On 27 February 2004, following a year-long investigation by the New York State Attorney General, Norman Barabash and Douglas Allen, the owner/operators of Big Apple Oriental Tours were indicted by a grand jury for promoting prostitution, in violation of Section 230.25 of the Penal Law of the State of New York. This indictment, the culmination of a seven-year campaign by Equality Now to stop the activities of Big Apple Oriental Tours, marks the first criminal action of its kind in the United States against a sex tourism company and will send a strong message to other sex tour operators that promoting prostitution can and will be considered a serious criminal offense. If convicted, Barabash and Allen could face up to seven years in prison. This criminal indictment follows an unprecedented civil case against Big Apple Oriental Tours initiated by New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, leading to a temporary restraining order against Big Apple Oriental Tours in July 2003, which severely restricted the company from organizing or advertising any future tours and effectively disabled their website.
In 1996, Equality Now launched its Women's Action campaign calling for the prosecution of Big Apple Oriental Tours, an agency in New York operating sex tours to the Philippines and Thailand. 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.” Big Apple further advertised, “you are not obligated to remain with the same companion. You may select a different companion at any time during your stay.” Among the Frequently Asked Questions on the website of Big Apple Oriental Tours was the question, “Do you run sex tours?” with the answer, “The American Heritage dictionary defines sex tours as travel to locations where sexual services are available to tourists. For example, prostitution under certain rules is legal in Israel and Italy. Therefore, if our tours are sex tours, so is every religious pilgrimage to the Holy Land and Vatican City.” In response to inquiries for further information, Norman Barabash provided the names and phone numbers of individuals who had previously traveled with Big Apple Oriental Tours and invited the prospective traveler to sample his video collection, which he characterized as “an Encyclopedia Britannica of raunch.” The Big Apple Oriental Tours list of pornographic movies for sale includes descriptions such as “unbelievable scenes of lewdness and debauchery” and “the finalists get even with the funniest gang rape on video.”
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.”
Equality Now’s campaign initially urged the Queens District Attorney to take action against Big Apple Oriental Tours. Despite ample evidence showing that the company was promoting prostitution contrary to New York Penal Law Section 230.25, as well as protests by members of Equality Now’s Women’s Action Network from around the world, it was only after Equality Now brought the issue to the attention of Attorney General Eliot Spitzer in 2002, with support from Gloria Steinem, U.S. Congressional Representative Carolyn Maloney and the New York Women's Agenda, a coalition of which Equality Now is a member, that a thorough official investigation was launched and the temporary restraining order against Big Apple Oriental Tours obtained.
Sex tourism is a form of exploitation that preys on sex inequality and contributes to the demand for trafficking of women. It is a human rights violation. Big Apple Oriental Tours is not the only operator of sex tours in the U.S.; other sex tour companies such as Dexterhorn from California, Bendricks from Florida, Men's Travel from Washington and G&F Tours from Louisiana still offer such tours to countries such as Thailand, the Philippines and Costa Rica. Holding the operators of Big Apple Oriental Tours criminally accountable will be an important step in state recognition of the need to take action to stop the illegal activities of sex tour companies and address the severe impact they have in promoting violence and discrimination against women around the world.
Please write to New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, commending him for his leadership in upholding the law and mobilizing long overdue law enforcement efforts to stop Big Apple Oriental Tours from promoting prostitution through its sex tours. Express your hope that his action will set an example for and encourage his colleagues around the country to fully prosecute all sex tour operators promoting prostitution from the United States.
New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer
Albany, NY 12224-0341 USA