In economics, the law of supply and demand is simple. If there is a demand there is bound to be supply and the level of demand sets the price of the goods.
This economic principle is true for the sex industry in the Pacific region. Over the last two decades, the sex industry in the Pacific has grown to the extent that people now travel from one nation to another for paid sex.
Since the 1990s there has been a change in the way the industry in the Pacific has been operating. When the new millennium dawned, women from Asia came into the picture.
They would come to the Pacific under the pretence of legitimate work, but engage in sex work from private homes, where they could operate in a more clandestine manner. it is not illegal in the vast majority of Pacific countries to undertake sex work privately.
From the clandestine operations, things took a different direction with the emergence of massage parlours which offer (usually) oriental massages that ‘end happily’ for clients.
In Papua New Guinea, these massage parlours are not as common as they are in Fiji but a recent police arrest there suggests that the sex industry caters for the upper market in a different way.
Police in Port Moresby arrested an Asian woman who they believe is part of a human trafficking ring providing the wealthy with sex workers from overseas, and they elieve that there could be more foreign women involved.
Rex (not his real name) is a resident of Suva in Fiji and he confesses that he is a regular at the various massage parlours that have been operating. Such operations are now in all major townships of Fiji.
“You walk in, order a full body massage, you get to choose which woman will massage you and once you are inside the room you can negotiate with the girl,” he said.
“Prior to COVID, most of the girls in massage parlours were Asians but most of them left and they were replaced by the local girls. I am not complaining because this has lowered the price of the merchandise, if you know what I am talking about.”
Edward (not his real name), a former Fijian national living in Australia came to Fiji in May this year. His mission was to get in touch with attractive young women who would be willing to travel to Australia for a weekend or a week to work as escorts.
His business plan involves men willing to pay thousands of dollars for the company of smart, young and attractive women from the Pacific, those who he can label “exotic”.
Salote (not her real name), a sex worker in Fiji talks about her exploits in PNG. She said she used to travel there up to 10 times a year making between AU$500 to AU$1,000 on each trip. This is up to seven times what many earn per week in Fiji.
“PNG men love Fijian girls. During some of those trips, I have been offered a million kina to stay back and get married. I have declined it because I don’t want to end up in the highlands, I have not heard good things about that place,” she said.
In a study of 22 countries in the Pacific including Australia and New Zealand, the United National Development Programme found that sex work in private was legal in Cook Islands, French Polynesia, Niue, Pitcairn Islands, Samoa, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Wallis and Futuna, Fiji, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Australia and New Zealand.
Soliciting for sex in public is illegal in all countries except New Zealand and in PNG where there are no laws that criminalise the act. Brothels are legal only in New Zealand and Australia, while the law in Vanuatu and Tokelau does not make it illegal to operate one.
Guam is the only Pacific island state that has introduced regulations to address sexual health in the sex industry by requiring regular HIV and STI testing and certification of massage parlour workers.
Although sex work is illegal, there is an active sex industry in Guam, comprising of street workers operating from entertainment establishments such as massage parlours, karaoke clubs and strip bars. Most establishment-based workers are migrants.
In Kiribati, sex work is not illegal; however, police may detain sex workers on public order offences. There are women and girls who board foreign fishing vessels and engage in sex for money and goods with seafarers.
When they board private fishing vessels, police are unable to arrest or detain them for offences such as public disorder, loitering or drunkenness, as they are not in a public place.
There appears to be no recognised, established, commercial sex industry in Vanuatu and there are no full-time brothels in Port Vila.