haan 1997). . . . Restrictive policies are creeping up everywhere, including in the sex industry. At least one motivation for this greater regulation is to restrict migrant women from engaging in sexual labor. As Raymond (199815) points out, “Third World and Eastern European immigrant women in the Netherlands, Germany, and other regulationist countries lower the prostitution market value of local Dutch and German women. The price of immigrant prostitution is so low that local women’s prices go down, reducing the pimps’ and brothels’ cuts. . . .” To the extent that regulation is designed to keep non-native Dutch women out of sex work, it fosters a two—tiered hierarchy of sex work within the city that leads 3O WONDERS AND MICHALOWSKI THE GLOBALIZATION OF SEX TOURISM 203 to even greater impoverishment and risk for mi— grant women. . . . Significantly, legislation legalizing broth— els was approved by the Dutch Parliament and Senate in 1999 (Brewis and Linstead 2000); this is a radical move in the Netherlands, where sex workers were historically only considered “work— ers” when “self—employed.” Until recently, third party involvement in sex work was considered a crime resulting in the oppression and even en— slavement of sex workers. Some argue that the le— galization of brothels is a first step toward their ultimate regulation, a situation that could improve the working conditions for some sex workers (Brants 1998; Visser 1997). However, it seems that the focus of regulation is increasingly on improv— ing the “merchandising” environment for the sex industry and for consumers, and reducing disrup— tion to local citizens. Currently local officials are attempting to identify who owns the buildings that house window brothels and sex clubs so that some standards can be imposed on facilities where sex is sold. Brothels that pass government inspection would receive special certification, serving as a kind of quality control for sex tourists (Visser 1997). Regulations are growing and include strange new guidelines that limit how long clients can be tied up during purchased sadomasochistic acts. A new “red light district manager” will facilitate the implementation of the new regulations. To many, including de Rood Draad, the rights of sex workers have taken a back burner (Visser 1997). The proliferation of new regulations has caused some to argue that the red light district is becoming “the red tape district” (Reiland 1996:29). . . . [I]t is interesting to note current propos— als to impose price controls on the sex industry. At first glance, this policy appears to be a move toward protecting the wages of sex workers. How- ever, it also serves primarily as a way to discour- age price-cutting by illegal immigrants engaged in the sex trade. . . . This policy is reflective of growing Dutch concern about immigration; like many other European countries under global mi- gration pressures, the Dutch tend to close doors to gainful employment by outsiders rather than open them. SEX TOURISM IN HAVANA, CUBA Havana, like so many other places in the Caribbean, is a sensuous and social city. Warm nights, humid sea breezes laden with the complex perfume of flowers, diesel exhaust, and restaurant odors, music everywhere, bodies unencumbered by layers of cold-weather clothing, and a culture of public interaction that brings tourists and locals into easy contact. This is the context for Havana’s particular soft-sell sex trade. Since the reemer- gence of sex tourism in the 1990s, the following scene has become relatively common in Havana’s tourist districts: A woman, usually decades younger than the object of her immediate interest, approaches a foreign tourist. Brandishing a ciga— rette, she asks for a light, or maybe points to her wrist and asks for the time. The opening gambit leads to other questions: Where are you from? Where are you going? For a walk? Would you like me to walk with you? Have you been to such-and— such disco? Would you like me to take you there? If the mark seems interested, the woman turns the subject to sex, describing the pleasures she can give, often with no mention of price unless the man asks. If they agree to go off to a disco or for a drink, the subject of sex may not even be openly discussed. Instead, both the jinetera [“hustler”] and her mark proceed as if they are on a date. Who knows? Maybe this one will be around for a few days, a week, even a month, providing steady work and freedom from having to continually find new customers. Whether the liaison lasts for a night or a month, the tourist will leave some- thing to be remembered by—maybe money or a few nice new dresses, perhaps some jewelry—— something that makes the sex and the attention provided worth the effort. This is not the hard sell of commodified bodies typical of sex tourism in Amsterdam. This is a more subtle trade. A trade , where local, rather than immigrant women, make 204 PART EIGHT HETEROSEXUAL DEVIANCE themselves available as sex partners and compan- ions to privileged men from North America and Europe who can give them access to the currency of globalization, US. dollars. . . . The Tourism Industry [In the late 19608, the emergence of relatively] af— fordable jet service created a new era of Caribbean island vacations (Patullo 1996: 16). Between 1970 and 1994, the number of stay-over visits to Caribbean islands increased six—fold (Caribbean Tourism Organization 1995). Just as this boom in Caribbean tourism was beginning, the US. em— bargo against Cuba sent Cuban tourism...
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