Large events like the Summit of the Americas and upcoming Olympic
games in Brazil can drive up the demand for prostitution and sex
Type in "sex tourism" and "Brazil" in Google, and the first site
that comes up is not a news report or academic study, but advice on
going rates and how to hire prostitutes.
But ahead of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, officials are
starting to clamp down on the country's image as a haven for sex
tourism. Brazil's Tourism Ministry recently said it identified more
than 2,000 sites advertising the South American giant's sex
industry, many of them hosted in the US. To counter the reputation,
the tourism ministry has stepped up efforts to advertise Brazil's
natural beauties like beaches and the Amazon, instead of bodies for
sale. And they have circulated information reminding visitors that
sexual exploitation of minors is a crime.
Brazil's preventive efforts seem more crucial than ever after the
scandal in Cartagena, Colombia, during the Sixth Summit of the
Americas last weekend. Some 11 US Secret Service agents were sent
home for allegedly hiring prostitutes in the steamy colonial city,
also a major destination for sex tourism.
"Large events create an obvious clientele and traffickers
recognize an opportunity to make money," says Heather Smith-Cannoy,
who teaches international relations at Lewis & Clark College in
"I think that in many places around the world there is a 'boys
will be boys' attitude about the patronizing of prostitutes," Ms.
Smith-Cannoy says. But when considering the combination of large
profits for traffickers, and pimps or hustlers, and a relaxed
cultural attitude about visiting prostitutes "we can begin to
understand both the supply and the demand side of this industry,"
The trafficking-tourism link
Sex "tourism" is nothing new. By some accounts it dates back to
the 15th century, with Columbus's arrival to the Americas. As the
middle class grew in industrialized nations, and the opportunities
to travel with it, the formal industry was developed.
Prostitution is tolerated to varying degrees in Latin America,
but it is the human trafficking associated with sex tourism,
especially that of minors, that alarms officials most. (The case of
Cartagena did not involve minors.)
According to the Coalition Against Trafficking of Women and Girls
in Latin America and the Caribbean (CATW-LAC), 500,000 women and
girls from Latin America and the Caribbean are sexually exploited
Not all prostitution involves sex trafficking, a multibillion
dollar industry, but the nongovernmental organization World Vision
estimates that up to a quarter of women in prostitution have been
trafficked. At the same time, the majority of human trafficking
victims - 79 percent - are brought into the sex trade, according to
the United Nations. Countries in Asia, notably Thailand, have long
been at the center of the problem, but Latin America is starting to
play a larger role.
"While most trafficking victims still appear to originate from
South and Southeast Asia or the former Soviet Union, human
trafficking is also a growing problem in Latin America," writes
Clare Ribando Seelke in a 2012 Congressional Research Service