Costa Rica News – Continued from Part 2 – There are no reliable estimates of how many are working in the country—since they’re not required to register, they can’t be counted, and the trade is highly seasonal—but the consensus among aid groups and Costa Ricans is that there are more than enough and more than before.
The conservative guess is that half of those working the gringo crowd are foreigners, women imported from Nicaragua, Cuba, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, and all the other Latin American countries with worse economies and fewer tourists. The U.S. State Department, meanwhile, lists Costa Rica as a source and destination country for trafficked women, as well as a transit point for women trafficked from the Southern Hemisphere and Eastern Europe into the United States and other wealthy nations.
And that’s in a place that would prefer the horny gringos stay home.
The barroom discussion about prostitution, on the other hand, isn’t a debate at all. It’s straight rationalization. It’s the expat cop sitting on a stool, waving his glass of gin at all the gringos, channeling their thoughts:
To get a girl like one of those in the States…
It’s complete bullshit, of course—millions upon millions of working stiffs have beautiful wives and girlfriends, and there’s no shortage of rich American assholes with models on their arms—but a particular class of whoremonger will convince himself it’s true. That’s the point of being in a place such as the Blue Marlin as opposed to paying a crack addict $20 for a blow job—believing that those girls, the pretty, flirty ones in a clean bar, actually like you. Sex tourism is built on that very premise: These girls, the chicas and the Eastern Europeans and the Southeast Asians, are different from American women, more loving, less judgmental, oblivious to your gut and your hairline and the fact that you’re the sort of guy who hires women to have sex with him. Norman Barabash, a nebbishy fellow from Long Island whose company, Big Apple Oriental Tours, guided American men to the bars of Angeles City in the Philippines before the New York attorney general’s office shut it down, put it bluntly on a promotional tape:
“Filipinas are not only the most beautiful girls in the world, but also they’re among the most passionate,” he said. “And best of all, you don’t have to date them for five months to find out if they like you enough to give you their passion. Five hours, or five minutes, is more like it. While the ladies back home are working out their hang-ups with their therapists, you’ll be having the time of your life right here in mind-blowing, and everything-else-blowing, Angeles City.”
Change Filipina to Latina and the rest of it’s interchangeable. Bendricks has its prattle about “women who enjoy exuding an aura of sexual vibrancy.” Solo Adventures promises “stunning sensual women providing warm, friendly, and very personal intimate service.” The Web pages of freelancers extolling the purportedly genuine sensuality of Latin women run into the thousands.
Ken Franzblau, a consultant for Equality Now (the women’s-rights organization that started the campaign to get Big Apple shut down), has been calling tour companies for almost a decade, posing as a potential client, listening to the pitches, even checking references with satisfied customers. It’s been a nine-year tape loop playing over the phone. “It’s talked about, I guess, like the guys in Ponce de León’s expedition talking about the Fountain of Youth,” he says. “ ‘You won’t believe it. Women throw themselves at you, as much sex as you want. You’ll feel like Tom Cruise.’ They always say you’ll feel like Tom Cruise. Except for the guys who are really old. They’ll tell you you’ll feel like John Wayne.”
The level of self-delusion is stupefying. In April, for instance, a guy who calls himself “Jacó Lover” posted a report on his second trip in two years to the Costa Rican coast, where he got the “total GFE”—girlfriend experience—“for $100, including spending the night.” The highlight: “She happily let me eat her very pretty pussy, and if she wasn’t having an orgasm, then she was a damned good actress.”
Golly, you think?
“There’s a part of them that’s lying to themselves and creating this fantasy and believing these girls actually like them,” says Donna M. Hughes, a professor at the University of Rhode Island who, for sixteen years, has been studying prostitutes and the men who pay them. “They’re really just deluding themselves. And I really think that keeping the online diaries is a way of reliving the fantasy. They can edit out any sign that she didn’t enjoy this and didn’t want to be with this guy.”
Which, unless she is as rare among prostitutes as virgins, she didn’t. To believe she did is to ignore a basic truth of human nature: No one really wants to be a whore. A statistical summary of women in prostitution is a chronicle of human wreckage—economic, physical, and chemical. A 2003 survey of prostitutes in nine countries—Canada, Colombia, Germany, Mexico, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, the United States, and Zambia—headed up by a clinical psychologist named Melissa Farley revealed women who’d suffered astonishing rates of childhood sexual abuse (from 34 percent in Turkey to 84 percent in Canada and Zambia) or physical abuse (39 percent of Thais to 73 percent of Canadians); current or past homelessness (84 percent in the United States); and current drug problems (75 percent in the United States and 95 percent in Canada). The results of a 1999 UNICEF study of child prostitutes in Costa Rica between the ages of 11 and 16—and since most prostitutes start before they turn 18, it’s relevant—were worse: 80 percent had been sexually abused before their twelfth birthday, 62 percent had been physically abused, and 60 percent smoked crack daily. And the most telling statistic from Farley’s survey? Almost every prostitute she talked to wanted out, from 68 percent in Mexico to 92 percent in, of all places, Thailand, the world’s premier sex destination.
“I tell you what,” says Franzblau. “If these guys knew how many of these girls are thinking about sticking a knife in their back while they’re having sex with them, they’d be amazed. Forget amazed. They’d be staying home.”
But they don’t know, so they keep coming. Who cares what the tourist board says? The hotel clerks, the bartenders, the cabbies—they’re all part of the fantasy, all in on the hustle. No one looks at you funny down here if you want to get a girl for the night or just for an hour. No one calls you a loser if you pay to get laid.
There’s a tico named…well, forget his name. He used to be in the business of taking horny gringo dollars, used to manage a club, and he doesn’t want to piss off his old boss. Then again, he’s not too happy with how this is all turning out for his country. “Remember Bush, the first one, when he said ‘the New World Order’?” he says. “In the New World Order, we’re the playground.”
Grab a cab at the airport, and even if the driver speaks no English he’ll say, “Chicas, sí?” and he’ll know you understand. Tell him you want to go to a club, and he’ll drop you off at a strip joint like the one the tico used to manage, and he’ll collect a thousand colones from the club owner for delivering you. Americans, the ticosays, are like “Attila, you know, the Hun,” but they’ve got dollars. Pay the cover—ten bucks, including two drinks—and watch the show: strippers, then a live lesbian act, then $2 lap dances, then an amateur act…all in an hour and, damn, it’s only a Tuesday night. Resist the hard sell for a private dance in the back, two bucks a minute, six minutes minimum. Then quit resisting. Follow her into a bland room with a wastebasket full of tissues and Wet-Naps. “Tip enough,” the tico says, “and they’re all hookers.” Want to take her out of the club? One-fifty to the house, one-fifty to her.
Maybe the national economy doesn’t need the money, but the club does. The girl does. The cabbie does. The maid changing sheets at the Holiday Inn does. The tico’s friend who runs a local tanning salon does. Eliminate prostitution, that friend says, and you eliminate 60 percent of his clientele. No, better to keep it legal, keep it out in the open.
Just don’t talk about it too much. For all the bravado, for all the Web chatter, for all the Attila swagger, the gringo whoremongers are exceptionally shy. The guys in the bar don’t want to talk. Be a nosy stranger, ask an obvious question—“Whaddya doin’ down here?”—and they’ll give you a stare that’s either blank or surly. The ’mongers who brag so loudly on the Internet don’t use their real names. Even the out-of-business tico club manager would prefer not to have his name in a magazine no one in Costa Rica will read.
“You know why?” he says. “Because you’re touching the darkest part of the human soul. You do this in your own country, you’ll have shame.
“Your shame,” he says, “brings you here.”
BY SEAN FLYNN, GQ
Part 4 Tomorrow