BOCA CHICA, Dominican Republic — By day, Italian tourists pack the beach of this Caribbean seafront village. By night, prostitutes fill its streets.
“Prostitution is everywhere here; on the beach, in the bars, in the clubs,” said Antonio Guzman, 36, a hustler who has worked the beach for 15 years and regularly connects tourists with prostitutes. “This place runs on it.”
On a weekend at midday recently, a few blocks from a beach where hundreds of Europeans tanned, a few middle-age men entered a small club on a quiet street. Inside, they had their choice of pretty, young, mostly Dominican women: $50 bought them two hours in a private room with the girl of their choice, drinks and food, the men said.
Across this nation of 10 million, similar scenes play out — from small bars and hotels where tourists pay $40 for a half hour with a woman to packaged sex tourism vacations costing upward of $4,000 for a three-night, all-inclusive stay.
Long before explosive allegations emerged claiming Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and a political contributor flew to the country for wild parties with several prostitutes, the Dominican Republic had cemented its reputation as a hub for sex tourism. Menendez has denied the allegations, calling them a political smear campaign.
Studies suggest between 60,000 and 100,000 women work in the sex trade in the country, according to the Center for Integral Orientation and Investigation, a health and outreach organization based in the capital, Santo Domingo.