Having taken a roadtrip from the UK through Eastern Europe in January, I'm now on the road (or the air, more accurately) towards the Love146 Round Home in Asia. I have to move quick while the Icelandic volcano is on lunch break. I found myself in a window seat next to a couple of what my dad would call ‘hard working lads’: sun drawn skin from a construction site causing an unnaturally furrowed brow, one in his 50’s the other mid 20’s.
I'm flying out of the UK at a time where the first 3 pages of most tabloids are still the story of the Cumbria shootings of Derrick Bird which left 12 dead. On the morning I leave the headline is "Gunman's Double Life as a Sex Pervert" accompanied by images of a Thailand sex bar with scantily clad girls dancing. My neighbour for the flight introduces himself by showing and tapping his finger on the page stating, ‘Now that’s got to be a bar we need to find.’ Our destination for this flight is Bangkok, Thailand.
He seemed to assume that my travel had similar interests. I commented that I wouldn't be stopping there, but heading on to the Philippines. "Not been there," he replied with a grin and a wink, "We'll have to try that on our next trip." As though I had superior knowledge as a fellow sex tourist.
As it turned out this was the older gentleman's fourth trip to Bangkok. This occasion it was to be a celebration of his divorce. He followed by some other friends on a later flight would be spending six weeks in Bangkok to watch England play their world cup matches in tacky English-friendly bars and to have sex with girls. In fact the five friends common denominator was that they all go to the same pub in the UK. It was clear that the guy in front of me had been primary evangelist to the group concerning the draw of sex tourism. He was a true believer, and this, the best possible use of his time and money.
I sat and wondered at how the sexualisation of culture and the normalisation of sexual exploitation is far from something passive. In fact it is being asssertively pushed along with a nod, a wink and a rye smile. It's not hidden smokey corners, but around the open public places of life and work. In fact, the UK killer in today's tabloids had often shown his friends video footage of his own sex acts with young girls in Thailand.
I asked older gent, "Is it true that girls come up to you as soon as you walk into a bar?"
"But doesn’t that just get on your nerves?"
“Only when you have been up all the previous night having sex with them!”
I could tell I was in the presence of a genuine stereotype: a guy who travels for sex because it's easy, uncomplicated and no longer on his moral compass as even questionable behaviour. He was another one of those guys who genuinely feel that the girls he pays for sex want to be there. He believes that he is infact doing them a favour, or worse (such a common statement), that they are there because they enjoy it. He has no comprehension that the smile masking their suffering is to avoid a beating from their pimp for disappointing a client.
I found out later in the flight that these weren't rough tough co-workers. It was a father and son. Slightly stunned, I sat and pondered our own western mindset and moral decay where a father would want to share is participation in sexual exploitation as a bonding experience with his own son.
Those who travel for sex tourism undertake a dehumanisation of the other, in this instance those who are in the bondage of sexual slavery, either forced by fear of violence or through the oppression of economic poverty. For those of us who live in places where our fellow countrymen are booking sex holidays, we must resensitize ourselves to the humanity of these wonderful, beautiful and precious people. We must spread the word that these women and girls are someone's daughter, sister, or mother. Lets work to abolish myths that tell us they are less than worthy of our high regard and respect. Let's tell their stories. Let's honor their lives. Let's sing and shout about their humanity.