I felt that same nausea when I opened up the Daily News recently to read Stu Bykofsky's column, which flirted with the propriety of sex tourism in Thailand.
The column, "Thai hospitality with a dark side," described Mr. Bykofsky' s recent trip to Asia to meet up with a college buddy who relishes Thailand's illegal sex industry. Mr. Bykofsky establishes himself as an industry expert, listing street names, how much to pay and astounding claims that there are "no pimps," little drug addiction, and that women are "independent contractors" - claims refuted by human-rights organizations that study international sex trafficking.
The column dances around the pedophilia rampant in the Thai sex industry. Mr. Bykofsky describes one scene with a stunning lack of morality: "When I see a young woman walking with a farang (foreigner) who looks like a Pop-Pop leading his granddaughter by the hand to a Toys 'R' Us, I feel bad. They are not headed to the toy store. They are headed to his bedroom."
Perhaps if the Daily News had fact-checked Mr. Bykofsky they'd have found that 25 percent of sex workers in Thailand are under the age of 18, according to a UNESCO report. The Coalition Against Trafficking of Women has documented that a majority of Thai women trafficked into the sex industry are between the ages of 12 and 16. The U.S. Department of Justice reports on the "appalling" lives of child prostitutes who serve 2-30 clients per week. That's 100-1,500 clients per year, per child.
This is not Pop-Pop taking the grandchild to the toy store. This is not about feeling "bad." This is predators and possible pedophiles exploiting impoverished and often forced victims while Mr. Bykofsky muses about it all.
The column manipulates a host of shocking race, class and gender stereotypes to justify this behavior. Consider:
* Mr. Bykofsky lands in Asia with a crude colonialist mindset that describes Thailand as an "exotic" country with similarly mysterious customs. The people are described as "shiftless" and "cunning" without a remark to the contrary. It's a place for an "internal" journey and "low-cost, no-guilt sex." Prostitution, one would infer, is just a Thai custom.
* Asian women fit Mr. Bykofsky's exotic fantasies as "an endless supply of girls with no marketable skills but rentable bodies." He states that "Thailand's No. 1 export to the U.S. may be wives." Actually, it's machinery and rubber, but why let facts get in the way as long as the victims are young and attractive?
Perhaps the most offensive notion presented is the idea that the wealthy do the poor a favor when they exploit them for money. Jerry Sandusky's legal team is marketing their client as a mentor for underprivileged youth. A wealthy Chester County lawyer was sentenced earlier this month to 15 years for traveling abroad for child sex abuse; he called himself a benefactor of the arts since his victim studied ballet.
The Daily News, meanwhile, allows Mr. Bykofsky to muse that "prostitution is terrible, poverty may be worse. . . . She's poor, selling her youth and beauty to support herself or her family."
The Daily News, like many papers, has passionately decried the abuse of vulnerable children by a child predator in the Jerry Sandusky scandal. There should be no double standard when one of its own columnists witnesses, then justifies, acts of comparable magnitude and casts it as a "journey" of healing.
Federal law prohibits sex tourism. Laws in Thailand prohibit prostitution. Nothing could be more stark than the hypocrisy of a columnist known for ranting about illegal crossings into the United States simultaneously crossing national borders to leer about illegal activity - all the while ducking and weaving about whether he himself engaged in such acts.
It isn't OK in State College, Pa. It's equally sickening to crow about it in Thailand.
Helen Gym is a board member at Asian Americans United and a parent and education activist in the city.