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The Tourism Authority of Thailand, which did not respond to e-mail questions but provides a host of information on a Web site (http://newsroom.tat.or.th/tat_news/1482.asp), acknowledges that poverty in rural Thailand fuels the country's sex trade. "Social pressures, parental expectation, poverty and a lack of educational and employment opportunities put children at risk of economic and sexual exploitation," the organization states. On the demand side, foreigners find themselves encouraged by anonymity and the availability of children, and often justify their behavior by saying that it is culturally acceptable, or that they are helping minors by giving them money.
Smolenski, who sees her role as educating Americans and stemming demand, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last year that the U.S. travel industry is doing far less than its European counterparts in warning its citizens about penalties under current laws.
"Nine European airlines show or have shown in-flight videos advertising the laws against child sex tourism as a deterrent to the situational sex abuser," she said, referring to men who, while not pedophiles, may find themselves tempted by the ease and availability of child prostitutes. "Every single U.S. airline, even though requested by the Federal Aviation Authority, the president of Air France and ECPAT, has refused to get involved," she says.
Sex-tour companies operate with impunity, she said. Their Web sites promise a night of sex "with two young Thai girls for the price of a tank of gas," or trips to clubs where "every girl is available...every girl is affordable."
For its part, the Thai government has responded to a worldwide push by UNICEF and other organizations to curb child prostitution by hiking penalties for customers of child prostitutes. Under Thai law, Bredimus could have faced up to six years in prison--nearly the same sentence he received in Dallas.
Non-governmental groups and even the U.S. State Department acknowledge that police corruption is a problem, but one that is recognized in Thailand. "Non-governmental organizations are putting a lot of pressure on the police to crack down and cooperate," Groves says. "I don't know how it always works, but Thai police were very cooperative in this case."
That meant at least one man with a sky's-the-limit budget could not pay for his pleasures, then pay his way out.