On March 31, Erica Williams, an associate professor of anthropology and sociology at Spellman college, came into our class to discuss her book Sex Tourism in Bahia. In order to prepare for this class, we read Chapter three of Williams’ book which was entitled “Working-Class Kings in Paradise Coming to Terms with Sex Tourism.”
In this chapter, Williams first refutes the popular notion that sex tourists are primarily from the upper class—she shares that in Bahia, many sex tourists are from the middle class. Williams then discusses the ambiguity of sex tourism in Bahia. She believes that sex tourism is classified by both implicit and implicit sexual encounters. Next, Williams describes how the Brazilian government only campaigns against child sex tourism. She points out how the majority of sex tourism is between adults (74). In fact, Brazilian children are more likely to be exploited by members of their communities and families than tourist (77). Williams believes that by “…narrowly defining sex tourism as the sexual exploitation of children and adolescents, [the] government campaigns construct sex tourism as a problem to be eradicated—an unequivocally unethical violation of human rights” (78). Williams concludes this chapter by discussing black gay tourism in Bahia.
Before Dr. Williams came into our class, we prepared several questions to ask her about chapter three. During our class, we asked Dr. Williams the following question: “In chapter three, you share how Tiago says that most of his gay clients are interested in heterosexual men. Why is this? How do heterosexual Bahian sex workers feel about engaging in homosexual encounters?” After we asked her this question, Williams first shared that she did not meet any gay clients nor did she meet sex workers that engaged in homosexual encounters. She told us to refer to Gregory Mitchell’s book to get more information about this subject. She then explained that homosexual sex tourists prefer to have sex with heterosexual men because this encounter provides another level of exoticism (for a gay man to have sex with a heterosexual man). She then addressed the second part of our question by explaining that in Bahia a sex worker can have homosexual sex and not identify as gay so long as he has the active role in the sexual encounter.
We also asked Dr. Williams the following question about our chapter: “Why is the Brazilian government over-concerned with informing tourists that sex with minors is a crime? Why has this concern not been applied to adult sex tourism?” Dr. Williams explained that the government did not have campaigns against sex tourism between adults because this type of sex tourism is legal. Thus, the government only focuses its campaign around children, because child sex tourism is illegal.
We were also intrigued by many of the questions our classmates asked regarding their assigned chapters and the subsequent responses Dr. Williams had to these questions. At the beginning of our discussion, Dr. Williams shared that many women became sex workers because they had no other choice. She also explained how many women turned down domestic work for sex work because they thought sex work gave them more autonomy. We both found it extremely interesting that women would choose sex work over domestic work. We were also fascinated to learn that despite prostitution’s legality, there is still discrimination against prostitutes. Williams explained how just because the law deemed prostitution legal did not mean that people’s opinion of sex workers changed. Lastly, we were most intrigued by Williams’ discussion of exploitation. She explained how most sex workers did not feel that their work itself exploited them. She shared that instead, sex workers felt exploited in instances they were not paid, where clients would act violently towards them, or police would act violently towards them. She further explained how most sex workers did not feel exploited when they showed a client around the city for free. These sex workers actually enjoyed showing the city to clients because it allowed them to have experiences that they would not have otherwise had, such as having a nice, expensive dinner. Overall, we were pleased with Williams’ responses to our questions and learned a lot from Williams’ responses to our classmates’ questions