Crime, Law and Social Change

, Volume 56, Issue 5, pp 485–508 | Cite as

Beach boys or sexually exploited children? Competing narratives of sex tourism and their impact on young men in Sri Lanka’s informal tourist economy

  • Jody MillerEmail author


Sex trafficking and the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) are widely identified as global social problems, but each remain politically charged, especially given the disproportionate emphasis on sexual slavery. The current investigation is a case study of CSEC within the context of Sri Lanka’s international tourism industry. I draw from data collected during a multi-year field study to analyze and compare those understandings of sex tourism and CSEC driven by local “moral crusaders”—which dominated policy and public discussion—with the experiences of adolescent boys and young men who participated in these markets. Moral claims-making, focused as it was on cultural purity, morality, Western perversions, sexual slavery, and deviance, shifted attention away from the global political and economic contexts in which transactional sex took place. This resulted in both distortions and harms to marginalized youth in tourism communities, and a failure to address the economic realities of those involved in the informal tourism economy, including transactional sex with tourists. The current study thus adds additional support to the concerns raised by scholars and activists about the scope, nature, and impact of efforts to ameliorate commercial sexual exploitation, including the harms that result from narrow foci on individual deviance and sexual slavery.


Sexual Exploitation Pedophilia Child Victim Foreign Tourist Sexual Slavery 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The research presented here was funded by the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, American Institute for Sri Lankan Studies, University of Missouri Research Board, University of Missouri-St. Louis Research Award program, and University of Missouri-St. Louis Center for International Studies. The author thanks D.M. Dayawansa, the primary fieldworker for this portion of the study, along with Manjula Adhihetty, Dheeshana Jayasundara, and Saliya Rodrigo, who were also research assistants on the project; Nilu Abeyaratne, who supervised the research team during my absences from the field; and Avanka Fernando, who thoroughly reviewed the translations for accuracy and nuance. In addition, I thank Sheldon Zhang and anonymous reviewers at Crime, Law and Social Change.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Criminal JusticeRutgers UniversityNewarkUSA

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