Sex tourism booming in the Dominican Republic

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic, Wednesday February 6, 2013 – While many Caribbean countries are exploring innovative approaches to boost their tourism industries, the Dominican Republic reportedly continues to attract large numbers of visitors, thanks, in part, to the world’s oldest profession.

The popular destination, which attracted 4.6 million visitors in 2012, making it the most visited nation in the Caribbean, is renowned for its breathtaking scenery, pristine beaches and quality accommodation.

But in the paradisiacal resort areas, it’s not unusual to spot foreign men with attractive local women a fraction of their age, providing visible evidence of an aspect of the tourism industry neither promoted nor condemned by the government and tour operators.

Way before allegations surfaced claiming United States Senator Bob Menendez and a political contributor visited the country for wild parties with prostitutes, the Dominican Republic had acquired a reputation as a sex tourism haven.

According to the Centre for Integral Orientation and Investigation, a Santo Domingo-based health and outreach organization, studies suggest that between 60,000 and 100,000 women work in the country’s sex trade.

“The Dominican Republic has been associated both on the island and off the island with sex for sale,” noted Georgetown University professor Denise Brennan, author of What’s Love Got to Do With It?, which examines sex tourism in the country. “Dominican sex workers strategically position themselves and talk about themselves and make use of foreigners’ expectations of them as being hot and sexy.”

While countries from Brazil and Costa Rica to Thailand and Cambodia are also known to have thriving sex tourism industries, the Dominican Republic’s proximity to the United States and Europe, bolstered by its inexpensive travel packages, have made it a favoured spot.

There’s also a wide range of options available, from 30 minutes with a woman in a small hotel for about US$40 to various packages often arranged privately via the internet.

“We’ve become known as a place where foreigners feel they can come and live out their fantasies,” according to former prostitute Jacqueline Montero, who now heads an organization that assists sex workers. “It’s not illegal. … It’s easy and, for tourists, it’s inexpensive.”

While laws prohibit sex with minors, prostitution is neither illegal nor legal in the Dominican Republic. As such, it is practiced openly and widely accepted as legal by police. Click here to receive free news bulletins via email from Caribbean360. (View sample)