Sex Tourism: Addressing the Demand for Trafficking
Testimony by Jessica Neuwirth, President of Equality Now
Thank you for this opportunity to testify before you, and thank you for your interest
in and support for efforts to combat trafficking in persons. My name is Jessica Neuwirth and
I am the founder and President of Equality Now, an international human rights organization
based in New York working for the protection and promotion of the rights of women and
girls worldwide. Equality Nows membership network is comprised of more than 25,000
individuals and organizations in 160 countries. Issues of concern to Equality Now include
trafficking of women and girls, rape, domestic violence, reproductive rights, female genital
mutilation, denial of equal access to economic opportunity and political participation, and all
other forms of violence and discrimination against women and girls.
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 recognized that sex tourism is one of
the means through which the commercial sexual exploitation of women and girls has
contributed to the growth of the international sex industry and feeds the demand for sex
trafficking. The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2003 went a step
further in requiring the dissemination of materials alerting U.S. citizen travelers that, sex
tourism is illegal, will be prosecuted, and presents dangers to those involved. In evaluating
how other countries are addressing human trafficking, HR 972, the Trafficking Victims
Protection Reauthorization Act of 2005, would require adding as a minimum standard for
eliminating trafficking in the State Departments annual report, measures to reduce the
demand for commercial sex acts and for participation in international sex tourism. We
should hold ourselves to the same minimum standard and play a leadership role for other
countries in this regard.
My comments today will focus on Big Apple Oriental Tours of Bellerose and
Poughkeepsie, New York and G&F Tours of New Orleans, Louisiana. I will speak about
these sex tour companies because in their methods of operation they demonstrate the typical
activities of sex tour companies. I will also speak about them because the lack of action
against them by both federal and state prosecutors is also typical of our countrys inadequate
response to the demand side of the trafficking of women and children.
From its locations in New York, Big Apple Oriental Tours was advertising its
services, communicating with potential sex tourists to persuade them to travel with Big
Apple Oriental Tours, making airline and hotel reservations, and arranging for local tour
guides in the destination countries to introduce men to women from whom they could buy
sex. The local Big Apple representative who escorted the men to the clubs was also available
to negotiate the sex acts to be purchased and their price with the mamasan who controlled
the women in these bars and clubs. G&F Tours in New Orleans conducts its activities in
precisely the same way, even using the same tour guide as Big Apple in Thailand.
It should be simple to prosecute a company that so blatantly accepts money to
facilitate and arrange commercial sex acts. New York Penal Law Section 230.20 makes it a
Class A misdemeanor when a person knowingly advances or profits from prostitution.
Penal Law Section 230.25 makes it a Class D felony when a person knowingly advances or
profits from prostitution by managing, supervising, controlling or owning either alone or in
association with others, a house of prostitution or a prostitution business or enterprise
involving prostitution activity by two or more prostitutes.
Despite the clear language of the New York Penal Law and the uncontroverted
activities of Big Apple Oriental Tours, Equality Now campaigned unsuccessfully for seven
years with the Queens County District Attorney to prosecute Big Apple Oriental Tours for
promoting prostitution. Only when the case was brought to the attention of New York
Attorney General Eliot Spitzer in 2003 was a civil proceeding to shut down the company
undertaken and a criminal prosecution subsequently commenced. The criminal case was
dismissed and then the dismissal was reversed on appeal. We are now waiting for another
grand jury proceeding and hoping the case will go to trial. No other State level prosecution
against sex tour operators for promoting prostitution has even been attempted despite most
states having similar prohibitions of such activities as those of New York that I just
described. I would like to note that from the beginning of our campaign seven years ago,
Congresswoman Maloney has been tremendously supportive of our efforts to close down Big
Apple Oriental Tours and prosecute its owner/operators. I would like to thank her for this
support, which has been instrumental in leading finally to the case currently underway.
Federal prosecutors have been equally unwilling to address the demand for trafficked
women and girls created by sex tour operators and their customers. Unless it can be proven
that children are involved, they are not interested. Very often minors are involved, but it is
usually impossible to prove. Moreover, as a matter of principle as well as practicality, law
enforcement interest in sex tourism should not be confined to cases involving minors.
Section 2421 of Title 18 of the United States Code, known as the Mann Act, provides a ten
year sentence for anyone who knowingly transports any individual in interstate or foreign
commerce . . . with the intent that such individual engage in prostitution or in any sexual
activity for which any person can be charged with a crime, or attempts to do so. Section
2422(a) makes it a crime for anyone who knowingly persuades, induces, entices, or coerces
any individual to travel in interstate or foreign commerce . . . to engage in prostitution, or in
any sexual activity for which any person can charged with a criminal offense, or attempts to
do so. These provisions of the Mann Act could be effectively used against United States
sex tour operators but the Department of Justice has so far failed to apply this statute against
them. Neither of these sections requires that prostituted person or victim be a minor and
neither of these sections requires that the individual being transported or induced or
persuaded to travel in foreign commerce be the prostituted person or victim. In other words,
transporting johns in foreign commerce, which is exactly what sex tour companies do, falls
within the scope of the Mann Act.
In virtually every popular sex tour destination country, such as Thailand, patronizing
a prostitute is illegal and johns can be charged with a crime for purchasing sex acts.
Although both of the Mann Act sections just described could be applied to sex tour operators
who every day induce, persuade and ultimately transport individuals in foreign commerce to
engage in criminal sexual activity, Equality Now has not been successful in its efforts over