Friday, August 1, 2008

The Sad Tale of Sanki Panki

Throughout my time here I've seen numbers of old, white men with young Dominican women. While prostitution is common here--hardly a night goes by where I am not solicited--I couldn't believe the audacity of some of these old geezers. Invariabley moneyed and dressed nicely, they go out in broad daylight, to the beach or to dinner in the company of their "mujer".

Seeing something so incongrous and obvious makes it awkward to walk by them and hard not to stare. I keep imagining the face Jim Halpert makes when Michael Scott does something inappropriate in the Office. The face that says, "Really? You're doing that? In public?"

Turns out this is more than prostitution. It sanki-panki (not "hanky-panky" or "skanky-panky", though both are appropriate). What many foreigners will pay a woman a certain amount of money to be their companion. Sometimes for a week, sometimes a month, or sometimes years. It's like hiring a long-term escort. In the very worst cases families will "lease" their daughters out, sometimes at very young ages. There is a well-known Frenchman in town living with a girl of 12. Sadly, it's not hard to imagine that the 12-year old girl will continue to make a living in the sex industry.

It is a symptom of poverty, though that does not excuse it, especially not in the cases of parents selling their daughters. It creates more poverty, dehumanizes women, begets violence, spreads disease and ruins lives.

Most of the foreigners you meet traveling are great people who are interested in seeing the world, learning about new cultures, and/or making a difference like the volunteers here at the Fundacion Mahatma Ghandi. But there's still those few who are here only for a good time, and the Dominican Republic's image as a tropical, live-it-up paradise draws more than its fair share. It's explotation, and it's really sad to see.


Zachary said...

It's amazing that someone just passing through town, such as yourself, knows about the Frenchman with the 12 year old. Out in the open indeed.

Christine said...

This is crazy! Do you know if there are any organizations there that are trying to help these girls out?

Mr. L said...

The Frenchman is a particularly notorious case. Like in the United States, it is illegal for adults to have sex with girls under age 18. I've heard that some people, though not foreigners, have been prosecuted for that.
If the girl is 18 or older there is nothing that can be done from a legal stand point.
I'm not aware of any groups that are expessly trying to address the problem, though organizations like the one I'm working at do indirectly by providing skills that will provide girls with job opportunities other than prostitution.

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