In 1996, Equality Now launched a Women’s Action campaign calling for the prosecution of Big Apple Oriental Tours (BAOT). At the time, the company was advertising a twelve-day trip to the Philippines for sex tourists at the cost of $2,195, which included transportation, airfare, hotel room, and the ability of the sex tourist to “select your companion upon arrival in Angeles City” in a commercial sex transaction that would be brokered by a BAOT representative at the customer’s request.
BAOT owners Norman Barabash and Douglas Allen were charged with promoting prostitution in 2004 after Equality Now brought the company’s activities to the New York State Attorney General’s attention in 2002, with support from U.S. feminist organizer and writer Gloria Steinem, U.S. Congressional Representative Carolyn Maloney and the New York Women’s Agenda. This followed an unprecedented civil action brought by the Attorney General against BAOT in 2003, which effectively shut down the sex tour operator through a temporary restraining order against the company pending the outcome of the criminal case.
In January 2009, Barabash and Allen were acquitted by a jury of the criminal charges for promoting prostitution under New York State law. To convict the sex tour operators, the judge told the jury they had to find that New York had jurisdiction over the case by first finding that BAOT’s conduct violated state law, second that the defendants intended to promote prostitution in the Philippines, and third that prostitution is illegal in the Philippines. Only then could the jury find whether or not the defendants were guilty of promoting prostitution by knowingly advancing prostitution. While the jury affirmed that New York had jurisdiction over the case, it failed to find Barabash and Allen guilty of promoting prostitution, even though the jury had heard hours of graphic conversations between Allen and an undercover investigator, during which Allen described how BAOT exploited the impoverished conditions of women in the Philippines by promising American men cheap sex overseas. The acquittal of Barabash and Allen vividly demonstrates the need for federal action against sex tour operators.
The New York legal landscape has now changed to make it easier to prosecute sex tour operators. In 2007, while Barabash and Allen were awaiting trial, New York State passed anti-trafficking legislation that amended Penal Law Section 230.25 to include punishment for promoting prostitution of businesses selling travel-related services “knowing that such services include or are intended to facilitate travel for the purpose of patronizing a prostitute, including to a foreign jurisdiction and regardless of the legality of prostitution in said foreign jurisdiction.” This crime carries a maximum seven year sentence.
In October 2005, Equality Now issued Women’s Action 27.1 calling for federal U.S. law enforcement agencies to end sex tourism, in particular, to investigate and prosecute Gunter Frentz, the owner/operator of G.F. Tours (formerly known as G&F Tours). G.F. Tours openly advertises its sex tours online, and posted testimonials from previous G.F. sex tourists that clearly illustrated the purpose of the tour. One G.F. sex tourist explained, “for a 350 baht fee ($14), I could take her back to my hotel, f**k her all night…and tip her 1000 baht ($40) in the morning, or whenever I was done with her.”
From 2005 through 2008 Equality Now’s Women’s Action Network called on the former U.S. Attorney General and his staff to use two federal laws, the Mann Act (which penalizes knowingly transporting a person across state or national boundaries to engage in prostitution) and the Travel Act (which penalizes travelling across state or national boundaries to promote or carry out any unlawful activity including prostitution), to prosecute Frentz for transporting men to foreign countries and facilitating their efforts to patronize prostitution. Pimping and patronizing of prostituted women is illegal in the Philippines and Thailand. After the U.S. Department of Justice failed to act, Equality Now then requested it to issue an opinion on whether the Mann Act and Travel Act could in principle be applied to sex tour operators working from the U.S. However, the Department of Justice under the Bush Administration refused to discuss the issue or to render an opinion.
G.F. Tours continues to organize sex tours from within the U.S. Its website advertises tours to the Philippines, Thailand and Cambodia through 2010 for prices ranging from $ 1,850 to $ 3,925. Since Equality Now’s Women’s Action, G.F. Tours has removed the pictures of naked women posing in sexually explicit positions from its website, has stopped referring to its tours as “sex tours,” and has removed other incriminating content from its website. However, promotional materials received by Equality Now from G.F. Tours in 2009 are the same as were provided to Equality Now prior to the launch of the campaign against the sex tour company four years ago. These materials include an article about G.F. Tours’ trips reprinted from a pornographic magazine that includes explicit photos and descriptions of sexual activity. The article provided by G.F. Tours also states that although “… the minimum age requirement for a girl to work as a dancer in a club was 18 years, I found it hard to believe that at least a couple of dancers were that old.”
Sex tourism remains a serious worldwide problem. An estimated 25% of international sex tourists are from the U.S. They help support a multi-billion dollar illegal commercial sex trafficking industry, which promotes violence and discrimination against women. While five U.S. states—Alaska, Hawaii, Missouri, New York and Washington—currently have laws that make operating sex tours a form of pimping, most other states’ promoting prostitution statutes resemble the previous New York law under which Barabash and Allen were acquitted. This makes it all the more urgent that the Department of Justice prosecute sex tour operators under the Mann Act and Travel Act.
Please write to the new U.S. Attorney General and call on him to prosecute Gunter Frentz, the owner/operator of G.F. Tours, and other sex tour operators for knowingly and openly transporting individuals to other countries with the intent of engaging in prostitution in violation of the Mann Act and Travel Act. Reiterate that sex tourism is a criminal act that exploits and harms women, and very often children, while it supports a multi-billion dollar industry in human trafficking. Urge the Attorney General to clarify to all federal prosecutors that the Department of Justice policy is to prosecute U.S.-based sex tour operators.
Letters should be addressed to:
U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr.
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20530, USA
Fax: + 1 202-307-6777