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"So Many Girls! So Little Time!": Behind the Facade of Sex Tourism

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On Dec. 3, Douglas Allen, a Poughkeepsie, New York travel agent, was arrested for promoting prostitution. Allen's arrest was not another example of a local businessman's dirty laundry finding the light of day. Unlike many others who face prostitution charges, Allen made little effort to conceal his activities. Allen owns and operates Big Apple Oriental Tours, an international sex tourism agency that brazenly flaunts its services on the Internet. Allen claims to operate an aboveboard travel agency that is unaffiliated with prostitution while, simultaneously advertising a book on his company's website entitled, So Many Girls! So Little Time! Your guide to romantic adventures in Thailand. This is not the first time that Allen has been charged with a prostitution-related crime in connection with Big Apple Oriental Tours. Due to changes in state legislation, 2010 may be Big Apple Oriental Tours' final year of business.

Sex tour operators are a part of a system of intermediaries in the commercial sex industry who contribute to the demand for forced prostitution or sex trafficking. Facilitators operate under legal veneers like travel agencies to ensure that the human trafficking business flows smoothly. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D) has been fighting to close the legal loopholes that allow sex tour operators to masquerade as legitimate businesses for over ten years. "Sex tour operators are nothing more than hustlers for organized prostitution rings around the world and they deserve to be prosecuted under all applicable state and federal laws."

Big Apple Oriental Tours formerly operated out of Queens, New York. The so-called travel agency was located in Congresswoman Maloney's district when the business was brought to her attention in 1999. Promoting prostitution in the third degree, a felony in the State of New York, was the charge for which Allen was arraigned on Dec. 6. After Allen avoided being convicted for promoting prostitution in a previous prosecution, the law was changed to "include the selling of travel related services, knowing that such services include or are intended to facilitate travel for the purpose of patronizing a prostitute."

Lawmakers have often found that traditional prostitution laws are inadequate in the fight against human trafficking. Sex trafficking is a form of prostitution at face value, but an in-depth evaluation reveals that the needs of trafficking victims are often different from those of prostitutes who claim to operate under their own free will. Prosecutors and attorney generals need 21st century laws to fight the sophisticated criminal networks that run sex trafficking rings. The criminal enterprises that run trafficking rings are notoriously clandestine. They cannot be contained with antiquated laws that could not have anticipated the ruthless nature of human trafficking. The New York State Anti-trafficking law became effective in November of 2007. The anti-trafficking law added new sections to New York States penal code to make labor and sex trafficking official crimes in New York State. Under the anti-trafficking law the promotion of sex tourism was made a crime. The legal loophole through which Big Apple Oriental Tours was able to avoid prosecution and conviction in the past is now closed.

Until the 2003 passage of the PROTECT Act it was nearly impossible to prosecute predators who traveled abroad to have sex with children. For years men who were often known as pillars of their own communities traveled, primarily to Southeast Asia, to rape children with impunity. The federal PROTECT Act prohibits child sex tourism or commercial sex acts between US citizens or residents with anyone under the age of 18 while traveling in a foreign country. The PROTECT Act eliminated the need for prosecutors to prove that the accused traveled abroad with the intent of having sex with children. Two of the first people to be convicted under the PROTECT Act were John W. Selijan and Michael Clark. According to Siddharth Kara's 2009 book on sex trafficking, both traveled to East Asia to abuse children "taking suitcases packed with condoms, pornographic materials, and several pounds of candy."

Many efforts have been made on the part of both state and federal government to combat human trafficking, but there is still a tremendous amount of work to be done. To that end, President Obama has shown that sex trafficking and other issues that primarily impact women and girls are of the utmost importance by appointing Melanne Verveer as the United States' first Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues. Ms. Verveer has worked extensively to combat human trafficking and was instrumental in the passage of the first Trafficking Victims Protection Act in 2000 when she worked for the Clinton administration.