The World Tourism Organization, a specialized agency of the United Nations, defines sex tourism as "trips organized from within the tourism sector, or from outside this sector but using its structures and networks, with the primary purpose of effecting a commercial sexual relationship by the tourist with residents at the destination". The U.N. opposes sex tourism citing health, social and cultural consequences for both tourist home countries and destination countries, especially in situations exploiting gender, age, social and economic inequalities in sex tourism destinations.
While sex tourism can refer to a variety of commercial sexual activities, agencies and academics sometimes also use the terms: adult sex tourism, child sex tourism and female sex tourism to refer to different kinds of sex tourism. Attractions for sex tourists can include reduced costs for services in the destination country, along with either legal prostitution or indifferent law enforcement and access to child prostitution.
An individual city or region can have a particular reputation as a sex tourist destination. Many of these coincide with major red-light districts, and include Amsterdam in the Netherlands; Zona Norte in Tijuana, Mexico; Boy's Town in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico; Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket in Thailand; Vladivostok in Russian Far East, destination for Asian sex tourists , and Angeles City, the site of a former United States military base in the province of Pampanga, Philippines.
In the United States, prostitution is largely illegal, with the exception of certain areas of the state of Nevada; these have become a sex tourist destination for some Americans. To a lesser extent, several other large cities in the U.S. are also domestic sex tourist destinations despite legal sanctions on prostitution.
Many of the Iraqi women fleeing the war in Iraq are turning to prostitution. In Syria alone, an estimated 50,000 refugee girls and women, many of them widows, are forced into prostitution just to survive. Cheap Iraqi prostitutes have helped to make Syria a popular destination for sex tourists. The clients come from wealthier countries in the Middle East. High prices are offered for virgins.
Conversely, prostitution is a legal activity in a growing list of other nations worldwide, including in many (but not all) of these destinations.
As of 2005, there has been one effort to prosecute a sex tour operator: Big Apple Oriental Tours of New York was prosecuted for "promotion of prostitution" by the New York State Attorney General after lobbying by feminist human rights groups, however the case has been thrown out twice.
HR 972, the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2005 reauthorizes the 2000 law, but it also gives U.S. law enforcement better tools to study human trafficking within the United States and to prosecute those who purchase sex acts. The measure authorizes $50 million for grants to state and local law enforcement to investigate and prosecute persons who engage in the purchase of commercial sex acts.
The Sexual Offences Act 2003 enables British citizens and residents who commit sexual offences against children overseas to be prosecuted in the UK. Some of the offences carry penalties of up to life imprisonment and anyone found guilty will be placed on the Sex Offenders Register. The UK police and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre and Interpol are actively involved in monitoring child sex tourists and will prosecute where necessary.
Witnesses can report it to the local police, hotel manager, tour representative or tour operator. People can also call Crimestoppers. Overseas the number is +44 800 555 111. Witnesses can also call Crimestoppers when they return to the UK, the number is 0800 555 111 a cash reward may be available.
Canada has included in its Criminal Code provisions that allow for the arrest and prosecution of Canadians in Canada for offences committed in foreign countries related to child sex tourism, such as child prostitution, as well as for child sexual exploitation offences, such as indecent acts, child pornography and incest. Convictions carry a penalty of up to 14 years' imprisonment.
In 2005, approximately 20 pedophiles from Australia who tried to travel to tsunami ravaged countries were stopped under the rules of the new Australian child sex offender register. The convicted offenders had to tell police of their plans to travel, and their travel details were sent by police to Indonesian and Thai authorities, who refused them entry. Child Wise director Bernadette McMenamin confirmed that authorities had known pedophiles would be targeting children in countries that had been hit by the tsunami. She said it was well known that when countries experienced natural disasters or military crises pedophiles exploited the instability."Post-tsunami we expected that a lot of Australian child sex offenders would target these countries," she said. Further plans to cancel passports of recidivist pedophiles to prevent child sex tourism in general, and exploitation of natural and political instability in countries targeted by sex tourists in particular, are in the works in Australia.
University of Leicester sociologists studied this subject as part of a research project for the Economic and Social Research Council and End Child Prostitution and Trafficking campaign. The study included interviews with over 250 Caribbean sex tourists. Among their findings: