Friday, February 22, 2013

Selling Sex: Colin's Career in Bogotá's Brothel Trade

Colin was here: A woman walks down a street in Bogotá's Santa Fe red light district.
Colombia boasts about its openness to tourism and foreign investment. However, when Colin Post, a young man from the U.S., opened a tourism business, authorities were not pleased.

That was understandable, certainly, since Colin was selling visits to Bogotá's brothels. Ultimately, immigration officials forced him out of the country, and he shuttered Bogotá Brothel Tours.

Women wait for clientes on a street in the Santa Fe district.
Inconveniently for Colombia's image caretakers, however, Colin has now written an e-book about his adventure in Colombian sex tourism. Even more inconveniently for a country trying to make over its image into that of a safe, family tourism destination, the unwanted publicity from Colin became insignificant under the avalanche of media coverage following last year's misbehavior by U.S. Secret Service agents with prostitutes in Cartagena.

When I met Colin in Bogotá's La Candelaria neighborhood a few years ago, he was a young American into basketball, blogging, Internet marketing, recreational drugs and women - nothing too unusual. He taught English, visited brothels, and then came up with the brothel tours idea, as detailed on his Expat Chronicles blog. (Prostitution is legal in Colombia inside designated 'Tolerance Zones.'

Seedy Santa Fe at night: Neon starlight. 
Colin looking
The brothel tourism wasn't Colin's first experience with controversy or the edge of legality and beyond. On Expat Chronicles he explicitly described experiences with drugs, sex, bribery - and more drugs and sex.
Colin's book is entertaining and interesting. You'll read about one client's fetish with breast milk, another's sexual escapade; about some of the low-life characters Colin meets in Bogotá's sex industry. And the less-than-glamorous ambience inside many Bogotá brothels.

Altogether, it's a fast read, and a short one, at only 31 PDF pages.

Too short is better than too long. But, since he was writing a book, even an e-book, he should have made a book. Instead, he's strung together a bunch of blog entries. Sure, it's interesting and entertaining - but it could be much more.

A man walks near the Las Vegas, one of many low-end
brothels in the Santa Fe prostitution tolerance zone.
How about more background on the central character, Colin himself: How'd a young Caucasian guy from the U.S. end up in Colombia, much less in the brothel business? How did a guy with an American football lineman's build get so spooked by being mugged by a homeless man in Bogotá's La Candelaria neighborhood that he moved to Chapinero, the city's gay neighborhood - and yet play bodyguard for wealthy visitors in low-life brothels? What did Colin's various Colombian girlfriends - not to mention his parents - know and say about his brothel enterprise? And what is Bogotá like - what were his first impressions, experiences. This city, with its chaotic traffic, potholes, beggars and horsecarts clopping past skyscrapers is a novel experience for many visitors.

In the Santa Fe neighborhood, transvestites
have their own street.
 And, how about Bogotá's red light districts? Few places would offer more ambience or opportunities for descriptions. Many times I've passed thru - and only done that - the sketchy Santa Fe red light district. There's the neon, the plump, silicon-packed women waiting in doorways, swaying their hips and trading jokes; the skinny, pathetic drug addicts on the sidewalks; the clog of men in taxis and motorcycles cruising thru over cratered streets. The transvestites, who are often more voluptuous than the natural-born women. Colin describes the women inside the brothels, but little more.

And while we get details about the lives of some of the male clients Colin serves, primarily involving their sexual exploits, we learn little about the women who service those clients, even tho he must have spent much more time with them.

A few photographs would be nice, too.

Colin's e-book ends, not with details about how he shut down his tour business, said good-bye to the prostitutes and moved to Peru, but a sort of investigatory attack on a Medellin-based gringo sex tour operator - who evidently did not practice Colin's lofty sex-tourism standards and got himself killed. It's interesting and informative about the sex tourism business, but doesn't fit into this book. (International sex is a high-risk industry. A few years ago another American, who ran an international dating company, was gunned down on an avenue in Cali, if I remember right.)

These stories are, naturally, interesting, Colin's a good writer, and the book will carry you along. But readers expecting pages of wet, kinky, breathless copulation will be disappointed. If this book were a movie I'd give it an R rating.

Given all that, Colin's book is worth a read, which won't take long. I got a few insights into human nature and a world I know little about. But with more time, effort and literary ambition, Colin might have written another South American gringo classic like Marching Powder, about a crazy Bolivian prison.

My deeper, non-literary, criticism of Colin's book involves his 'it's just harmless fun' attitude toward prostitution. "I never thought about the ethical implications because prostitution is legal in Colombia," Colin writes. "The politically correct line is that sex workers are victims of poverty. Many are. But most of the working girls I'd known were in it for the fun and easy money."

I'm not a moralizer and believe that prostitution, like drugs, euthenasia and organ sales, should be legal and regulated. I've heard of cases of young women paying their way thru university thru prostitution. And, as a journalist, I've interviewed single mothers who were raising children thru their trade.

But I've also heard horror stories about girls and women being kidnapped and forced into prostitution. Of girls being addicted to crack and held as sex slaves. And on and on. I have no doubt that that kind of exploitation happens in Colombia, altho it may be rare among the higher-class prostitutes hired by Colin's clients. Nevertheless, Colin made me wonder when he describes Colombian prostitutes as coming from all across Colombia, as well as from Argentina and Brazil. Why would a woman move from Brazil or Argentina to equally poor Colombia to be a prostitute? I suppose there could be legitimate reasons, but human trafficking must also happen, as it does all over the world.

I also talked with a woman in Bogotá's Santa Fe district who cares for prostitutes' children while they're working. She told me that most of the prostitutes she knew were addicted to alcohol or other drugs, a result of stress and the requirement that they drink with clients. So, there's a dark side to all that partying.

And even in cases where prostitutes are adults, working independently, many started in the business while underage, raising the issue of how voluntary their career choice really was.

Colin ultimately got forced out of Colombia by authorities who didn't like the idea of a foreigner marketing their country as a sex-tourism destination. His blog entries about bribing cops and using and smuggling drugs probably didn't help his case, either. Then came last year's firestorm of publicity over the U.S. Secret Service agents' misbehavior with prostitutes in Cartagena.

The Secret Service scandal also said something to me about prostitution's role. Dania, the high-class escort at the center of the scandal, evidently made out pretty well by selling her story to Colombian media. She seemed self assured and comfortable with her profession. But she also told reporters that she would use her income to set up a foundation to help other woman leave prostitution. If prostitution were really so great for the women, why do many want to get out?

As for Colin, he's now living in Peru, married to a Peruvian woman and marketing herbal supplements via Amazon. Brothel episodes and run-ins with the police have disappeared from his blog, replaced with tourist photos. I guess that's what marriage and impending fatherhood can do.

Related posts:

Bogotá's Red Light District

The Red Light District's Guardian Angel

A Profession Like Any Other?

Not Such a Glamorous Profession

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours


Stuart Oswald said...

Interesting post and good to hear your own view point on it all. I've been following Colin's reports/posts for a long time, I can't be too harsh on him for activities that are legal. He probably sees it as a simple exchange of money for service without looking deeper into the industry. I find it shameful that wealthier (or even poor) and perverted people from outside (or inside) Colombia think they can simply travel abroad and exploit vulnerable women. Us men must find it hard to see it from a woman's perspective. But it is pretty much comparable to yourself (sorry to be so frank, but it is necessary) selling your ass/mouth or another part of your body to anyone that fancies it for some money, drugs, accommodation or whatever you feel it's worth. Only once you've thought about it will you then be able to comprehend how it feels to be a prostitute. If you have low self worth or a dependency, than morals can be sacrificed. People abusing woman in this way really need to understand how sordid they are. It would be better for such individuals to visit these woman and rather than abusing them simple pay them without obtaining the "service", provide them with other means to earn their way. Men are not animals and are very well capable of controlling their desires, to suggest others means they themselves are undeserving of human rights and respect.

mauricio forero l said...

When I was 20 years old I had the experience of having sex with a prostitute for the first time in El Santafe neighborhood, It was a very large, English style house I remember. It was also very clean. She was at least 5 years older than me and, very very beautiful. Even though i was not a novice in the field of sex, that was the first real time in which I totally found myself in the glory of sex. She was amazing and, from that they on I was one of her customers for at lest 3 years. She was clean, healthy and, for what I remember very happy. She would take 3 customers a day, only protect sex, Her goal was to get in to law school. My point is, that this is another way to make money, it has to have some control from the state or local government. My experience was also the same in Amsterdam, where is a business they is totally control and under the regulations of the state.

mauricio forero l said...

It's a shame that Colin become so bourgeois.
Oswald, Dude, get real, your evangelical rhetoric is so 1950's.

Miguel said...

Thanks for your personal account Mauricio. Stuart, I think you're correct that we men probably can't fully comprehend a woman's perspective (and the reverse). But I think it's also fair to say that women fall into a broad spectrum, and some of them are evidently comfortable with being prostitutes. Denying that, I think, is a disrespect for those women who say they're happy in prostitution. And, it's also worth noting, that many people in many professions have complaints. So, prostitutes are not unique in suffering problems, altho theirs may be qualitatively different.


mauricio forero l said...

Sorry Mike if I was to graphic, lol.

Colin said...

Great critique, Mike!

As far as a background on myself or Bogota, I guess I just wanted it to be a story of a business start-up, and I wanted it to be short. I wanted it to be digestible in a day, and for it to give a look at the industry.

Also, if you think Santa Fe is interesting during the day, pass through at night. It's a whole nother world!

Again, great critique!

Miguel said...

Hi Colin,

I have passed thru Santa Fe at night, but without stopping. It's not so different from the daytime, except for the neon and more women in doorways.


Unknown said...

Women often work as prostitutes far from where they live because they don't want to be found out because unfortunately we still live in societies that haven't realized how important prostitution is! Mostly, they don't want their family to find out. Family is like a form of jail almost for many people.

I seriously doubt in this day and age too many women are coerced into prostitution here in Colombia because there's just simply no reason for it. There are already 210,000 VOLUNTARY prostitutes here in Bogota, and that's just counting the ones who do it full time and put "sex worker" on their tax documents! If you count the part timers there could easily be perhaps a million women selling sex in a city of 8 million! Why they would have to coerce someone or force someone into a market where the supply already far exceeds the demand is completely beyond me !!! ;)

Att. Rubio

Miguel said...

Hi Rubio,

You make an interesting point. However, I have, unfortunately, read of many cases of people being forced into prostitution, in Colombia and elsewhere. Also, I think you'd better review your numbers. 210,000 professional prostitutes in a city of 8 million people? Calculating 4 million females in Bogotá, of whom perhaps 2 million are between the ages of 20 and 50, that would suggest that 10 percent of those women are professional prostitutes. If so, they keep it a real secret.


k d said...

You clearly have no idea of prostitution as a profession or any of its economical influences. For one, prostitution is legal in Colombia and lots of other countries as well. This legitimizes prostitution to become a profession just like any other job. If you knew anything about prostitution, you would realize that this now brings a sort of regulation to the industry, like in Europe and some parts of Asia. Where the sex industry is regulated, and legalized the women are in more control of their work than ever before. It drastically reduces the need for a pimp, which is where a majority of the abuse comes from in the first place. Also human trafficking is less of a concern for places where it is legalized. Not to mention the standard of the industry to have ID's for the women which makes it more difficult for underage girls to be involved. Regular STD testing is also mandated in many legalized countries. Now, in countries like the USA, where prostitution is illegal, a majority of women who are forced into prostitution have ended up in this position due to debts or drug related problems. They get charged with solicitation, run through the crappy "justice" system and thrown right back out on the streets. Except now, they have a criminal record, and can't find legitimate work, which continues their catch 22 downward spiral into drug addicted prostitution, where they rely on petty drug dealers for protection. So tell me, what "John" do you know abuses the prostitute? Because most pimps will find out who abused their prostitute and would likely retaliate. The problem is the government who refuses to legalize prostitution, appeasing the Stone Age thinkers who think it's gross, and immoral. Yet leaving all the girls on the street, and not doing anything to fix the problem. In places like Colombia, it's just another job like being a waitress, or librarian, except it pays way better. they have normal lives and boyfriends. I wouldn't feel sorry for them, they are doing what we all do, providing services with the skills they have to people who request the service. Just like you at your job. Instead I feel sorry for people like you, who cannot think past what their parents have told them.

Miguel said...

Thanks for your comment. I too agree that prostitution should be legal, and regulated. But one can't ignore that there are and always will be abuses. We can only attempt to minimize them.

Of course, every profession has its dangers and abuses. But I'm not sure that prostitution will ever be 'just another profession', if only because of the widespread social approbrium.