Friday, April 30, 2010

Female sex tourism in Senegal

Senegal draws tourists with sun, sea and sex

By Anne Look - GlobalPost
Published: April 29, 2010

Female sex tourism: for love or money? In a series of stories, GlobalPost looks at the women of means who find "romance" on vacation from Jamaica to Jordan to West Africa.

DAKAR, Senegal — Women — often white, European and "of a certain age" — flock solo to Senegal's shores year-round for what one hotel manager called "the three 'S's: sun, sea and sex."

The growth of Senegal's female sex tourism has its roots in poverty and the lack of jobs for the country's young men. Senegal's unemployment for youths is estimated at 30 percent, according to the International Labor Organization, and the average person in Senegal earns about $3 a day, according to the World Bank.

“It’s a question of survival. Life is hard. If I didn’t have these women, I’d be struggling," said Moussa, a 31-year-old dreadlocked drum player who has been "dating" female tourists since 2003.

“The women come here alone. They hit on you, and you go with it,” Moussa said. “They like men with rastas who play the djembes [drums]. It’s part of the ambiance.”

"Besides," he added with a sly smile, "they know men who play the drums are powerful in bed."

Moussa flipped through a stack of photos. In one image, an overweight, Spanish woman — his first "girlfriend" — has her arms around his small frame. She gave him $500, he said, before heading home. Another photo is a self-taken shot of him with an Italian woman who he said gave him the $650 to open his souvenir shop in Dakar where we now sit, drinking spicy Touba coffee.

He pointed out the gifts tourists send him: CDs, USB drives, a guitar, an MP3 player and a DVD player.

“I don’t ask for money," he said. "We go out. They pay for everything. We have sex. Before they leave, they give me a bit cash to help me out."

Some call it male prostitution, while others say it's just women doing what middle-aged men have been doing for centuries: Taking up with someone half their age and giving that new friend an all-expenses-paid ride in exchange for sex and a new lease on life.

Moussa meets tourists primarily through referrals and friends of friends. He sees himself as “a tourism guide who offers some extra services,” that include sex and at times helping male tourists negotiate evenings with female prostitutes.

But, others in Senegal say it is not that innocent. It's exploitation on both sides, they say, and sex tourism has sullied the country's reputation and corrupted its youth.

But, closing up his shop back in Dakar to head off to drum practice, Moussa said he's not worried about what other people think.

"I haven't met her yet," he said, "The woman who's not so old, who loves me, who's willing to do anything. The woman who will get me a visa and a plane ticket out of here."

The resort town of Saly, on the Atlantic coast, 55 miles south of Dakar, bears the dubious distinction as the epicenter of sex tourism in Senegal.

Middle-aged and elderly female tourists are a quick payday for young men — often called gigolos or antiquaires, originally souvenir vendors — who work out shirtless on the beaches and preen in the nightclubs. It's a hustle, locals said, and the older the woman, the better.

Last spring, the French news program, "66 Minutes," investigated female sex tourism in Saly and the growing number of marriages between European women and local men, often with vast age differences.

Going undercover, female reporters recorded via hidden camera the young men propositioning them on the beach. They later translated discussions the men had with each other in Wolof, Senegal's main ethnic language.

"You found yourself some clients ... When I got here, I saw immediately that you had spotted these two white ladies," said one guy walking past a friend who is chatting up the reporters.

"Get a move on. Leave me alone. Let me work," he snapped back.

Needless to say, Saly's residents were not pleased with the story's release and have become rather wary of the media.

It was a Saturday around 1 a.m. — Valentine's Day, no less — when I first ventured into Les Etages, a nightclub that opened two years ago and has become a veritable hunting ground for tourists — male and female — on the prowl.

Inside, female prostitutes, some wearing more makeup than clothes, ringed the club's perimeter. The club's strobe lights skittered across a stout, middle-aged woman's smiling face, pressed against a young Senegalese man's chest.

Similar couples moved on the packed dance floor.

A petite woman, her dry chin-length bob bleached almost the same color as her tan tube top, inched out on the dance floor with a stiff side-step.

A tall, dapper Senegalese man in a blue dress shirt and pressed jeans approached and they began to dance, palms pressed together between them. The DJ switched to salsa, and the man pulled her in. Over the course of two songs, his hands drifted from her shoulder blades to the small of her back.

They were swaying in unison, pelvises pressed together. The only thing separating them now was about 25 years.

Locals aren’t sure if sex tourism has actually increased in Saly or if it has simply become more visible in recent years.

Senegalese tourism has grown from modest numbers in the 1970s when the first Club Med opened on the coast. More than 500,000 tourists came to Senegal last year, according to government statistics. It is a key economic activity for the country of 12 million with a GDP of $13 billion.

Emphasizing the importance of tourism in Senegal, President Abdoulaye Wade set a goal of attracting 1.5 million tourists in 2010. However, those working in the tourism industry say that figure is still far-off and blame the world economic crisis and rising airfare costs for a recent downturn in visitors.

But the female tourists looking for romance are still coming. There are no figures about how many indulge in sex tourism, but there are enough to support nightclubs like Les Etages.

Hotel manager Cheikh Ba said arriving guests ask him where Les Etages is before asking about the beach or even getting their room keys.

“That gives you an idea of why they’re here,” Ba said. “Some people say the sex brings Europeans to Saly. They don’t want to say anything bad about it, but I say it is ruining this town.”

Peak season in Saly is between November and April. Hotel managers complain of the downturn in business. They say some tourists now prefer to rent vacation homes where they can go about their business in private.

Female sex tourism is often referred to as “love tourism,” and becomes a lifestyle for some women who make frequent trips to see a regular boyfriend or simply play the field.

Some see it as companionship with the promise of a pay-off at the end, but Ba and other Saly residents said it’s just plain old sex for money.

“You have no job, no nothing, and you see your friend living in a house and driving a car that his European girlfriend bought him,” Ba said, “She comes every month or so to visit and sends him money. You say to yourself, well, I could do that too."

Pape does not live in luxury.

The 30-year-old has a job in Dakar that pays him $250 a month. Half his paycheck goes to rent and he stretches the other half to cover his living expenses and to send funds to his elderly mother in Ivory Coast. Pape's friends and family don’t know about his 52-year-old Dutch girlfriend. They also don’t know about the gifts and $250 cash infusions she sends him, sometimes three times a month.

"I'm a thing, her object, her toy, her property," he said. "If I had the choice financially, I wouldn't date her. I would never have started this."

Chain-smoking and downing two beers, Pape, started from the beginning.

He met the Dutch woman while working in Senegal’s southern Casamance region last January. She was there on vacation. They were staying in the same hotel.

"When I came back and went to sleep, she would knock on the door,” he said. “One night, she invited me into her room. I refused. It was weird. It was my friends who explained to me that she was interested."

When he returned to Dakar, she cried. Though hesitant, Pape agreed to meet her the next weekend in Zigunchor, a coastal city in Casamance.

"We went out that night. When we got back to the hotel, what was going to happen happened,” he said with a shrug. "She's well-preserved, considering her age.”

"I've never asked her, but I think she was there for sex," he said. "I'm afraid to ask.”

Since then, they Skype and talk on the phone. During her most recent visit last month, they traveled along the coast, passing through Saly.

"I saw quite a few young men there with old, white women. I began to question my morality. What are you doing with this old woman? She could be your mom. You've become a gigolo, someone who doesn't have ambition, someone who is ready to do anything for money,” he said.

When she left, Pape said he felt only relief.

"I'm not attracted to her,” he said. “I tried to avoid sex but she insisted. She complained. She says she loves me. She has helped me a lot, so now I feel like I have to give her something."

"We fight. I tell her I can't continue like this. She offers me money. She knows she can keep me,” he said.

The woman says she has found him an internship in Holland and offered to buy him a plane ticket. It's just grim reality, he says, that all the shame and guilt in the world won’t stop him from going if his visa is approved.

Years ago at a club in the Gambia, Pape saw a young man gyrating sexily in front of three old white women. One of the women reached out and patted his butt before shaking her head no, like it was a piece of fruit in the market.

"That memory comes back to me often lately," he said, stamping out one cigarette and lighting up another. "Once I find a good job, I will get my dignity back. But for now, I'm a prostitute."

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Christian Priest in Sex-Tape Horror

by Dom Phillips

In the small Brazilian city of Arapiraca, tucked away in the poor, conservative northeast corner of the country, a hidden-camera video showing an octogenarian priest having sex with a young altar boy is being hawked on the street. For $5 to $10, vendors here will sell you the video, downloading it directly into your cellphone via Bluetooth. The price depends on the quality and length of the footage. According to one street vendor, the most popular download is the “complete” version. Buyers, he says, are “almost everybody—not just the curious.”

Even as the Catholic Church reels from abuse accusations that go straight to the pope, the incidents in Arapiraca are developing into a full-blown disaster that will land it near the top of the Vatican’s growing stack of crises. The sex tape is part of a scandal enveloping three of the city’s most venerated priests, and its release has led to threats, blackmail allegations, and counterattacks from the local church. In a place like Brazil—a country obsessed with sex, religion, and overwrought soap operas—one would expect nothing less than the bizarre narrative currently unfolding.

Asked if he had ever abused an altar boy, the priest responded, “I can’t tell you this. I can only tell my confessor any sin of mine. I don’t need to admit or deny.”

The accusations, exposed on the TV show Conexão Repórter (Reporter Connection) last month, are deeply damaging. A reporter interviewed three altar boys who alleged years of abuse at the hands of three Catholic priests. With his face hidden, one of those altar boys, now identified as Fabiano Silva Ferreira, alleged that a priest named Monsignor Luiz Marques Barbosa has abused him for years. Police say Barbosa’s abuse began when Fabiano was 12.

“He was hugging me, stroking me, kissing me,” Fabiano said of Barbosa, who is now 83. He claimed that Barbosa told him, “I love you, I really like you… I want you forever,” and that the priest would attempt to grope him during Mass, warning him, “Don’t tell anybody… This is something between me and you.”

Fabiano is the boy who appears in the sex tape that is being trafficked through the streets of Arapiraca. On the tape, he performs a sex act on Monsignor Barbosa, whose face is clearly visible. The tape was secretly shot by another altar boy, Cícero Flávio Vieira Barbosa (no relation to the priest), who also alleges years of abuse at the hands of Monsignor Barbosa, also beginning when he was 12. Asked why he shot the film, Flávio said, “Because there has to be a good end to this story. I was already his victim. And it brought a lot of fear to do something… I wanted proof.”

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The case is front-page news in Brazil, and has sent shockwaves shuddering through what is still a very Catholic country. Meanwhile, incendiary commentary is spreading like wildfire across Brazil’s garrulous blogosphere. “This is the demon in the middle of the Church of Our Lord,” reads one blog comment about Barbosa, written in Portuguese.

“They are already condemned for being pastors of God and to do something like this is shameful and nauseating for us who are Catholics.”

When the interviewer on Reporter Connection asked Barbosa if, in his 58 years in the priesthood, he had ever abused an altar boy, the priest responded, “I can’t tell you this. I can only tell my confessor any sin of mine. I don’t need to admit or deny.”

The two other well-known priests accused of abuse are Father Raimundo Gomes and Father Edílson Duarte. Brazil’s Civil Police agency has begun an inquiry into the charges against all three priests. The local diocese has suspended the trio. And the Parliamentary Inquiry Commission into Pedophilia, which is being conducted by Brazil’s senate, showed the sex video to a shocked audience in the city in April. Monsignor Barbosa, stony-faced, sat watching. He told the inquiry that this was the only time he had had sex with the altar boy.

The priests are fighting back—and thickening the plot. A lawyer for Barbosa says the altar boys, Flávio and Fabiano, attempted to extort about 5 million reals (US$2.8 million) from his client. Reporter Connection showed a copy of a document signed by Barbosa and the altar boys in June 2009 in which the boys agreed to destroy the video in return for a payment of R$32,000 (US$18,000). Fabiano says money was paid, but that he kept a copy of the tape. According to police, both boys ultimately received just R$500 each. “They received the money but not the total,” lead investigator Angelita Sousa told The Daily Beast. “The rest went to other places.” She would not elaborate.

Brazil is a paradox: a deeply conservative country with a pragmatic and open attitude toward sex. Love motels, where one can rent a room by the hour, line every city’s major highways. Romance and lust are the main themes in every soap opera. In a recent survey, 82 percent of Brazilians said they were confident that they know how to have a happy sex life. Casual sex doubled between 2004 and 2008, another survey reported.

Yet homosexuality remains an awkward subject here. Many gay couples never come out to their parents. “Bicha,” or “bitch,” is slang for a gay man, and is used as a popular insult. Gay-bashing is common. And yet the winner of the latest season of the reality-TV show Big Brother was forced to backtrack on homophobic comments he made about the show’s gay contestants. When it comes to gay issues, Brazil seems awkwardly wedged between the past and the present.

This awkwardness has been made crystal clear as the sex-abuse case unfolds. The local bishop, Dom Valério Breda, told Brazil’s biggest broadsheet that the sex tape wasn’t all that shocking because it simply showed consensual sex between two adults. (Fabiano was 18 when the video was shot in January 2009; Barbosa was in his eighties.) “It was a homosexual act, because the actors of that scene were of age,” the bishop insisted. He went on to tell the paper that he, too, had been subject to a blackmail attempt of R$1 million, and that he had known about the video’s existence for a year but had not alerted his community because the information was “nebulous.”

Other bombshells dropped during the three days the senate inquiry took place in Arapiraca. Father Duarte admitted he had sexually abused both Flávio and Fabiano, but suggested his victims were wrong to come forward. “I regret that these accusations have come from people who ate at my table,” he intoned. “Just as Jesus said: ‘Those who ate my bread are those who betray me.’”

And the third accused priest, Father Gomes, denied that any abuse took place at all, insisting he was victim of “revenge,” and accused a third altar boy, Anderson Farias Silva, of attempting to extort money from him. Silva said that Father Gomes had abused him since he was 14.

Furthermore, because Father Duarte is cooperating with the investigation, Brazilian police say he fears for his safety. “He asked for protection during the [senate inquiry] because he had denounced the others and he was scared,” says Officer Sousa. Father Duarte also said he believes Father Gomes to be “dangerous.”

The case has forced Brazil to confront the same issues that much of the Catholic world is now facing. “Brazil will no longer tolerate more abuse against children and adolescents,” concluded Senator Magno Malta, president of the senate inquiry. “What was seen in these three days (of inquiry) was a mosaic of hate, shame, and disgust.” Both the police and the senate inquiries continue, and Brazilian police tell The Daily Beast that theirs is nearly complete. “Probably in the first week of May we will be delivering our investigation to the judiciary,” said Officer Sousa.

This week, following the pope’s lead, the local bishop, Dom Valério Breda, sent a letter to his flock asking for forgiveness. “We feel, yes, shame and dishonor at the violation of the dignity of the human person and we regret the blow delivered to the church,” he wrote.

He said he had talked to Monsignor Barbosa, but that the two men did not discuss the abuse allegations directly. “He is a certain age and I didn’t want to treat him like any boy,” said the bishop. Instead, he said Monsignor Barbosa used a Latin phrase from the Psalms of David: “Peccatum meum ante me est semper.” Or, “My sin is always in front of me.”

In many ways, the scandal rocking Arapiraca feels like a backwater version of the Catholic Church’s larger crisis, its secrets and lies even darker, its coverups even more inept. Priests accusing the alleged victims of blackmail, using Latin psalms to talk around child-abuse charges, and defending the incidents as sex between consenting adults (even though gay sex is forbidden by the Catholic Church.) No wonder this institution is flailing on the ropes.

As for the alleged victims, they appear to be struggling to reconcile their faith with what’s happened to them.

“I believe a lot in God,” Fabiano told Reporter Connection. “Unfortunately, I don’t believe in any church anymore.”

British journalist Dom Phillips moved to Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 2007 to write his book Superstar DJs Here We Go (Random House/Ebury 2009) and works as a correspondent covering news, economics, and celebrity. He now writes for The Times, People, Financial Times, Observer, and Grazia.