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Examining the Decision-Making Processes of Sex Tourists using On-line Data

Published onApr 01, 2013
Examining the Decision-Making Processes of Sex Tourists using On-line Data
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Abstract

Criminological research has increasingly focused on the decision-making processes of offenders in order to better understand criminal behavior as a whole. A small body of research has considered how the bounds or limits of offender decision-making are shaped by various factors. In addition, limited research has considered the role of preference and bounded rationality in crimes where long-range planning and careful consideration of options are possible. To that end, this study explores both the factors that influence individual decisions and the way that they interact with preference to shape the decision-making process of sex tourists or individuals who travel to foreign countries in order to have sex with prostitutes and others in or out of the sex trade. This study uses a qualitative analysis of posts from multiple web forums on-line used by individuals interested or actively involved in sex tourism across the globe to identify the salient factors that affect tourist decision-making during the planning and execution of a tour. The implications of this study for rational choice theory and the value of on-line data to examine the decision-making process will be discussed in depth.

Introduction

Criminological research has increasingly focused on the decision-making processes of offenders in order to better understand criminal behavior as a whole (Becker, 1968; Clarke, 1983; Cornish & Clarke, 1987). These studies use the rational choice perspective in which offenders are viewed as active thinkers who decide to engage in crime based on their assessments of both perceived risks and potential rewards of the criminal activity (Cornish & Clarke, 1987). The decision-making calculus is informed and influenced by a variety of situational factors including environmental cues and both vicarious and personal experiences with punishment and avoidance techniques (Clarke, 1997; Hochstetler, 2002; Piquero & Rengert, 1999). The rational choice perspective has stimulated significant study of the offending processes of armed robbers (Piotrowski, 2010; Wright & Decker, 1997), auto thieves (Cherbonneau & Copes, 2006; Copes, Hochstetler, & Cherbonneau, 2012), burglars (Cromwell & Olson, 2004; Wright & Decker, 1994), the customers of prostitutes (Holt, Blevins, & Kuhns, 2008, 2009), drug dealers (Jacobs, 1996, 2000), and individuals who use retaliatory violence (Jacobs   & Wright, 2010). These studies provide important insights into the rewards and enticements of crime, as well as the ways offenders identify certain targets and manage their emotions while in the course of an offense (Cherbonneau & Copes, 2006; Copes et al., 2012; Cromwell & Olson, 2004; Jacobs, 1996, 2000; Katz, 1988; Wright, 2000; Wright & Decker, 1994, 1997).

While these studies provide substantive insights into the decision-making processes of offenders, decisions are limited by the information readily available to an actor at a specific point in time, as well as their overall knowledge of the environment, opportunities, and available alternatives (Johnson & Payne, 1986; Piotrowski, 2010; Simon, 1957). The significance of bounded rationality cannot be understated; it is impossible to identify or understand all the information needed to make a completely informed decision. Individual preferences for a certain target or method of offending may have greater sway over individual action when presented with an opportunity to offend (Copes et al., 2012; Katz, 1988; McCarthy, 2002; Wright & Decker, 1994). In turn, lack of complete information may hinder the overall range of options offenders consider because they do not have the time or capability to recognize different outcomes.

With this in mind, it is possible that the rational choice perspective may better apply to situations where all options, preferences, and outcomes from an action can be identified and considered (Jacobs & Wright, 2010; McCarthy, 2002). These situations, however, are rare, for decision-making occurs in tandem with, and is bound by, emotion and preference to produce certain outcomes. Katz (1988) argued that emotion and attitude are key in understanding offender decision-making and the construction of the choice to offend within their own moral framework. To that end, research by Jacobs and Wright (2010) demonstrates that street criminals’ decisions to use retaliatory violence are bound by anger, uncertainty, and time constraints. For example, those with higher levels of anger may use more serious acts of violence against a range of targets, while uncertainty over the origins of an initial slight or a feeling that too much time may pass before retaliation against the source occurs may force an actor to strike out against the closest possible target (Jacobs & Wright, 2010).

These studies are pivotal to refining our understanding of bounded rationality in the context of serious offenses like violence and robbery. There is, however, less research examining the role of preference and bounded rationality in crimes where long-range planning and careful consideration of options is not only possible, but preferable. For instance, individuals who travel to foreign countries for the purpose of having sex with prostitutes and other sex workers, a practice known as sex tourism, must engage in some degree of planning to arrange their travels (Chow-White, 2006; DeCurtis, 2003; Katsulis, 2009; O’Connell Davidson, 2000; Ryan & Hall, 2001; Ryan & Kinder, 1996; Taylor, Fritsch, Liederbach & Holt, 2010; Telepus, 2008). As a consequence, an actor’s knowledge of where to travel, how to interact with locals, where to seek out sexual services, and the expected costs for paid encounters may vary substantially based on personal experience in an area.

Sex tourists are commonly thought to be men from western nations who visit developing countries where there is less risk of detection or fewer legal restrictions on individual behavior (DeCurtis, 2003; Katsulis, 2009; O’Connell Davidson, 2000; Taylor et al., 2010; Tepelus, 2008). Travelers’ soliciting behaviors may violate the local laws of their destination country depending on local mores regarding prostitution, though there is increasing criminal legislation to combat sex tourism in Western nations. For example, the US PROTECT Act of 2003 established that U.S. citizens who travel for   the purposes of illicit sex with a minor could be fined and imprisoned for up to 30 years, as could anyone who facilitates travel or procures resources to enable these encounters (Taylor et al., 2010). The role of sex tourism in facilitating human trafficking also increases the likelihood of criminal sanctions for tourists who travel for sexual services (Taylor et al., 2010; Tepelus, 2008). Such variation suggests that sex tourism can be viewed as a deviant or criminal act depending on the laws of the tourists’ home countries and their destination nation.

The emergence of computer-mediated communications and high speed Internet connectivity has enabled the formation of communities in which individuals actively seeking paid sexual encounters connect with others who share their interests (Blevins & Holt, 2009; Castle & Lee, 2008; DeCurtis, 2003; Holt & Blevins, 2007; Holt et al., 2009; Lee-Gonyea, Castle, & Gonyea, 2009; Sanders, O’Neill, & Pitcher, 2009; Weitzer, 2005). Many websites operate forums specifically for the customers of sex workers to discuss prostitution in cities around the globe (Blevins & Holt, 2009; Holt & Blevins, 2007; Hughes, 2003; Sharpe & Earle, 2003; Soothhill & Sanders, 2005), and facilitate sex tourism as a whole (Chow-White, 2006; DeCurtis, 2003; Katsulis, 2009). In fact, Chow-White (2006) argued that on-line forums provide a mechanism for the “intensification and deepening of the development of sex tourism” (p. 21). Virtual communications enable individuals to engage in social interactions that augment their paid sexual encounters off-line (Katsulis, 2009). Specifically, forum users discuss information with proximal application for travel, including advice on how to plan a sex tour, the characteristics of sex workers, solicitation methods, budget issues, and specific sexual activities (DeCurtis, 2003; Katsulis, 2009). There are also conversations related to the culture and traditions of a given nation, and the effect of government and politics on the sex trade (Katsulis, 2009).

Examination of the exchanges between individuals in forums related to sex tourism can uncover substantive information on the factors that influence individual decisions regarding sex tourism, and the way their preferences shape the decision-making calculus of offenders (see also Holt et al., 2008, 2009). Thus, the present study uses a qualitative analysis of posts from multiple forums used by individuals interested in or actively involved in sex tourism across the globe to identify the salient factors that affect their decision-making during the planning and execution of a tour. The findings demonstrate that governmental, legal, and social conditions interact with tourist preferences for sex destinations and partners. In addition, this study considers the impact of on-line communications in diminishing the bounds of knowledge to facilitate offender decision-making. The implications of this study for rational choice theory and the value of on-line data to examine the decision-making process will be discussed in depth.

Data and methods

This qualitative study uses a sample of 10 public web forums run by and for individuals who post about and/or visit sex workers in one or more of five selected nations.1 Web forums are on-line discussion groups where individuals converse on a variety of issues. These forums are composed of posts in which an individual can ask a question, respond to others, or share past experiences (Holt, 2010; Mann & Sutton, 1998). Others respond to the posted remarks with comments of their own to create a running dialogue, called a thread. Since individuals, termed users, often respond to the ideas of others, the exchanges present within forums “resemble a kind of marathon focused discussion group” (Mann & Sutton 1998, p. 210). This form of computer-mediated communication enables subcultural diffusion between participants (Markham, 2011), particularly criminal groups (Blevins & Holt, 2009; Durkin & Bryant, 1999; Holt, 2007, 2010). The anonymity afforded by the Internet makes on-line forums a key resource within the sex trade as a means to identify new methods, locations, and opportunities to solicit sex workers domestically (Castle & Lee, 2008; Holt & Blevins, 2007; Holt et al., 2008, 2009; Sanders et al., 2009; Sharpe & Earle, 2003; Soothhill & Sanders, 2005) and internationally for the purposes of sex tourism (Chow-White, 2006; DeCurtis, 2003; Katsulis, 2009). Therefore on-line data can speak directly to offender perceptions of risk and the general decision-making processes of offenders (e.g., Holt, 2010; Holt et al., 2008; 2009).

Our sample of nations was based on two factors: 1) the percentage of their gross domestic products derived from sex tourism, and 2) nations discussed in research literature as sex tourism destinations. The U.S. Department of Justice report on child sex tourism (Nair, 2008) states that sex tourism comprised 2% to 14% of the gross domestic products of Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Malaysia (International Labour Organization, 1998, 2005). Additionally, research suggests that Mexico and Central American nations have become increasingly popular sex tourist destinations (O’Connell Davidson, 2000; Phinney, 2001). Using this information, we developed a purposive sample of web forums selected from the large number of websites offering discussions for the customers of sex workers in every country around the globe.

Using Southeast Asia and Central America as a base, we sought out web forums for these locales where individuals actively discuss sex tourism and travel. Publicly accessible websites were sought because they do not require individuals to register with the site to examine posted content. Virtually anyone can access the forums without the need to interact with users, reducing the potential for researcher contamination or bias (Holt, 2010; Silverman, 2001). Sites with a large number of existing or archived posts were also preferred since frequent posting suggests high activity, interest, and information exchange (see Holt, 2007, 2010). Upon examination, two sites were found that had country-level forums for these regions, though there was a significantly higher volume of posts for Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, Costa Rica, and Mexico compared to the remaining Central American nations and Indonesia.

Our research team focused on Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, Costa Rica and Mexico to better understand sex tourism and sex work within Southeast Asia and Central America, and the ways that the Internet facilitates sex tourism in general. The threads from each country-level forum were collected pertaining to general information and travel plans.2 The general information threads provide a sense of the phenomenon of sex tourism in a country, including the process of procurement and prices for specific sexual services, and the experience of mongering, a term users used to describe their sex tourism activities (see also Blevins & Holt, 2009; Holt & Blevins, 2007). In addition, four of the country specific “travel plans” sections were examined to obtain more information regarding the importance of pricing, economics and timing of trips.

There were no travel plans sections in the Malaysia forums due to the fact that, unlike the users of the other forums, most of the Malaysia forum users were residents. It is possible that some of these forum users are expatriots residing in country, though a more likely explanation is that native Malaysians simply use this existing space to discuss pertinent issues related to sexual services. However, we suspect that many of these users had immigrated to Malaysia, instead of being native to the country, due to their use of an English-language web forum. Thus, there were few discussions on the practical issues of foreign tourism in Malaysia. Still, the Malaysia forums contained similar posts to the other four forums in regard to pricing, tips on accessing, and locations where specific services might be obtained. These data illustrate the factors that affect the practice of sex tourism from the tourist’s perspective.

An important concern must be raised concerning the content of this online data. Some users may deliberately post false information to disrupt the flow of information (Blevins & Holt, 2009; Holt, 2007, 2010; Holt & Blevins, 2007). Law enforcement agents may also infiltrate the forums and create threads with bogus information in an attempt to limit the overall utility of the sites (Holt, 2010). The authenticity of information provided in vir tual environments has been a subject of great debate due to the difficulties in validating the identity and actions of participants (Hine, 2000; Holt, 2010; Markham, 2011; Steinmetz, 2012; Wynn & Katz, 1997). These forums also operate as a medium to exchange valuable information on sex tourism, which is a relatively hidden and culturally bound issue (Hine, 2000; Markham, 2011). Individuals who visit sites for information on sex markets have little to gain by providing inaccurate information (Blevins & Holt, 2009; Holt & Blevins, 2007). In fact, individual users often noted and berated other users if they provided false information. This suggests the posts are genuine and should provide significant insight into the decision-making processes of sex tourists.

In addition, based on their usernames and discussions of encounters with female sex workers, most users in the forums appear to be males discussing heterosexual experiences. There were virtually no discussions of homosexual experiences, and limited conversations on the issue of transgender sex workers in Thailand. It is possible that the participants in these forums actively seek out homosexual experiences but eschew discussions of these issues in order to construct a heterosexual identity on-line, in keeping with the mutable nature of identity in on-line environments (DiMarco & DiMarco, 2003; Markham, 2011). Regardless, this limits the generalizability of the findings to heterosexual sex tourists and tourism in general. Research on sex tourism indicates that females also engage in travel for the purposes of paid sexual encounters with males (Herold, Garcia, & DeMoya, 2000), and that there is a small demand for homosexual sex tours (Padilla, 2007). Much like traditional domestic sex markets, however, the majority of encounters appear to involve male customers seeking female sex workers. Thus, this study will focus on heterosexual sex tourists’ perspectives.

The threads from each country forum were copied, pasted, and saved to word processing files for systematic analysis. This strategy generated a copious amount of data and a wide range of user populations (Table 1). The data provide significant insights in regard to cultural dynamics and social conditions, including elections and economic downturns that affect the behavior and activities of sex tourists and workers alike. Hence, this data can be used to illustrate the ways in which sex tourists are affected by and negotiate the various social and cultural landscapes of a country in order to engage the local sex trade.


Table 1. Descriptive data from forums


In addition, the forum data enabled us to identify the current country of residence for 54% of users (Table 2). One of the two forums in the sample allowed users to include their current country of residence as part of a brief user profile attached to each post. Country location in the other forum was determined based on information provided in posts by users, though this resulted in missing information on many users. Based on the information provided in both forums, the majority of users for each country’s forums appeared to reside in the United States with one exception: Malaysia. Users in the Malaysia forums were primarily located in-country, causing some substantial differences in thread topics between the Malaysia and other country forums. There were fewer discussions about issues affecting international tourism, such as economics and language of the destination country that were noted in the other countries’ forums. This issue did not, however, diminish the insights provided by forum users about their perspectives on the risks and outcomes of engaging the sex trade in the country.


Table 2. Counts of forum users from specific countries or regions 

Note: ‘*’ denotes not including Costa Rica or Mexico. ‘**’ denotes not including Thailand, The Philippines or Malaysia.


The forum content was printed and analyzed by hand using inductive methods derived from grounded theory techniques (Bryant & Charmaz, 2010; Charmaz, 2006; Corbin & Strauss, 1990; 2007). This methodology is particularly useful because its procedures permit the researcher to develop a thorough, well-integrated examination of any social phenomena. Any concepts found within the data must be identified multiple times through comparisons to identify similarities (Corbin & Strauss, 1990; 2007). In this way, findings are validated by their repeated appearances or absences, ensuring they are derived from and grounded in the data (Bryant & Charmaz, 2010; Charmaz, 2006). For example, users’ repeated comments or observations relating to the role of money in the selection of flights, hotels, brothels, and food provide insight into the way that economic decisions are impacted by personal preferences concerning comfort, sex, and entertainment.

This strategy is used to structure the analysis with examples and quotes from the data where appropriate to illustrate a point and with all spelling, grammar, syntax, and punctuation errors intact. The use of direct quotes from forums and other computer-mediated communications in qualitative research has been the subject of contentious debate because websites and participants may be identified through their comments (Bell, 2001; DiMarco & DiMarco, 2003; Hine, 2000, 2005; Holt, 2010; Markham, 2005, 2011; Steinmetz, 2012; Sveningsson, 2004). However, using abbreviated or paraphrased language derived from a participant’s posts does not provide the same richness and insight into individual values and beliefs as do direct quotes (Holt, 2010; Steinmetz, 2012; Sveningsson, 2004).

We therefore use quotes from publicly accessible forums since the operators and users of such forums are reasonably aware that the content may be viewed by outsiders. In addition, virtually all participants provided no personally identifiable information such as their actual names, home addresses, age, or occupational details. As a consequence, the participants appear to recognize the risks of posting and engaging in on-line discussions and insulate themselves from potential identification. Still, all usernames have been changed by the researchers in order to maintain some confidentiality for the participants (see also Holt, 2010; Steinmetz, 2012).

Findings

Analyses of the forum content demonstrated that multiple macro-level factors directly influence the micro-level decision-making processes of sex tourists in the course of planning and executing their trips: economics, policing and law, governmental stability, and the languages spoken in the chosen destination country. These conditions operate at the micro-, mezzo-, and macro-level to influence justifications for behaviors and attitudes toward sex workers and their home countries and to structure the identity of a sex tourist while abroad. The intersections of these forces are explored in the following analysis, using quotes from the forums when appropriate. Additionally for consistency, the term monger is used throughout the text to refer to forum users and the term mongering is used to refer to acts involved in sex tourism (see also Blevins & Holt, 2009; Holt et al., 2009; Katsulis, 2009; Sharpe & Earle, 2003). Though individual users employed many terms to refer to themselves and their activities (Katsulis, 2009), the term monger was used most frequently.

Information sharing

Before discussing the factors affecting the decision-making process of sex tourists, it is critical to consider the way in which information provided in on-line environments affects user behavior off-line. The deviant or illegal nature of sex tourism coupled with the distance separating tourists from their destination of choice makes it difficult to understand the local dynamics affecting the sex trade and tourism generally. Thus, the forums hinge on discussions of individual experiences with citizens, sex workers, and resources in country. This notion was demonstrated by the user Machete as he described why he regularly participates in a Mexico forum:

Mexico is one big sex trip if you want! All you have to do is read the [forum] posts from each city and you will be able to put your own sextrip together. There is hotel, flight, taxi, club, massage parlor and other pertinent info for meeting women in Mexico. In fact that is what I thought the [forum] was for.

The open discussion in these forums affords users the opportunity to act on the information provided to improve their overall experience while traveling. There is no immediate way, however, to determine how many individuals acted on the advice provided because of the nature of forum use generally (Holt, 2012; Holt et al., 2008, 2009). Some individuals post frequently; others post infrequently and may or may not give their opinion. There are also some individuals referred to as lurkers who never post but read the comments provided (see Holt et al., 2009). As a result, many may be exposed to forum content, but it is unclear how much this influences their actions in the real world.

It appears that many users do read the forum posts to plan trips and activities. For example, users posed questions about older posts for clarification or more information. Additionally, users often posed questions directly to the group for help in organizing a specific activity. For instance, a user in the Malaysia forum was trying to set up a sexual encounter with two prostitutes and requested help from the forum users to achieve this:

Anyone can help? I like to take 2 gal (can do lesbian), good service, can do anal sex, can cum in mouth. Good Blow job, good fucking and good to fuck anal. Can I get malays gal to do this … or Chinese or Indians or thai or Indonesians … where can i get this girl … can u give me the hotel, contact person or your phone nos. waiting for reply from u all. URGENT. Thanks.

In some instances, users even invited others in the forums to join them on their sex trips or to compare itineraries if they were going to be in the country at the same time. For instance, a user in the Mexico forum noted:  “If anyone Wants to Monger with Me Then in December in Mexico. P.M. Me or Post back here.” Similar comments were present in the Thailand forums, as in the case of three users who were in and around Thailand at the same time. As a result, one user posted the following message: “can’t make it to [city removed], as I told you before, but going to [city removed] in 2 weeks. Let’s fly in together, I’ll spot you some miles. [Username] owes me dinner   at the swankiest place in town, you can tag along.” As a result, some users clearly benefit from the connectivity afforded by the forums to directly connect with others and engage in sex tourism.

Due to the volume of information posted in the forums, some users noted that there was no guarantee that acting on this information would produce the same outcome. For instance, the user Rambler in the Thailand forum suggested: “The specific advice people provide on this forum is great, but you need to remember that you may not be able to replicate that experience and it would be naive of you to expect to be able to do so.” As a result, some users would insert the phrase “YMMV,” or “your mileage may vary,” to indicate how experiences may change based on information provided. This was demonstrated when an individual asked

Earlyriser: I am going on a tour of SE Asia in about a month.    I will spend 10 days in various spots in Thailand, the rest in SGP and Bali.

While the posts … are very useful, I could use local tour guides who are familiar with the best places for girls, food, entertainment, sight seeing etc ...

I prefer someone with culture rather than the low-brow tuktuk and taxi drivers.

Subgum: It’s a bit of a hit-and-miss, but in BKK, some of the P4P [Pay For Play] girls make excellent guides. In fact, I’ve found some that are better transalots/fixers than the assistants available through local temp service agencies or the business centers of the major hotels. Problem is finding the right girl. It can be an arduous job in itself, but the interview process is kind of fun. If you find the right girl as your guide, she’ll take a lot of pride in the assignment and make impeccable arrangements for you.

This suggestion won’t work every time and YMMV, but it’s definitely worthwhile.

If an individual felt that he had a successful experience based on information from the forum, he may then thank the larger population of users publicly. For instance, the user Frank from the Thailand forum indicated that “I’ve gotten great advice from the board, especially learning about Livingstone’s Lodge. I’m planning my return trip for the first or second week next month. Any one else [from the forum] planning to be at Giotto’s around the same time?” The quantity of information provided in the forums engendered all facets of travel abroad, as evident in this post from the user herbaceous in the Thailand forum:

Thanks to information gleaned on this forum, before leaving Oz I arranged for some dental treatment whilst I am in BKK [Bangkok] … Well today I trotted off to the [clinic name removed] and was extremely pleasantly surprised … Without going into the gory details the treatment was better than anything else I have experienced in the world … In short, what I had done cost a total of 3600 Baht ... All in all, thanks to board members who provided the initial advice. My mouth and bank balance are most appreciative.

Taken as a whole, there is clear evidence that the information provided online can directly influence user behavior related to both paid sexual encounters and general issues in the real world.

Economics

In light of the information provided in the forums used by sex tourists, it appears that their decisions are substantively influenced by money, particularly the economic conditions of a destination country. Forum users indicated that money had a substantive effect on their decisions at all phases of a tour, ranging from airline prices to which specific sex workers to solicit for what services. The information available in the forums was invaluable for sex tourists to identify all the various costs they may incur while on a tour. In turn, access to this information could greatly expand the bounds of an individual’s knowledge base and enable more informed decision making.

In fact, mongers regularly discussed the various methods they could employ to get the most value for their money while traveling. All of the nations within this sample fell below the top one-third of countries on gross national income per capita according to the World Bank’s 2008 ranking of 210 nations (World Bank, 2009). The majority of users with known countries of residence, however, indicated that they resided in or posted from the United States, which is ranked 14th overall in this index (World Bank, 2009). As a result, the strong purchasing power of the American dollar in these destination countries enabled individuals to engage in lavish or decadent tours (see Katsulis, 2009; Telepus, 2008). This was evident in a post by Rollito in the Mexico forum, stating he formerly mongered in the United States, but “that doesn’t interest me much any more. Everything is cheaper and more fascinating in Mexico.”

The importance of money in the decision-making process of mongers was evident across the forums where users shared tips on how to save funds on everything from food to sex workers. For instance, the user Stagnant from one of the Thailand forums suggested:

your budget [for an entire sex tour] can be condensed if you find a nice girl that you have good chemistry with and simply pay her to be your guide to the floating market and the temples. There’s nothing like having a Thai girl as a tour guide because the men do not fuck with them and no one will try to gouge you or rip you off (i.e. taxi cabs taking the 10 mile route instead of the direct route and running your mileage up, or tuktuks overcharging, etc.). Plus [you] will be able to pay her half of what an expensive company would cost and you get the benefit of eye-candy with all the scenery, plus she can explain things to you that no guide would do … And do not forget that if you have a Thai puta with you then she will be pointing you to the cheap, delicious foods that will not get you sick … Trust me on this and you will be amazed at how much money she will save you.

This suggests mongers employed various tactics to save money in every conceivable aspect of their trips, including hotel rates, airfare, meal costs, and the fees charged by the sex workers for various sexual activities.

The desire to obtain sexual services at the lowest possible price created some conflict with the local residents’ relative income and perceptions   of wealth. This was evident in a variety of posts from the Thailand forums, where individuals discussed the prices sex workers were willing to accept for their services.

Zenadrine: In pattaya its 1,000 baht for a short time with a go go girl and a real hottie will want more. In Bkk[Bangkok] its 1,000 to 1,500 for a ST [short term sexual encounter]. IME [in my experience] anyway. No doubt the less attractive girls can sometimes be bargained down even lower but I wouldn’t know about that

Effective: 500 baht is two and a half days wages here [in Thailand], equivalent to offering a hoar in England 250 quid for a shag! More than enough. You obviously don’t understand the Thai economy or pricing structures here. But, all I hear from people these days is how LOS [Land of Smiles, or Thailand] has been ruined in the last ten years by overpaying and stupid Farangs [foreigners] comparing it to Europe. Pay Her 500 or pay Her 1500 ST you will get the same experience 100% guaranteed.

These comments indicate that foreigners can drive service rates up in tourist destinations. Similar comments appeared in the Malaysian forums, but were especially frequent in the Philippines where mongers believed that Japanese and Korean tourists paid sex workers at a higher rate. As a result, local mongers were forced to pay sex workers more for the experience, as exemplified in a post by Sexitime in the Philippines forum:

Supply and demand will determine the price for the product in question. Fact is we are competing heavily now with the japanese and koreans who pay large amounts 5000+pesos is not uncommon so who do you think the girls will favor? Only a matter of time before the japanese and koreans start to gravitate towards cheaper AC [Angeles City] and the same thing will happen there.

Since mongers preferred to pay as little as possible for sexual encounters, they learned through the sharing of information that the general social conditions of a destination country had a significant impact on the overall cost and availability of sex workers. As a consequence, the decision to go a specific nation was often affected by the economics of that nation and the available resources. For example, an individual in the Thailand forum suggested:

If you want cheap girls you have to go where cheap prices are. This means poor infrastructure, bad economy, no jobs and everything else that’s associated with the “3rd world”. Thailand now has nice roads, lots of shops, decent airports, lots of hotels, lots of restarants etc … so its no longer going   to be cheap is it compared to a Calcutta whorehouse. If you want cheap now then get off to Cambodia, that’s cheap, very cheap for lots of pussy … If you want “comfort” and good value compared to Europe of [or] the US then try Thailand, Philippines etc …

Mongerman, from the Costa Rica forum, echoed the sentiment by stating that “the main reason that I go to the third world to monger is that it is much cheaper than in first world nations.” Users often spoke of exploiting the conditions of rampant poverty evident in the destination countries (see Katsulis, 2009). For example, in late 2008 a Mexico forum user posted a link to a news story about the decline of Mexico’s largest oil field, commenting “Bad news for the peso and good news for mongers. 2009 is quickly shaping up to becoming a banner year for mongering in MX.”

One way that some mongers saved money and ensured a successful tour was through the use of a “girlfriend,” particularly for users of the Philippines and Mexico forums. This term was used by users to refer to someone with whom a tourist could socialize, take on dates, and have sex with for free less the normal costs associated with dating. The term girlfriend did not, however, imply an extended, loving, committed, or permanent relationship for mongers. In the Philippines forums, the mongers believed that many of the sex workers preferred to be treated as girlfriends rather than as prostitutes. This was exemplified by a quote from a user in the Philippines forums who stated:

… a lot of the working girls I have known in the PI [Philippine Islands] are generally less ‘professional’ than elsewhere. Many times they prefer to think of themselves as a girlfriend, at least for a while, more than a provider of a specific service for a fee. This is one of the things I like about the place …

This suggests the relatively large incomes of Americans compared to those in the destination countries facilitated both their mongering and dating. One American ex-pat in Mexico, abracachupacabra, explained it this way:

I found as a “foreigner” (gringo), I was out by younger women because they recognized I would be earning an “ex-pat” income that would, in their terms, provide a level of security they would welcome. Worked the same with casual dating and finding providers.

This post, and others, demonstrated that sex workers would seek out financially stable customers in order to gain better payments for sex, as well as potential extras such as meals or cab fare. While such expenses may increase the overall cost of a tour, the promise of regular sex and local knowledge would offset this cost.

In order to secure more successful tours in the future, some forum users were willing to send money to sex workers they met while mongering periodically after they returned to their home country. This kind of continued support was questioned by some users and met with hostility by others because of the added expense this posed over the long term. For instance, the user Deminfly in the Thailand forums suggested that there is some expectation that Thai women will be cared for, particularly by foreigners:

Do we agree that as soon as you engage in a somehow serious relationship with a Thai girl, the question of “taking care” i.e. financial support comes up. Being a farang, this process shoks me and I don’t feel sending her an amount of money on a monthly basis to help her living a better life and supporting her poor family [is necessary]. I am not a Social security office. Still, if I chose to be involved in an affair in a cou[n]try like Thailand, I cannot avoid complying with Thai culture and I cannot avoid to “support” her in some way. Otherwise, she would feel abused and looked down [on] by her Thai friends as a stupid girl who sleeps with a farang without receiving any concrete proof of his feeling for her nor any comp[ens] ation for her family. She would lose face because of this and our relation could never be a happy one. Do we agree? (Once again, she does not get paid for sleeping as she is not a prostitute. OK, we are all mongers here and I know most of you are already laughing at me).

These comments illustrate that there is some cultural context for the need to support sex workers, as well as women in general. This was not necessarily supported by mongers because regular payments, sponsorships, were costly and did not actually guarantee any sort of relationship. For instance, the user houstfon felt that individuals who send money to their Thai girlfriends caused problems for mongers in general:

they [people sponsoring sex workers] are fucking up everything. i think there are just a few hundred of these mother jones reading, new age softee, douchebags in thailand sending money to dozens of bargirls so they won’t be ‘exploited’ by us … these guys are sending money to these girls while other dicks like them are doing the same thing. peter visits in january, paul visites in july, jack visits in august. each sends money after his visit so that she doesn’t have to work, but she does anyways.

there has got to be a way to fight back. i think it’s time to start screwing bgs [bargirls] at their own game. i say use a bg, don’t give her money when you leave, but promise something more lucrative monthly sponsorship or marriage. the dumb bg will succumb to her own extreme greed and take the bait. when you leave, you leave for good and never speak to her again. free sex and it can be done over and over again.

This comment demonstrates the negative response that mongers have toward behaviors that increase the cost of sexual services. In addition, these posts generally reflect that mongers seek to gain the greatest economic advantages possible in the course of their travels and benefit from the poor financial climate of destinations for sex tourism.

Policing and law

In addition to economic issues, legal concerns also greatly impacted the practices and decision-making processes of mongers (see Ryan & Kinder, 1996; Telepus, 2008). Many threads in the forums were concerned with the legality of prostitution in their respective destination countries and governmental attempts to interrupt the sex trade. Prostitution is legal for adults in Mexico and in Costa Rica (US Department of State, 2008a, 2008b); in Malaysia, prostitution is not a criminal offense, though it is illegal to solicit a sex worker (US Department of State, 2008c). Prostitution is illegal in the Philippines and in Thailand; however, according to the US Department of State, it is a “widespread” problem in the Philippines and “practiced openly” in Thailand (2008d, 2008e). Consequently, the Thailand forums contained relatively few posts related to police operations against prostitution.

The remaining countries’ forums in this sample contained frequent discussions or concerns of police raids.3 Information about the occurrence of raids affected mongers’ decisions to visit certain places or caused them to carefully time their visits to certain brothels and clubs. For example, a user in the Malaysia forum posted: “Last Saturday, I watched in EdisiSiasat that Brickfields area was raided by polices. Too bad. It’s a nice cheap place to do it. Furama hotel was also raided last time. Sad, sad.” In an effort to share information and avoid arrest, mongers regularly asked if a specific location or business was safe (see Holt et al., 2008, 2009). For example lumpiaboy asked other users about the status of a known brothel location: “Btw is Cyrstal Crown safe? There has been a lot of raids recently I am rather afraid to go to these places nowadays?”

Mongers spent a significant amount of time discussing their own risks in the context of police sting operations and busts rather than that of sex workers (see Holt et al., 2008; 2009). This was demonstrated in a post from the Malaysia forum where the user wondered if the citizenship or immigration status of the prostitute would affect the customer’s risk:

also, the raid … do they do anything to the customers? or do they let the customer’s go? what about does customers who were in the action … I mena what if u were caught while doing it with a girl? what happens? will there be a difference if the girl u r doing [it] with is a local or malay or a PRC [from the People’s Republic of China]??

Similar posts were found in the Philippines forums, where users discussed whether or not the bar or club that had been raided had been shut down and when it would reopen. For example, up4grabs reported that the bar Papillon was “Raided by the police a few months ago, [but] Papillon is now back to full swing.” Posts in the Philippines forum indicated that when raids occurred, the affected establishments generally reopened quickly. In one instance, a user noted that one of his frequent mongering locations “has been raided on several occasions with business ‘suspended’ while the under-age girls were removed. Then it was back to business as usually within the hour.” Thus, police raids did not appear to discourage mongers from visiting brothels and bars, primarily because the customers were not generally penalized.

Tourists were also cognizant of the significant degree of corruption prevalent among law enforcement agencies and government in a country (Fijnaut & Huberts, 2000; Ryan & Kinder, 1996). For example, a user from the Philippines forum indicated:

This “sex Den” was exposed when one of the girls complained about a discrepancy in her ‘pay check’, then all of a sudden all those lurid sex acts became despicable. Since the police didn’t know about it’s existence, therefore were not receiving their fair share of the loot, of course they had to make a raid in order to teach the wicked foreigner who is really in charge. That is how things work in this country, you can get away with whatever you want as long as the conga line of officials and police get their nick. If not, expect lights, cameras and TV patrol to descend upon you in their righteous indignation.

In addition, Flybynite offered a summary of the Philippines governmental response to the sex tourism industry:

The assumption typically made here when raids such as this occur, is that the bar owner did not pay the police or other law enforcement officials the expected amount, or did not pay at all. Usually, when such clubs get raided here, they’re shut down for a week or so, and then reopen as if nothing untoward had occurred. Again, the assumption is generally made that the payoff situation got straightened out. It’s very difficult (try impossible) for me to believe that there’s any moral concern, on the part of the authorities, about prostitution. Everything in this country always comes down to money, payoffs, and simple graft.

Similar comments were noted across the forums, such as in this post from candyman in the Mexico forum who felt that the police “collect protection money from everybody involved including mongers they can shake down.” In addition, a multi-page thread from one of the Thailand forums explored experiences with crime, corruption and interactions with the Thai police. This exchange was exemplified by a post from the forum user mr.chips:

if you put yourself in the position of a poor Thai person the number of potential vitcitms to scam and rob must be of great opportunities …drunk foreign tourists …

Few ‘scams’ I encountered was a police officer fining (bribing) me and my buddy some crazy amount for driving a moped up a óne-way’ soi??

And the baht bus folding notes over so pretending to give me say 80baht change when really only 40baht ... then they drive off quick … Yet now I think about it if I go back again I should really be more ‘aware’ and play it safe …

Taken as a whole, forum users felt that police activity and corruption have a significant impact on mongering. Police raids in bars and nightclubs affected mongers’ decisions as to which establishments they visited to purchase sex. Individuals sought to avoid being caught up in police raids and attempted to verify the safety of places that were recently investigated by local law enforcement (Holt et al., 2008, 2009). Furthermore, forum users mentioned the importance of avoiding any circumstances that would place them on the wrong side of corrupt law enforcement officials. Mongers used the forums to increase their knowledge of local legal sanctions and policing techniques to reduce their overall risk and increase the likelihood of a satisfactory trip to a given nation.

Government stability

The stability of the government of a destination country can negatively impact a tourist’s behaviors in much the same way that law enforcement affects them. Social unrest and political upheaval could disrupt an individual’s plans, leading to the cancellation of sex tours. As a result, the ability to gather information on the conditions within a country from individuals experiencing events first hand help to increase tourists’ knowledge of a given nation. For instance, users in the Malaysia forums regularly discussed going to nearby Betong, located in southern Thailand just over the northern border of Malaysia. Unrest in Betong, however, caused Horngo to call off his trip with fellow monger fongfong, stating: “About the Betong trip, Mayfai, forget about it. Apparently that place is not that safe at the moment. I don’t want to end up in the hospital, worse, dead.” At the same time, mongers recognized that taking trips during periods of instability could have significant benefits. This was evident in a post from the Philippines forum noting that there were significant price breaks in Betong during times of instability:

If u really wanna go there, well, there are benefits as well. When the situation get dangerous, the rate of tourists aka customers deteriorates and therefore price will fall automatically. This had happened in Bali b4. Question is, would u sacrifice the risk for cheaper sex? I know i would. But, maybe I am not that desperate for now.

Thus, the prospective risk to personal safety could be offset by economic concerns and the promise of low prices. This was evident in myriad posts   in the Thailand forums due to the frequent coups and political strife within that country. Users in this forum appeared unconcerned about the ways that social conditions would affect their ability to monger, as exemplified in a post by xelent, who stated:

I don’t think there will be tanks on the streets. It will be the kind of coup that the average tourist won’t even notice.

As long as they have the King’s and the main Generals support, all they will have to do is, basicly, arrest Thaksin. The people are not a danger ... Thaksin’s support is in the country, not in BKK. And I don’t think farmers

will attack the newgov. if the King supports it !

The King is the key in Thailand. This is not Cambodia.

What would keep families away is a terrorist attack in a main tourist place ...

well ... that would scare pretty much everybody! lol

The above quote demonstrates that forum users could greatly expand their knowledge of a destination country’s political dynamics, and this could substantively improve their decision-making processes.

Mongers living in the country and abroad facilitated the exchange of information about the social climate of Thailand beyond what could be obtained through traditional media resources. There were several multi-page threads related to occurrences of social unrest, including the 2006 coup d’etat against then Prime Minister Thaksin. During this event, the forum served as a primary news outlet, since a user provided information from Thailand before major news agencies. This was demonstrated in a post from rjb007, stating: “xcellent job … your post was the first news of the coup. Long before AOL got wind. Now the interesting part will be when Thaskin’s plane lands and who is waiting for his arrival on Thursday.” The provision of news on the coup was informative, but also served as a warning to some mongers to cancel impending trips to Thailand to avoid the potentially tense situation. This knowledge helped them navigate times of political uncertainty and determine whether their tourist activities would put them in danger.

Exchanges between forum users in the Philippines also demonstrated the importance of communicating intimate knowledge of the country to determine the safety of travel. Users regularly stated their worries about traveling there during times of political unrest. This was demonstrated in a post by MongerinFool, who warned fellow mongers that, “… it might be best to avoid the PI whenever election campaigns are in full swing. Violence, both political and non-political in nature, seems to spike at such times.” For example, mongers expressed concern over an event in which approximately 30 rogue members of the Philippines military attempted to overthrow the government in 2003. However, during this time sex tourists were able to go about their business as usual. This was demonstrated in the following post:

I was in Makati about three years ago when there was the real attempted coup by some military officers. Even that one was really less then played up by the press. In most cases the protesters are paid to run the streets by the opposing party if you ask me. I have been told this by locals. For 20 pesos they will go protest for you and vote for the way you ask as well, although that would be hard to prove as they could vote for anyone once in side the polls and tell you anything. One surprising thing, or at least to me it was surprising, is during this attempted military coup by the some renegade officers in the military I was in the P. Burgos bars on most the nights. They never closed of course.

These comments clearly illustrate that tourists’ knowledge of local events and political dynamics can greatly improve their  ability  to  engage in an effective and enjoyable tour. The forums provide access to individuals with first-hand knowledge of the effects of protests and coup attempts which can greatly expand the boundaries of a tourists’ knowledge base. In turn, they can make better decisions concerning their personal safety and sexual solicitations through the promise of lower prices or interesting experiences during periods of political instability.

Language barriers

A final condition affecting the decision-making process of mongers was concern over a tourist’s ability to speak the language of the destination country. An inability to communicate clearly with native people and sex workers could make it difficult for mongers to engage in various activities while traveling. As a consequence, mongers, particularly first-time visitors who were planning to travel but did not know the language sought out information on how to overcome these limitations while visiting. Regular users who had frequently traveled to the destination countries helped put others at ease by reporting that navigating the countries and their respective mongering scenes could be quite easy. Costa Rica, Mexico, and the Philippines were regarded as good mongering destinations due to the high percentage of English speakers in these nations. Users in both the Philippines and Thailand forums further indicated that the majority of sex workers spoke English fairly well and could discuss their services with prospective clients.

The importance of language was critical for some mongers because they simply wanted to be able to communicate with sex workers regarding basic transaction details. Those with a rudimentary understanding of a country’s primary language could achieve favorable results, as demonstrated in a post by Porequa of the Costa Rica forum who wrote: “Your lack of spanish is an impediment but not a deal breaker in San Jose. I’d say that’s the best choice for Latina talent by a mono-linguistic monger.” Another Costa Rica forum user added: “I would recommend Costa Rica over Cuba simply because it is so easy for a non-Spanish speaker to visit and partake in our kinds of activities.” Additionally, users in the Thailand forums noted that sex workers could speak some English and regularly discussed things with prospective mongers in broken English rather than Thai. The ability to speak limited Thai could be useful, however, in order to develop a rapport and avoid being swindled by a sex worker. This was noted in the following exchange:

Steve Jones: any attempts to speak the [Thai] language are often rewarded. There is the perverse view often held by Thai girls that a punter [monger] who knows the language knows too much and that does not mean good business, but there are a lot of others whose more positive attitude can compensate.

WendelX: Steve is quite right about “knowing too much.” Basically if you are wise to their game it is not fun for them to try and trick you. Almost all of the pros want to maximize their income, so a little Thai goes a long way.

Those individuals who could easily communicate with sex workers were able to generate a much more favorable outcome. For instance, mongers who spoke Thai felt that they were better able to negotiate and interact with sex workers. This was evident in one thread titled “A Monger’s Guide to Thai” that provided various sexual and romantic Thai phrases that could be said to a woman. The following exchanges demonstrate the quantity and quality of information individuals obtained on the Thai language:

The Agency: How do you say??

  1. Please do not lie to me?

  2. If you lie? I stop seeing you.

  3. Please treat me with respect.

  4. Do not try to play games with me

Might come in handy !!

Dirtnasty:

  1. Di-plodeyagohokephom

  2. Ta Khungohokephom jam-maibpai ha khunlekjooa (not sure)

  3. Di-plodedoo-lerphom (please look after me)

  4. Ya-lin game (English same as Thai) gab phom

Hope this helps........

Rocky: Penis is Hum where it’s the testicles that are called

Kai (egg in Thai)

Big breast Nom yai (I know it’s breast big but the Thais don’t understand it if the sequence of words isn’t correct to them.

They always like to be told they are pretty.

Kun me Na swy (you have face beautiful) if you say you have beautiful face they don’t understand ... Scarey but true

The above quote illustrates that the mongers seek to use the Thai language to their advantage in sexual situations and to save money, but have generally little interest in learning more practical conversational components. Indeed, Rocky denigrates certain aspects of the language and its speakers through his incredulity over the Thai language ordering of adjectives and nouns. In all, these forums indicate that language barriers may influence a monger’s choice of destination for sex tourists. These limits can, however, be easily overcome and do not impede paid sexual encounters.

Discussion and conclusions

This study sought to explore the ways in which the bounds of rational decision-making are altered by participation in on-line web forums for sex tourism. The findings demonstrate that macro-level factors, most notably economics, affect the decision-making processes and tactics of sex tourists who use on-line web forums. Discussions pertaining to the costs of travel comprised a significant portion of the discussion in these forums (ChowWhite, 2006; Katsulis, 2009; O’Connell Davidson, 2000; Telepus, 2008). Mongers who may have limited funds exploited poverty in tourist destinations by paying as little as possible for sexual encounters, food, and travel. Some discussed identifying a sex worker who would serve as both a sexual partner and tour guide during the course of their trip. To that end, micro-level economic factors as well as macro-level forces at the country level influence tourist behaviors. The amount of information provided by forum users enabled mongers to greatly expand the bounds of their knowledge in a destination country and thereby make more cost-effective decisions before and during a tour (Chow-White, 2006; Katsulis, 2009; O’Connell Davidson, 2000; Telepus, 2008). 

The significance of economic conditions in the decision-making process of tourists also intersected with the legal dynamics within a nation. For example, governmental instability could create social upheaval that may affect travel and local services. Forum users indicated that these conditions may actually decrease the cost of services and therefore improve the overall quality of a tour. Additionally, mongers who lived in the destination country were able to provide others with first-hand information on major events. Such information could prove invaluable to others to better understand risks and reduce the bounds of their knowledge of the country. In turn, the information provided by forum users on the practices of local police officers could substantially reduce their risk of arrest and improve their interactions with law enforcement while on tour.

Finally, language deficits affected the activities of mongers while on their tours, but not necessarily their desire to travel to a given country. Users across the forums indicated that they did not need a strong command of the primary language used in any of the sampled destination countries, since most sex workers could speak some English. Several mongers also provided users with basic terms and phrases in the primary language of the destination country in order to facilitate negotiations with providers. As such, sex tourists may be somewhat insulated from the local cultures of a destination nation due to their sole pursuit of successful sexual encounters (Katsulis, 2009; O’Connell Davidson, 2000).

The findings of this study demonstrate that a sex tourist’s decision-making calculus focuses on economic conditions; many of their activities and choices are made based on the impact to the individual’s budget. The general users’ participation in these forums over time suggests that tourists are not only frequently thinking about tours, whether or not they are traveling in the immediate future, but they are willing to provide information and insight to help others plan their own tours. Through this exchange of information, offenders appear to make decisions regarding their travel destinations and activities based on substantive macro-level factors operating at social  or political levels, as opposed to those situational and individual level concerns that may drive expressive offenses such as retaliatory violence (Jacobs & Wright, 2010; McCarthy, 2002). In addition, sex tourists’ decisions appear to involve more careful calculation than the decisions made by actors seeking street or Internet-based prostitution within a local area, though both are influenced by economic considerations (Holt & Blevins, 2007; Holt et al., 2009). Therefore, sex tourist activities may not easily be deterred through traditional criminal justice mechanisms that increase the risk of detection; through on-line forums, offenders have the ability to identify tactical and strategic methods of displacement to other nations or locales that are more accepting of sex tourist activities.

The findings illustrate that on-line forums provide a mechanism to more completely inform an offender’s decision-making calculus. Forum users shared first-hand information on the locations, resources, and practices of tourists and their originating location. These observations are a critical resource for tourists who may know little about a destination to learn from experienced travelers and garner insights into the processes of the sex trade in that locality (Chow-White, 2006; Holt & Blevins, 2007; Katsulis, 2009; Sharpe & Earle, 2003). As a result, participation in forums allows active travelers to greatly expand the bounds of their knowledge and make more informed and effective decisions while in-country.

As a consequence, on-line forums may provide an important resource to enable mongers to obviate strategies designed to reduce sex tourist activities (see Holt & Blevins, 2007; Holt et al., 2008). The diffusion of information through these forums facilitates mongering while at the same time reducing risks and costs. Thus, participation in these forums may prove invaluable for sex tourists to more effectively travel and solicit sex abroad. The use of sex tourism forums diminish the bounds of an individuals’ knowledge, making their decision-making processes more informed and therefore simplifying the process and risks of sex tourism through increased access to information and effective strategies to use while traveling (Chow-White, 2006; DeCurtis, 2003; Holt & Blevins, 2007; Sharpe & Earle, 2003).

This analysis also demonstrates the need for international law enforcement agencies to recognize and adapt to the challenges of efficient and widely available criminal-to-criminal communication mechanisms (see Holt, 2010; Holt et al., 2009). Sex tourism is commonly prosecuted by law enforcement agencies in the tourists’ home country. However, based on the hidden nature of this phenomenon, it is difficult to identify sex tourists (Phinney, 2001; Taylor et al., 2010).  The Internet may serve as a pivotal resource in the development of cases and investigation of offender behavior through the establishment of an undercover program to solicit criminal intelligence (Holt et al., 2008, 2009). Such programs may prove invaluable in light of increasing budgetary constraints among law enforcement and the distributed nature of sex tourism generally.

The preliminary results of this study, however, require careful exploration to understand the impact of these findings on the larger literature on offender decision-making. Specifically, the long-range planning required for sex tourism may make the decision-making process for this offense distinct relative to other crimes which may hinge on short-term opportunity structures (Copes et al., 2012; Jacobs & Wright, 2010). A small body of research has explored the nature of offender decision-making in the context of acts that allow for more careful selection of prospective targets or tactical decisions in advance, such as computer hacking (Holt, 2007) or malicious software creation (Chu, Holt, & Ahn, 2010). More research is necessary to better identify the factors that influence the decision-making calculus for those crimes that engender prospective planning of an offense.

Additional research is also needed to clarify the role of on-line communications in real-world offending practices (Holt & Blevins, 2007; Holt et al., 2009). While this study illustrates a connection between on- and off-line communication, there have been minimal research studies exploring how much an on-line conversation truly impacts individual decision-making. Interviews with tourists who use forums could improve our knowledge of the impact of forums on solicitation practices and tourist activities. Such data would allow for more accurate estimates of both sex tourism and the extent to which practices are modified as a consequence of on-line communications. Furthermore, this could shed light on the relationship between participation in on-line communities and off-line human agency.

There are several limitations that must be addressed within this data set. Specifically, few if any users discussed the presence of underage prostitutes in the sex trade. There is some evidence to suggest that the countries included in this sample have a significant proportion of sex workers who are minors (International Labour Organization, 2005; O’Connell Davidson, 2000; Ryan & Hall, 2001). The absence of posts on this issue may be a reflection of forum rules prohibiting posts related to underage prostitution. As a result, there is a need for researchers to develop alternative sampling frameworks, including interviews with and observations of sex tourist behavior, to better capture the scope of this problem and its influence on sex tourism generally (Weitzer, 2005).

The forum users also largely focused their discussions on heterosexual encounters with sex workers, although this is only one facet of the sex trade as a whole (Weitzer, 2005). This is likely a reflection on one of the forum’s rules that prohibits discussion of homosexual activity. Research exploring the ways that homosexual, bisexual, and transgendered sex factor into the practices and decision-making process of sex tourists is needed. Such research can improve our knowledge of the overall process and composition of sex tourism and the characteristics and motives of sex tourists in general. Additionally, the data for this study were generated from English-language forums, limiting the potential for non-English speakers to easily use and participate in these exchanges. Researchers must also examine any variation in the practices of sex tourists based on their country of origin and the role of ex-patriots and foreign nationals in facilitating sex tourism in various countries. This can improve our knowledge of the social mechanisms that facilitate the sex trade around the world.

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Contributors

Thomas J. Holt is an Associate Professor in the School of Criminal Justice at Michigan State University. He received his PhD in criminology and criminal justice from the University of Missouri-Saint Louis in 2005, and specializes in research on cybercrime and on-line deviance.

April Zeoli is an Assistant Professor at Michigan State University’s School of Criminal Justice. She received her PhD in health and public policy from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, where she studied the use of public policy to prevent intimate partner violence and homicide.

Kathleen Bohrer received her Master’s Degree in Law Enforcement Intelligence and Analysis from Michigan State University’s School of Criminal Justice in 2011. She currently lives in Washington, D.C.

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