The U.S. Secret Service agents had sex with prostitutes in Cartagena because they wanted to have sex with prostitutes. Can we stop beating around the bush, blaming the predatory and oh so irresistibly beautiful women, the sun, the sand, the cocktails, everything but the agents themselves, and get one thing straight? Those men wanted to buy sex, so they did.
The Washington Post stepped into the ring Monday to consider just how these poor unsuspecting agents might have ended up getting into a spot of bother in the days preceding President Obama’s arrival in Colombia.
“Cartagena is swimming in prostitutes,” says their Mexico/Central America bureau chief William Booth. In the colonial city’s streets, “streetwalkers were swarming around male tourists, hissing “Hola papi!” and begging to join them for a drink.” One thing is apparent, says Booth: “The agents were in the right place to get into trouble.”
The piece follows a widely-distributed AP article discussing the “uncontrolled sexuality” of “carnal Cartagena.” The ubiquity of sex-for-sale was also highlighted. “At almost all hours, prostitutes are available nearby,” pointed out the writer. “Five propositioned a foreigner two blocks from the hotel [Caribe, where the U.S. delegation was staying], several beckoning from across the avenue.”
Now don’t get me wrong. I am certainly not going to deny that prostitutes are available in abundance in Cartagena. And shockingly, they tout for business! They try to get men to buy their product!
I just firmly object to the implied conclusion that this somehow turns the men into unsuspecting targets who are helpless to do anything but buy this sex which is being shoved so blatantly in their face.
I would go so far as to call the Post’s tone — describing a world where streetwalkers “swarm” and “hiss,” wearing “tight black dresses and high heels and ready to “party”” — offensive.
There are a few key facts which have been all but ignored in the coverage of the titillating “Secret Service Sex Scandal.” Most importantly, the reasons why Cartagena is such a booming sex tourism destination. It doesn’t happen by accident.
This beautiful colonial city, the “jewel in Colombia’s crown,” is an upmarket tourist destination, markedly different from the rest of the country in its appearance and its prices. But venture off the beaches and outside the walled city and you’ll find a very different place.
Bolivar, the department containing Cartagena, is one of the five poorest in Colombia. It’s estimated that 60% of the city’s residents live below the U.N. poverty level of $2 a day, and most of the rest, if not living in absolute poverty, are poor.
This combination of a poor population and a constant stream of wealthy visitors creates the prime conditions for sex tourism. Yes, the lax laws and wide acceptance of prostitution make the purchase of sex a much more accessible and simple enterprise in Cartagena than in other places around the world. But that has very little to do with the reasons why women are selling their bodies, and the reasons men are buying them.
Contrary to what many would have us believe, the majority of women working in prostitution around the world are doing it because they are struggling to survive, often with a history of abuse and drug addiction — a stark contrast to the popular media portrayal of a “high-class hooker,” happy to “escort” men to fund a lavish lifestyle.
Cartagena is no exception. There is no shortage of vulnerable, desperate communities in Colombia, a country which has endured years of armed conflict and boasts the largest number of internally displaced people in the world — 3.67 million, according to the last U.N. estimate.
Of course Cartagena prostitutes are keen to push themselves on potential customers — they need money. As for why the men are taking the opportunity to buy them, that I can’t say.
What I can say is that a man that pays for sex in Cartagena is a man that thinks it’s okay to pay for sex, and that a man who thinks it’s okay to pay for sex has certain attitudes towards women that don’t just magically arrive when he steps off the plane into the tropical heat of exotic lands like Colombia.
It is a common theme to blame outside factors, or often just women themselves, for the variety of ways in which men abuse women — rape and domestic violence being the most obvious examples.
The idea that men just can’t resist buying sex when prostitutes flaunt themselves in tight miniskirts is just one more fallacy on the spectrum that labels women who dress provocatively more susceptible to rape and those that constantly nag their husbands more likely to get hit.
Cartagena’s night life “spelled trouble” for the Secret Service, according to the Washington Post, as if any man would be at risk, when confronted with such tempting female bodies, of being forced to get their wallet out to buy them.
“Oops! Here I am penetrating you!” cries our victim, as he gets his money’s worth in a hotel bed, outsmarted by his smug female predator.
Right. So on the one hand, these Secret Service agents are the best in the business, among the smartest, toughest security troops in the world, able to use their razor-sharp wit and cunning to navigate any unforeseen situation and protect the world’s most powerful man. On the other, they’re hapless men unable to control their raging sexual appetites the minute they wander out of their Cartagena hotel and bump into a woman with a lowcut top.
Let’s stop blaming the women and stop blaming Colombia — the U.S. agents slept with prositutes because they wanted to sleep with prostitutes. End of story.