Sex Tourism: Big Apple Oriental Tour Operators Re-Indicted for Promoting Prostitution

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IMPORTANT: This archived action campaign has been completed or discontinued, and the information contained in it may not be current. Please see Take Action for current and ongoing campaigns.
1 Oct 2005
Update Date: 
3 Nov 2008

In 1996, Equality Now launched its Women's Action campaign calling for the prosecution of Big Apple Oriental Tours, a sex-tour company based in New York State.  The campaign focused on shutting down Big Apple Oriental Tours and securing a criminal prosecution for Barabash and Allen for promoting prostitution under New York State law.  Big Apple Oriental Tours was effectively shut down in 2003 by a temporary restraining order obtained by the New York State Attorney General in a civil lawsuit.  After a first criminal indictment, an appeal, a second criminal indictment and second appeal, the criminal case has been referred back to the Dutchess County Court for trial (for more information on the background of the case and law please see Women’s Actions 12.1 and 12.2).

On December 26, 2006, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of the State of New York upheld the dismissal of the charge of promoting prostitution in the third degree but reinstated the charge of promoting prostitution in the fourth degree against the Big Apple Oriental Tour operators.  Equally important, the Appellate Division dismissed Barabash and Allen’s remaining arguments as "without merit" including that their sex tour operations are not subject to promoting prostitution charges in state courts because of lack of jurisdiction.  Barabash and Allen will now have to stand trial, facing up to one year of imprisonment if convicted.  The trial date has been set for 7 January 2009. 

Members are requested to ask new New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who replaced Eliot Spitzer, to continue to pursue the case vigorously. (Letters may be sent to the same address and fax number listed below.  Please also send a copy to Equality Now.)

Norman Barabash and Douglas Allen, the owner/operators of New York-based sex tour company Big Apple Oriental Tours, have been indicted for the second time by a Dutchess County Grand Jury for promoting prostitution in violation of Article 230 of the New York Penal Law.  Mr. Barabash and Mr. Allen were arraigned on 8 August 2005, pleading not guilty, at the Dutchess County Courthouse in Poughkeepsie, New York.  If convicted, Mr. Barabash and Mr. Allen could face up to seven years in prison.   

Following a year-long investigation by the New York State Attorney General, Mr. Barabash and Mr. Allen were first criminally indicted by a grand jury in February 2004 for violating New York state law prohibiting the promotion of prostitution.  The culmination of a seven-year campaign by Equality Now to stop the activities of Big Apple Oriental Tours, this indictment marked the first criminal action of its kind in the United States against a sex tourism company.  It followed an unprecedented civil action against Big Apple Oriental Tours initiated by the New York State Attorney General, Eliot Spitzer, which led to a temporary restraining order against Big Apple Oriental Tours in July 2003 that effectively disabled their website and severely restricted the company from organizing or advertising any future tours.

Equality Now launched its Women's Action campaign calling for the prosecution of Big Apple Oriental Tours in 1996.  At the time, Big Apple Oriental Tours advertised a twelve-day trip to the Philippines for $2,195, which included transportation, airfare, hotel room and the ability of the sex tourist to “select your companion upon arrival in Angeles City.”  Conversations with Mr. Barabash and previous Big Apple Oriental Tours travelers more explicitly detailed what occurs on a sex tour.  The traveler would be picked up at the airport by a car or bus to take him to Angeles City where he would be met by the Big Apple Oriental Tours representative in the Philippines.  This representative would accompany the traveler to numerous bars in Angeles City.  The traveler would select a girl or woman from among those working in the bars, and the Big Apple Oriental Tours representative would negotiate the cost of prostitution, called a “barfine”, with her “mamasan” (the business manager).  The mamasan would check with the traveler in the morning to ensure that the woman was “satisfactory.”

On 30 July 2004, Judge Gerald V. Hayes dismissed the first criminal indictment against Mr. Barabash and Mr. Allen, ruling that the playing of a recorded conversation for the Grand Jury between an undercover investigator and a previous Big Apple sex tour customer was inadmissible as hearsay.  According to Judge Hayes, the sex tourist graphically described in the tape what he did in the Philippines.  He told the investigator that tour guides, included in the Big Apple Oriental Tours package and paid by Mr. Allen, took him to bars where all of the women in the bars were for sale.  In his decision, Judge Hayes went beyond the issue of hearsay to address the applicability of the underlying law to the case, in an effort to foreclose the possibility of the Attorney General again indicting Mr. Barabash and Mr. Allen.  The judge expressed his view that there was legally insufficient evidence to sustain the indictment, summarizing the evidence as establishing at most that that there were “unnamed, undescribed bars at which women employees will leave with male customers for the purpose of engaging in sexual conduct provided that a fee described as a ‘bar fine’ is paid to the owner or manager of the bar.”  Despite this clear description of prostitution activity, Judge Hayes concluded, “There was no competent evidence before the grand jury of a specific house of prostitution, prostitution business or enterprise.” 

Penal Law Section 230.25(1) provides that anyone who “advances or profits from prostitution by managing, supervising, controlling or owning…a prostitution business or enterprise involving prostitution activity” is guilty of promoting prostitution.  That Big Apple Oriental Tours is an enterprise involving prostitution activity is evident from the judge’s own description of the activities in which it engages.  In his decision, Judge Hayes also drew an analogy between sex tourism promoters and travel agents who advertise that “Ireland is a good place to play golf, that England is a good place to see castles and Spain is a good place to attend bullfights,” in effect characterizing prostitution as a tourist attraction.

The New York State Attorney General’s office appealed the dismissal of the initial indictment, and in May 2005 the Appellate Division ruled on the limited ground that hearsay evidence was improperly introduced to the grand jury, allowing the case to be resubmitted to a second grand jury.  The Appellate Division did not address the applicability of New York law to the case. 

Equality Now will continue to monitor the case against Big Apple Oriental Tours with the hope that it will go to trial.  This second criminal indictment of Mr. Barabash and Mr. Allen should send a strong message to other sex tour operators that their activities can and should be considered a serious criminal offense, one that promotes violence and discrimination against women and contributes to the demand for sex trafficking.  Big Apple Oriental Tours is not the only operator of sex tours in the United States.  Equality Now is aware of several other U.S.-based sex tour companies, which are still promoting and organizing sex tours to Thailand and the Philippines, and other destinations around the world.


What You Can Do: 

Please write to New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, commending him for his leadership in continuing to pursue the case against Big Apple Oriental Tours for promoting prostitution through sex tourism.  Express your hope that his action will set an example for and encourage his colleagues around the country to take legal action against other sex tour operators in the United States.

New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo
The Capitol
Albany, NY 12224-0341, USA
Fax: +1 518-402-2472