Behind the story: Evil in Paradise

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Reporter Krishnan Guru-Murthy explains the challenges and surprises of covering sex tourism and exploitation in the Dominican Republic.

What attracted you to this story and how did it the filming come together?

Well, we knew that the Dominican Republic was becoming quite a centre for sex tourism from both the United States and Europe. And we determined anecdotally that there was a big section of that trade that was centred around children, girls who are under 18 and in their teens. And so we just went to see what we could find and we were quite shocked to find what was going on and how blatant it was.

 

Was it just a matter of going out onto the streets and it was front and centre or was there more preparation?

It's me and a producing director who's also filming, and we work with a local journalist as well and very quickly we found Candy in a couple of days and the other people that seemed to just fall into our laps - I mean, it wasn't hard to find. You need to look into what's there and that's what a lot of tourists do. There's a scene in the film where I'm sitting on the beach and I was accosted by a guy who was offering me pretty much anything I wanted. That seems to be the norm there.

 

One of the things that stands out in the film is how open and how willing everyone was to speak to you. Was that a surprise?

Yeah it was, and I think, what was a surprise was culturally how, nobody seems very shocked by what's going on. There is a culture of teenage sexual activity in the Dominican Republic and of family breakdown. And so, a lot of the girls are just in situations where their family's broken down, there's no one to look after them. They don't have any choice as they see it. There doesn't seem to be a grave, moral dilemma for a lot of people out there and it's much more reliable and just accepting that this is what's happening. And I think that's what I find difficult, trying to get people to recognise this is wrong. 

Is that confronting, to see that and experience?

Even when Candy went off to the beach, it's this realist situation where her older sister is an adult and living off a minor working in prostitution. And yeah, it's an odd thing to watch. The brother and an older sister, who's in her twenties, watch a girl in her teens go off to sell sex in order to support the family. It's an indication of how poor they are.

What happened in those last couple of days of filming was really quite surprising because Candy had been this sort of, tough kid, who as a matter of fact was saying 'don't feel sorry for me', 'I know what's going on', 'I'm okay', 'It's my life'. All the vibes we were getting off her were 'don't bring your British morality to my city because I'm fine with it'. But when really confronted, when really pushed at what's going on there - it all breaks down and crumbles. And you know, she was a kid. All she really wanted was for somebody to look after her and that really came through as quite powerful. She had been let down by her family, and she needed looking after. And even though she's a mother looking after her own baby, she needs parents to look after her.

 

As a visitor when you went there, what was it like interacting with tourists that were there with a different reason to visit?

There's a scene where we were just filming – we actually interviewed a male prostitute and these two elderly guys looking about, stopped and volunteered a conversation, in which they joined in and from our perspective it was really quite shocking. There was an attitude that what they were doing, as sex tourists, is give the girls a favour. Or the boys. They were bringing money to the area and these people would be poor and hungry without them. And it's a very peculiar scenario. It's normal at these sorts of resorts. They don't feel like normal holiday resorts. You see a huge number of single, older men by themselves which is just odd. I mean when I go on holiday, I don't see that. And so it was quite a hard setting. The bars were drastically set up for that scenario. And I found the whole thing to be, to be pretty grotesque.


Krishnan Guru-Murthy
Dateline

Were there any other warning signs before you actually got to the beach and the resort that is a regular practice?

No, there are a few resorts that are quite famous in this place. And so, if you know what you're looking for, then you can go and find it. And the place that Candy went on the beach is not like this. It's a much more upmarket, a fancy resort. Where we talked to the two older guys, that was a place with quite more tourists and a place where, you can get more of whatever you want.

The funny thing was you could see there's families or couples, who have sort of stumbled into this setting, probably thinking that they got a bargain being in a large hotel in a gorgeous setting. But actually there's a reason for why it's a bargain and it was actually clear that it was a resort that was quite notorious for what was going on there.

 

Did you have any trouble with the local authorities or police?

We didn't have any trouble with authorities but was striking was when we did approach the local authorities to try and deal with these situations, there's not a lot going on to try and tackle it. So we didn't have any problems, they didn't stop us from doing what we were doing. But, it was clear that there was no help or therapy for people like Candy.

 

What was the biggest thing you took away from the whole experience there?

The thing I personally found affecting was my kind of conversation with Candy. We spent a lot of time with her and talking to her about her life and she insisted to us that she was okay with it. It was after church, and she explained very amicably that she went to church because she realised that what she was doing was wrong. The thing is, seeing her break down in the way she does, was very very sad. Because you thought of somebody like that as a strong character; a mother. And tough. A survivor. The day you see them just want to be the child that they are, it really brought it home to me that her childhood had been taken away from her. At the age of 14, she has been forced into this lifestyle that was really damaging her. Despite her best efforts to say that all's fine, the truth is obvious - and she wasn't. What she needed was her parents. It all boils down, in most of these situations to, family breakdown and the lack of family structure and support and parenting. And that personally, as a parent myself, of a teenage girl was very striking.