What Really Happens on Vacation

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I will never forget the day I saw a grown man publicly groping and sloppily tongue kissing a young girl. She sat atop his lap as he and his friends consumed rounds of drinks and happily made sexual advances. I was researching climate change in villages neighboring Arusha, Tanzania. My roommates and I decided to have a night of fun by going to a dance club in the heart of Arusha. This was the first time I witnessed what residents of the area referred to as growing problem.

The Tanzanian Daily News recently reported that sex trafficking is getting worse in Tanzania stating, “Human traffickers exploit aggravating conditions of people of Third World countries where there are no employment opportunities and economical inequity, social discrimination, political instability and human rights abuses are widespread by promising a better life.”

Reporters, dignitaries, ambassadors and countless employees from around the world often come to Arusha because the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda is located there. While away from home, many American and European men take the opportunity to use their “first world” status to buy young girls, who are often sold into sex slavery or forced into it due to a severe economic pressures. These “professional” men do things they could never get away with in their home countries. They often contribute to the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. This is called Sex Tourism.

I witnessed something  similar in the Dominican Republic. A friend and I were on a beach when an old European man, wearing a speedo, was splashing around in the water with a young Dominican girl. He appeared to be in his late 60s and the girl looked no older than 16 years old. They walked hand in hand. Then he directed her to go out in the water and pose. He took out his camera and started taking erotic photos of her body. The man soon glanced in my direction and tried to take photos of me. My friend turned to cover me until we were out of his sight. In tourist locations of the developing world, the sexual exploitation of women and young girls is often open and pervasive.

The Dominican Republic started taking steps towards preventing sex trafficking in 2013. These steps include charges against anyone that forces someone into sex trafficking and 10-15 year sentences for people that “use the services of prostitutes.”

In 2004, the New York Times reported that the U.S. started pursuing Americans that committed sexual offenses in other countries. At that time, 25% of all sex tourists were reportedly from the United States. However, in Cambodia and Costa Rica, the percentage widens to “38% and 80%”.

The story of American billionaire Larry Hillblom sheds further light on how exploitative drivers of the sex tourism world can be. Reporter Bryan Burrough referred to Hillblom as a “glorified sex tourist.” Due to Hillblom’s extreme wealth, he was able to special request virgin “pubescent” farm girls from South East-Asia. Upon his death, four Asian children from 3 different countries were identified as his descendants. Yet, the total count of girls he impregnated is still unknown.

For many of us, vacations are the best time of our lives.  As Jamaican Kincaid highlights, we often leave our dreary offices to enjoy the sunshine and pillage the wonders of the developing world. We smile in every photo and buy hoards of souvenirs. Meanwhile predators openly flaunt their indiscretions, using their “first world” privileges to commit some of the most egregious crimes against humanity. For millions of young girls and boys, this is what really happens on vacation.

by Jessica Ann Mitchell

P.S. – Black men from the global north (aka “the West) are increasingly engaging in this type of foolishness. Let’s be honest about it! This is an issue of race AND class.