RIGA - To anyone walking the streets of Riga's Old Town on a Friday or Saturday night it is abundantly clear that sex tourism is a major phenomenon in the city. Every street corner features a man 's sometimes two or three 's passing out small cards with pictures of scantily clad women and promising "the most beautiful girls in Riga." The men force the cards on any foreigners who walk by and do their best to persuade/swindle/coerce them into the nearest club, whether an outright strip club or a regular club with women dancing on the bar. Each of these workers can convince upwards of 20 foreign men to enter their club on any given weekend night.
These questionable agents have plenty of targets to choose from 's probably the only people more visible on the Old Town streets than them are the large groups of stag party tourists who make up their clientele. They are the painfully obvious packs of drunken men, often wearing matching clothes so they are easier to pick out and talking loudly and rudely about the woman they met at the club the night before.
The problem, as seen by the organizers of a campaign called "STOP Sex Terrorism," is that numerous local women encourage sex tourism by sleeping with these hedonistic visitors, thereby exacerbating the number of stag partyers and soiling the reputation of Latvia. Another worry is that this practice will quickly lead to Riga gaining the reputation of a city of sin, which would not only damage the city's cultural prestige, but could lead to increased prostitution and a host of other problems.
"STOP Sex Terrorism" is a massive advertising campaign aimed at stopping this from going any further. It's the brainchild of Re!Action, a non-governmental organization, put together in conjunction with the Alfa Center advertising agency. The campaign is sponsored by Riga Airport and more than 20 other businesses based in and around the capital.
The campaign is, somewhat unconventionally, not aimed at the sex tourists themselves but at the Latvian women who participate in sex tourism by agreeing to one night stands with the revelers. Riga sex
It hopes to reach those women who can be found sitting with a lonely expression on their faces at the edge of the bars of the popular tourist night clubs, waiting for a foreigner who can afford to buy her the most expensive cocktail on the menu and whisk her away 's for a few hours, anyway 's without resorting to outright prostitution.
"Its goal is stopping the nonchalance toward this problem, as well as raising the self-esteem of the society and younger women in particular, by making one think about whether it's worth it to have a one-night stand for a glass of cocktail," the Re!Action Web site says.
The campaign includes a number of posters around the airport and the city center featuring the campaign's logo, a gaping open mouth with the words "Sex tourism? Sex terrorism" written inside of it. Other posters have pictures of a large blow-up sex doll that is holding a stick of dynamite with the same words scrawled across it. The campaign also sponsors the occasional television and radio advertisement.
On July 26, the campaign's center-piece, a mural-sized painting of the "fallen girl" of Riga who sleeps with the foreign tourists for the price of a cocktail, was created and then moved out of Esplanade park. There were about a dozen graffiti artists in attendance, many of whom tried to remain anonymous with long scarves and sunglasses concealing their faces. They added the campaign's logo to the painting, as a number of passers-by stopped to watch the goings on.
The proceedings also featured a model dressed in skimpy clothing 's basically dressed up as a prostitute 's strolling around the park and passing out pamphlets with information about the campaign. The sight was oddly reminiscent of what can be found in the Old Town at night, albeit with a very different message.
The painting was moved the next day to Andrejsala, the main hangout for those who consider themselves as having alternative lifestyles. It will remain on display there until Aug. 26.
A recent survey conducted by the popular Internet news Web site tvnet.lv addressed the most common reasons that a woman would have a one night stand with a foreign tourist who buys them drinks. Of the 1,504 respondents to the survey, 53 percent thought that it was an issue of self confidence. Nineteen percent thought that the problem was the women's financial situation, and 17 percent thought that the problem is the attitude of Latvian men towards women. The remaining 10 percent considered the problem as merely one of social circumstance or cited other factors.
Whatever the reasons may be for Latvian women's participation in sex tourism, the problem remains a real one. The "STOP Sex Terrorism" campaign against lax morals, despite having run for more than a month already, seems to be doing nothing to slow the trend 's it has not had much effect on either the local women or the foreign tourists.