Fri, Aug 22, 2003 - Page 5 News List

New York moves to stop sex tours to Asia

LAW The US state has started legal action against a travel agency in a bid to stamp out sex tourism that critics say encourages the exploitation of women and children


New York's State Attorney General is suing a travel agency that critics say offered tours to men seeking sex from prostitutes, some underage, in the Philippines, Thailand and Cambodia.

Eliot Spitzer has also gotten state Supreme Court Justice Christine Sproat in Dutchess County to issue a temporary restraining order prohibiting Big Apple Oriental Tours from advertising or promoting sex tours in magazines and other publications, Spitzer's office announced Wednesday. The civil suit seeks to shut down Big Apple and impose financial penalties and legal costs.

"The company purports to be a traditional travel agency, but through its actions promotes prostitution and the abuse of young women," Spitzer said.

Big Apple has been under scrutiny for years by feminists and groups such as Equality Now that contend US-originated sex tours encourage the exploitation of women and children in Asia and other regions.

"Sex tourism contributes to the demand for trafficking of women, and it is a human-rights violation," said Taina Bien-Aime, executive director of Equality Now.

However, calls on prosecutors in New York state to move against Big Apple did not produce criminal charges. Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said in 2000 that any possible illegal acts occurred outside New York and thus beyond the reach of state prosecutors.

The filing of a civil suit does not preclude the state from seeking criminal charges against Big Apple, Spitzer spokesman Paul Larrabee said.

The civil suit names the operators of Big Apple Oriental Tours as 58-year-old Douglas Allen and 58-year-old Norman Barabash. Spitzer's office said the company was run from private homes in the New York areas of Poughkeepsie and Queens.

Barabash's lawyer, Daniel Hochheiser, said there is no evidence that his client or Big Apple promoted or profited from prostitution, let alone underage prostitution.

"Our client has committed no acts of illegality, civil or criminal, and we're looking forward to filing our response to their lawsuit," Hochheiser said.

If Spitzer had evidence that Barabash or Big Apple committed crimes, Hochheiser said, he would have filed criminal charges against Big Apple and "led my client out in handcuffs."

Joselito Jimeno, of the Consulate General's office of the Philippines, said Philippine officials were cooperating with Spitzer and his case against Big Apple. Jimeno noted that the Philippines passed a law in May 2003 outlawing sex tours and criminalizing the use of the Internet to promote prostitution.

"Legislation such as this, as well as strong and definitive actions by those countries from which tours originate, hopefully will send a clear message to those seeking to profit from the exploitation of women and children," Jimeno said in a statement released by Spitzer's office.

Big Apple advertised a 12-night tour of the Philippines for US$2,195, with customers being promised to be taken to bars frequented by prostitutes and for Big Apple representatives to make introductions for them, said US Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York.

"Big Apple Tours promotes prostitution around the world, actions that they know would be illegal here," Maloney said Wednesday. "I am glad that the New York attorney general has taken action to try to put a stop to this."

The company said it offered what it called "voyages of discovery" since 1988.

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