No to the Sex Tourist: A Campaign to Build Social Awareness

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No to the Sex Tourist

I began noticing the stickers on the windows of businesses along Vía Primavera and Vía Provenza last year.

They said No al Turista Sexual, the meaning of which should be apparent to most foreigners, whether they speak a lick of Spanish or not.

The stickers, along with the businesses agreeing to display them, send a clear message that sex tourists are not welcome in those places. And there’s strength in numbers.

The more businesses that display them, the harder it becomes to ignore the sentiment of a community that has seen an increase in sex tourists on par with the city’s impressive growth in tourism.

No Al Turista Sexual

The “No to the Sex Tourist” campaign was launched by Pazamanos, a local NGO, in response to what it saw as a sense of apathy among Colombians concerning the rise in sex tourists around Parque Lleras.

In order to learn more about the problem and the campaign, I visited the offices of Pazamanos earlier this month, where I had the chance to speak with the staff there.

My first question was what is their definition of a “sex tourist” as that itself is up for debate.

They said if the visitor’s primary intention for going to a country was to have sex, then he/she is a sex tourist.

When it comes to determining who is or isn’t a sex tourist in my mind, I think of the “I know it when I see it” attitude taken by U.S. Justice Potter Stewart when trying to define what is obscenity, and therefore, what is covered by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, which guarantees a right to free speech.

For example, I recall a conversation last year with a friend in Medellín who was clearly disturbed by the fact that one of the rooms being rented in the apartment where he was staying was occupied by an older foreign man.

This man had two girls a day coming over for sex, every day, for at least a week. When I asked my friend how he met them, he said Facebook. He was also concerned some might have been under 18.

I hope we can all agree this kind of behavior is predatory (and abusive and basic exploitation of women), increases the odds of passing STDs, increases the chances of unwanted pregnancies in teenagers, and ultimately, takes much more than it gives to the local society.

As U.S. readers were reminded in this 2012 story by Colombia Reports:

The age of consent in Colombia is 14, however, it is illegal to engage in prostitution under 18.

The United States’ Protect Act allows U.S. prosecutors to prosecute American citizens for engaging in illicit sexual conduct with a person under the age of 18.

I also asked about what motivated Pazamanos to take up this cause.

The campaign started from seeing this problem develop in front of our eyes like these activities were totally normal. This is a cultural campaign. A campaign that seeks to show rejection of sex tourists, but also seeks to raise awareness among normal tourists and locals.

This campaign that Pazamanos initiated has been promoted by local institutions, hostels, hotels, bars, restaurants, etc. because we, together, want to promote a healthy and sustainable tourism.

In response to whether they’ve noticed a change around Parque Lleras since the campaign launched:

The campaign did not start in Parque Lleras but in Vía Primavera and Provenza, however there are some establishments there that have already adopted the campaign.

The campaign is based in something called “tactic urbanism.”

It started in Vía Primavera and Provenza by the shops and coffee shops and now has already spread to other places in Medellín, like restaurants on Calle 10, hotels in Laureles or Parque Arví.

The shops and coffee shops in Provenza have informed that these activities have decreased in the area. However, the activities of sex tourists are really difficult to measure. Other important data is that day by day, more and more people is conscious about this problem and people conscious will bring change.

And I also wanted to know what our readers could do to help if they are concerned with the exploitation of women and children in Medellín.

Everyone can get involved, first learning about this problem, raising awareness with family and friends, joining the campaign using the logo on their phones, computers, cars, etc, and in the last place showing their pacific rejection to these sex tourists.

Colombian people has suffered and have carried a stigma internationally for too long. We don’t want this to happen again with the sex tourist.

We want to protect our social capital. We want a healthy and sustainable tourism. And through cultural change, we can start doing that.

Earlier this week, a mutual friend put me in touch with Samantha Eyler, a feminist writer living in Santa Elena.

She has written extensively on women’s issues, so I took the opportunity to ask her a few questions as well.

What can be done in Medellín, and Colombia as a whole, to clamp down on the exploitation of girls and boys under the age of 18?

An overwhelming amount of data indicates that any form of social, legal, or economic stigmatization and repression drives markets underground and empowers the worst kinds of opportunists to take advantage of desperate or marginalized people.

So at the macro level, one of the most important things that needs to be done is to break down the huge stigmas that make all sex workers afraid to use their voices, speak out about the exploitation that happens to them, and seek the legal redress and protections to which they are entitled.

Those wishing to help children stuck in the sex trade should understand that the number-one push factor driving them and keeping them in the sex trade is severe socioeconomic vulnerability and lack of social security.

Fixing this vulnerability at the roots involves strengthening the social safety net and improving the opportunities of the most vulnerable citizens to develop their human capital, so you should support all political and economic initiatives with those aims.

Is there anything readers concerned with the exploitation of women and children in Medellín can do to help?

At the micro level, individuals can start, obviously, by ensuring they never, EVER buy sex from an underage sex worker.

If there is any doubt whatsoever about the sex worker’s age, remove yourself from the interaction. And I am also an advocate of publicly calling out any person you know who is criminal enough to pay for sex with minors.

You could do this on sex trade forum sites like International Sex Guide, or even on the local Facebook groups for expats. Calling people out is the most forceful way that concerned individuals can directly impact the norms of their own communities.

I’d also note from my own experiences in the expat community here in Medellin, the people who we need to speak out and publicly shame their peers who are involved in exploitative transactions are men to other men.

Conversations about the local sex trade happen in frat-boy-type bubbles where guys are way more interested in showing off their sexual prowess than in probing each other’s sexual ethics.

But if you know your mate is paying for sex with a 17-year-old or employing underage cam girls and you don’t call him out on it, you are part of the problem.

Show your support for the No al Turista Sexual campaign by visiting and liking the Facebook page and sharing it with friends.

Learn more about Pazamanos, including their other social projects like Héroes Comuna 13, at their website.

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Corrections: On May 2, 2015, the title was changed from “No to Sex Tourism” to “No to the Sex Tourist” and three quotes from Pazamanos’ staff were added.

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9 COMMENTS

  1. I am completely aware that sex predators like Roosh focus their attention on Colombia. I’ve read their stories and they make me sick.

    But in my opinion the “No to the Sex Tourist” campaign misses the point completely. Sex tourists are very welcome in The Netherlands (where prostitution is legal), and the Dutch don’t have a problem with such tourists.

    So, what are the real problems?

    – Pedophilia: when adult women want sex with foreigners: what is the problem with that? I would prefer a “No to Pedophilia”-campaign.
    – Weak rule of law: of course pedophilia is already forbidden in Colombia, but the police can barely enforce the law. Now that is a real problem. A strong police force would discourage any pedophile.
    – Culture: you already mentioned that the age of consent in Colombia is 14. In the Colombian culture the attitude to sex is far more open then in the USA. We might discuss whether that is a good thing or not. But if you consider that as a problem, it lies primarily within the Colombian culture, not in those who want to profit from it (they don’t try to do such things at home). So here I might suggest (a questionable) “No to Underage Sex”-campaign.
    – Poverty: poor Colombian women having sex for the money, I actually cannot blame them. The problem of poverty is more common in Colombia. “No to Poverty”.

    • I agree with your bullet points. That’s why I wanted to focus the article on the pedophilia/under-18 sex which is a criminal activity, versus using prostitutes which is legal (as long as they’re 18+) in Colombia.

      It’s an extremely complicated issue with no easy answers. My feeling is that if the city and national government want to make it a priority to protect young boys and girls, they need to re-visit the laws on the books and clarify and strengthen them.

      Then, they need to spend more money building awareness of the issue amongst the public and try to change the “hearts and minds” as Pazamanos is trying to do. Lastly, much more money should be spent on enforcement.

      At the same time, lifting as many people out of poverty as possible offers more of a long term solution. The good news is Colombia’s middle class is growing, and it’s my hope that if the FARC sign a peace accord, the country will benefit further from foreign investment and a growing sense of peace.

  2. I think this campaign is heavily laced with the typical hypocrisy that part of Colombian culture. Is it one the most negative things in the Colombian psyche. If you agree that prostitution is exploitative, then why focus on the foreigner, because they pay more? You can go to any club in Medellin and see older Colombians with young women. Sure I am against sex with under aged girls, But as the feminist above says, this campaign only stigmatizes Colombian women who choose to engage in sex work. Is it more exploitative to lie to a girl and tell her you will take her to the US and fulfill her dreams or just to pay her for sex.? Is it prostitution when a rich old guy marries a younger poorer woman? Maybe people should not be allowed to date people unless they are financially on par? Is a younger woman better off staying poor or having an “arrangement” with an older, richer guy who helps her raise her child and finish school? There is a lot of grey in the world and people drawing lines between black and white tend to have not thought things out very well.

  3. Uggg, what a bait and switch this group is pandering. I think pretty much all Colombians and Foreigners will agree that underage exploitation is not only illegal, but immoral and disgusting, but this group seems to discriminate against normal people doing legal things in Colombia. If their argument is protect those under the age of 18, then why are they putting together a campaign to persecute those who are not engaging in anything illegal and the exact same things that the majority of Colombian men do on a daily basis. What a crock! Every man I’ve ever met enjoys consensual sex no matter what country they are in and to attack those foreigners in Colombia for it is screaming hypocrisy. Too bad no one will have the balls to step up to this discrimination, but why should every foreigner in Colombia be discriminated against when it is wired into our DNA to be attracted to females over the age of 18 and desire sex. Please!

  4. This campaign is utterly pathetic concentrating only on the small percentage of foreign men in Colombia while ignoring the much more insidious and prevalent problem of Colombian men who are much more of a problem in relation to this issue. Indeed it seems to be that in Colombia it is accepted and almost expected that men will try it on with young women as long as they are beautiful. That is the issue this organization should start focusing on. At least with most foreign countries it is looked down upon with disgust, and the men have to try and keep their activities under the radar for fear of being called out of arrested, in comparison to Colombia where it is considered normal.

    Maybe I am wrong, but that is certainly my perception here. When my other half brought her niece and family away for a weekend (13 years old) to a resort, I could not believe the unwanted and totally inappropriate attention she received from much older COLOMBIAN men – out in the open with no shame, in front of their friends and family including women. It was considered normal. That is where the real problem lies.

  5. Hi, How about asking the organization more harder question like “Why are you targeting tourism if prostitution is legal in Colombia?” I mean, what is the real problem if prostituting is legal in Colombia? I see nothing here. If a married couple travel to Medellin for honeymoon then wouldn’t they be considered a sex tourism too?

    I think that the first step in achieving this problem is to make prostitution illegal and I find it interesting that it is NOT their main goal to prevent prostitution so why not ask them why are they not campaigning to make prostitution illegal?

    I will be very curious to see what their respond is to these two questions! I asked them these question to their facebook page and they have read it but not reply back to me for few days. Ah!

  6. Let’s say No

    -to poverty.
    -deadbeat dads
    -not taxing foreignors on there world wide income when
    I don’t know to many Colombians that file taxes.

    Let’s say Yes

    -lto better school and better education
    -to better jobs for the Colombians.

    What are you going to do questions customers coming into your establishments? This whole stance is insane.

    I like nice looking women. Kick me out of Colombia please.

  7. Why does this organization not look at the babies these young girls are having. They are not from foreigners.

  8. I AGREE WITH THE UNDER AGE GIRLS POINT AND THAT IS A NO NO…..TOURIST DID NOT MAKE PROSTITUTION LEGAL HERE AND DID OPEN THE WHORE HOUSES AND STRIP JOINTS WITH BACKROOMS FOR SEX ALL OVER THE CITY…. IT WAS HERE LONG BEFORE THE TOURIST CAME…DO THEY THINK ALL THIS WILL NOT ATTRACT SEX TOURIST??? THE REAL PROBLEM IS THAT THE GIRLS HAVE BABYS WITH MEDELLIN DADDYS AND THE SORRY BASTARDS RUN AWAY AND GIVE NOTHING TO SUPPORT THEIR KIDS…THE MOTHERS SELL SEX TO FEED AND CLOTHE THE KIDS…THERE IS NO SAFETY NET HERE TO HELP THEM..PUT THE SORRY COLOMBIAN DADS IN JAIL AS THEY DO IN THE U.S…..THIS WOULD REDUCE THE PROSTITUTION DRAMATICALLY AND YOUNG GIRLS UNDER AGE SELLING SEX….SI OR NO???