Sex Pest 

Unmasking the depths of Colombian sex tourism. 

The dark side of sex tourism has shown itself in Colombia in recent months, with increasing gang involvement in the industry. Between November and December 2023, eight Americans were murdered in Medellín, many of whom had been killed after meeting with sex workers. In April 2024, an American man was found by police with two 12- and 13-year-old girls in his hotel room. An expert in human rights stated, “This is not a phenomenon of six months ago, nor of a year ago. The drug cartels in Medellín always had parties with girls. It seems that what is happening today is that as a society, we are at the point where we are beginning to speak out and act.”  

In light of this, the mayor of Medellín announced that prostitution would be prohibited in certain neighbourhoods for six months. However, a former adviser to the mayor’s office confided that “the measures taken by the Mayor’s Office are mostly reactive and are not based on clear evidence to support them. For example, prohibiting the demand and solicitation of sexual services does not attack the problem; it changes the focus and can even make it invisible and generate violations of sex workers’ rights.”

prohibiting the demand and solicitation of sexual services does not attack the problem; it changes the focus and can even make it invisible and generate violations of sex workers rights.”

Former adviser to the mayor’s office, Colombia

The issue of sexual exploitation is more a symptom of structural inequality and the presence of entrenched criminal organisations rather than a cause in itself. The prohibition does little to tackle the enablers of the problem, which are lax policing of gangs which force women and girls to work and weak enforcement against venues which permit underage prostitution to take place. 

It is impossible to understand the full scale of underage sex tourism in Colombia, since it is an act that is virtually untraceable. In 2023, Medellín registered 1,259 cases of exploitation of minors, which marked a 60% increase from the previous year, as the human rights expert explained, “What happens is that there is an under-reporting that prevents us from seeing the real dimension of this phenomenon.” What can be certain is that the real number of victims is several orders of magnitude higher than what the official numbers might suggest.

While the situation in Colombia is one of the worst in Latin America, it is by no means the only country confronted with such issues. The former adviser to the mayor’s office noted that “in Mexico, we are talking about 20,000 children and adolescents who are victims of sexual exploitation in its different forms; and Brazil has been hit hard by this phenomenon, which became very evident during the 2014 World Cup.”  

“In Mexico, we are talking about 20,000 children and adolescents who are victims of sexual exploitation in its different forms.”

Former adviser to the mayor’s office, Colombia

Key to fighting this alarming scourge is to deal with the organised and transnational crime elements behind sex tourism. Despite the pressing need, the human rights expert admitted, “I have not seen cooperating actors who want to get seriously involved in the issue, i.e. bring in various actors from society to create strategies from the hotel industry, restaurants, bars and family inclusion.”  

There have been some joint efforts, however, including the “Angel Watch system that is being implemented, which is basically a US government database of people who have been convicted of sexual offences against minors, so they are considered potential sexual predators and are prevented from entering the country.” The former mayor’s adviser added, “There are also several organisations such as Libertas International, for example, that work to protect children from commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking.” It is clear, however, that more needs to be done to combat the issue, but there is inertia at an organisational level owing to the sensitive nature of the topic and the difficulty of tackling it.  

Right now, sex work in Colombia sits in a ‘grey area’, given that it is decriminalised and loosely regulated but not fully legal or as regulated as in some European countries. The human rights expert outlined that “this debate between abolitionism or regulation is also diverting the issue into a discussion that seeks to cover the sun with one hand. As much as abolitionists say that this is not a persecution of the sex worker, they are unaware of the reality that necessarily leads to this.” The source continued, “What I think the Mayor’s Office has that is quite dangerous is that it is understanding a phenomenon without going into detail. They talk about sex tourism when it shouldn’t be called that. But additionally, the approach that is being taken suggests that this is only a tourist issue.”

Important Notice
While the information in this article has been prepared in good faith, no representation, warranty, assurance or undertaking (express or implied) is or will be made, and no responsibility or liability is or will be accepted by Deheza Limited or by its officers, employees or agents in relation to the adequacy, accuracy, completeness or reasonableness of this article, or of any other information (whether written or oral), notice or document supplied or otherwise made available in connection with this article. All and any such responsibility and liability is expressly disclaimed.
This article has been delivered to interested parties for information only. Deheza Limited gives no undertaking to provide the recipient with access to any additional information or to update this article or any additional information, or to correct any inaccuracies in it which may become apparent.

Most recent in Lifestyle

Child (don’t) Care

Tackling unpaid child support in Latin America. 

Slippery Soap

Empowering women in Mexico’s workforce.

Working nine ’til five?

The transition from a 48 to 40-hour work week in Mexico. 

Empowering Latin America’s Future

IADB bonds and World Bank partnership for education and employment.

Wellness wonderland

Latin America’s path to blissful travels.

Early checkout

Chiles minimum wage increase and its impact on the tourism industry.

Nearshoring fashion

The fashion industry is set to benefit from nearshoring in terms of logistics and sustainability.

Reading ahead

COVID-19 hit literacy rates in Latin America children but can EdTech help them catchup?

Fighting fit

Fitness apps enjoyed a pandemic-related boom but as life reverts to normal will it last?

Back from the dead

Latin America prepares to celebrate their dead as Día de los Muertos returns.