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Sex Tourism: Spotting Sex Work Around the World

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I’m a keen traveller and also an amateur sex-work anthropologist: I love investigating the signs of escorting wherever I go. 

My most recent trip was a journey around the United Kingdom. Half my time was spent driving about the countryside in a Honda (I was tempted to rent a convertible and relive Top Gear but common sense prevailed). I also saw Scotland (it’s cold) and a little of London too.

I love the aesthetic of London; the fact that everything you see is so old by Australian standards – some of the hotels I stayed in were built three hundred years before Englishmen set foot on the land Down Under! I also found the historic red phone boxes of London to be quite picturesque, and was intrigued to see that the inside of every one was plastered with escort advertising. It didn’t seem to matter which district of London I was in, rich or poor: all phone boxes featured the same voluptuous ladies.

I love picking up on little clues of what escorting might be like for other cultures. Even for a Western country that’s similar to ours, such as the UK, cultural and legal differences can make a world of difference to the way escorts conduct their work. A culture’s attitude to sex can tell you a lot about that culture in general!

When it comes to the world’s oldest profession, the only rule is that there are no rules. Generally speaking, only two facts consistently apply for sex work around the world:

1. Sex work is always there, even if it looks like it is absent.
2. It is impossible to thoroughly know the experiences of the workers there without speaking to them directly.

As a traveller with no overseas escorting experience, all I have is second-hand anecdotes and those little clues that give indications of how life is different. In Las Vegas guys stand on the street handing out flyers similar to the ones I spotted in phone boxes in London; they deliver their ads to any passer-by, both men and women – hooray for gender equality! I’ve stayed with ladies in San Francisco and listened to their conversations on where to meet guys safely – criminalisation in the USA has some terrible effects on the way people work there.

When visiting Singapore, I made a trip to Orchard Towers, which is the best-known red light area in the city. I saw ladies and lady-boys entertaining their clients in hostess bars and I felt like an outsider – not sharing a language and culture makes it so hard to connect with others!

Travelling makes me more aware of what we are privileged to have here in Australia. Escorting in Melbourne isn’t fully legalised – we still have some stupid laws such as not being able to offer in-calls and not being able to talk about our services in our advertising. In the UK, complicated ‘proceeds of prostitution’ laws make it hard to work for an agency or have a regular driver. Singapore has similarly convoluted laws, and workers must carry health ID cards with them. In the USA, cultural stigma and the illegality of sex work contributes to obscene human rights violations. In every country in the world, people are working and adapting to whatever life and their culture chooses to throw at them. I find their resilience inspiring.
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