The United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNDOC) and Medellin Mayor’s Office released a report Friday highlighting public concerns surrounding “drug-sex tourism” in Colombia’s second-largest city.
The report examined the relationship between regular tourist services, such as those provided by hotel operators and taxi drivers, and the demand for illicit activities, including drug consumption and sex commerce in relation to the human trafficking of children and adolescents in the city of Medellin.
Although the report did not offer a “rigorous study” or “specific numbers” on tourist behavior or preferences in relation to drug use or sex tourism, it reported on an investigation carried out through interviews and document reviews that attempted to explore the hidden world of tourist vice in the city – primarily in the neighborhoods of El Poblado and El Centro, where there are a high number of foreign visitors.
The study classified two groups of visitors who were highly likely to seek drugs and sex: wealthy older men staying at hotels while on business in the city and who may search out sexual services; and low-budget backpackers who stay at “party hostels” and who are likely to search for cheap drugs.
According to the investigation, many of those seeking drugs were more likely to purchase sex as well, as sex-purchasers were more likely to find drugs. The report argued that the “informality” of the “sexual service” industry in Medellin lent itself to connections with illicit drug markets and human trafficking of children and adolescents.
Foreigners were reportedly attracted to the “paradise of drugs” reputation of the city due to the availability of “high-quality and low-priced psychoactive substances,” combined with a perceived low priority, or even complicity, of local law enforcement in regards to drug consumption among groups of foreigners.
The report also mentioned tourists who, in their visit to Medellin and Colombia, tour plantations and laboratories connected with the national and international drug trade.
“It is a business and the question is economic,” said an anonymous local source interviewed on underground drug and sex markets aimed at foreigners. “In Medellin, ‘foreigner’ is synonymous with ‘money’.”
In the investigation’s interviews with minors who had been victims of human trafficking, all admitted to having had sexual encounters with foreigners.
The report offered recommendations to clean up Medellin’s reputation, hoping to decrease the number of tourists visiting the city motivated by sex and drugs by increasing controls of travel agencies playing up the image of “Pablo Escobar” lawlessness that still haunts the city two decades after his death in 1993.
In assessing the problems and solutions to “drug-sex tourism,” the report was careful to mention that it did not wish to tarnish the city’s “efforts,” which have “deservedly” given it a reputation as a growing Latin American center of “innovation, transformation, culture, and entrepreneurship.”
- Estudio Exploratorio Descriptivo de la dinámica delictiva del tráfico de estupefacientes, la trata de personas y la explotación sexual comercial asociada a viajes y turismo en el municipio de Medellín (UNDOC report)
- Narcoturismo sexual crece en Medellín (El Colombiano)