I didn’t see a transaction, but I knew he was there to scope out prey. The white, middle-aged man who sat by the river could have been just any other tourist, but it was clear he wasn’t sight-seeing.
When I first spotted him, I followed his line of vision, curious to see what he was so intently looking at. He sat there, in cargo shorts, a T-shirt and flip flops watching young children walk by. He didn’t look at anything else—not the famous temple that most other tourists came to see or the boats passing by—just little kids. Hungrily.
It was an area in Southeast Asia known as a destination hot spot where North American and European men visit for sex tours. That was my first red flag. I also happened to be on a trip to scout locations for She Has A Name, a film I wrote about a 15 year old girl forced to work in the sex trade.
I’m no expert on the issue, but I’ve learned enough in my research of commercial sexual exploitation for the film to know how to recognize a warning sign. Many of us know that children around the world in the places we travel to are exploited by tourists who pay to abuse them. Some of us have even seen suspicious individuals with our own eyes, but that’s where it stops, we only know or see.
But what do we do? I’ve asked this question a lot. I pray, I raise awareness through stories and I give to organizations. But when you’re there, as a witness, what do you do?
On my most recent trip to Southeast Asia, this time to make the film, I realized that I need to step out of my comfort zone and risk saying uncomfortable things to address the people who exploit others. We filmed scenes for She Has A Name in a red light district. At night, bar owners would come to the streets and invite tourists into their bars. A new boldness started to arise in me and when asked, I made a point of directly stating that what they were doing was wrong.
I felt stupid for doing it. What sort of impact could it really make? But it had to be said. And so it has to be said to the young men who believe the falsehood of Hollywood films that say a sex tour is a normal part of the adult male life.
We need to directly challenge that kind of behaviour when we see it. I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if I sat down beside that man at the river and forced him to look away from his intended victims and have a conversation.
It’s time for many of us to move beyond shock and into action.
Small acts to confront injustice matter. That’s what I love about Travel Brave. It’s a practical way to do something both real and helpful to address exploitation.
This blog post is part two of a series to inform readers about Travel Brave, an initiative created by IJM Canada to help raise awareness about child sex tourism, empower Canadians to report the crime, increase citizen reporting of suspected child sex tourists, and better protect children everywhere.
Read other blog posts in this series:
*IMPORTANT* Please note: Views are the author’s own. Travel Brave does not recommend that individuals approach or intervene in a scenario in which they believe a child is being abused by a sex tourist. Only authorities who are properly equipped to deal with scenarios of this nature should intervene. This initiative has been created to help raise awareness about child sex tourism, empower Canadians to report the crime, increase citizen reporting of suspected child sex tourists, and better protect children everywhere.