In unbiased fairness to travelers planning a trip to the DR, I can no longer excuse or dodge the taboo subject of Sex For Sale, which goes far beyond the hordes of prostitutes and hustlers that flood Boca Chica's Avenida Duarte each evening.
Sanky is the name given to Dominican males who regularly seek out tourists for sex and ongoing long-distance relationships based on future gains. Female Sankies, socially viewed differently from prostitutes, are also on the prowl. I've long been troubled by these "survival games," which go far beyond Dominicans' overactive passion for living. Trouble is, they've gotten a global reputation that might put pesos in their pockets, but is also taking a very destructive, corrupted toll on the population in general.
Looking for that Latin Lover
When traveling through Europe and mentioning the Dominican Republic, it wasn't inexpensive holidays or beautiful beaches people spoke of; it was always the sex! The DR has joined Bangkok and San Jose, Costa Rica as a favored global sex destination, which sets a double standard for the apparent minority of travelers who don't come looking for it. That said, I'm also leery of tainting your potential interactions with the sincerely hospitable and friendly locals who aren't after one thing only. But how are travelers to know the difference?
Within my village comfort zone, I'm never even asked for 5 pesos from shoeshine boys. But when venturing beyond, especially without the accompaniment of locals, I'm a tourist, which makes me eligible for solicitation regarding anything sex-/non-sex-related. Engaging interaction is one thing, but you should quickly be able to sense if there's something more through hints of a flirtatious, secretive, or point-blank approach. Thankfully, Dominicans are not pushy and persistent; indicating you're not interested will send them on their way - unlike Jamaica, where people tend to harass/intimidate.
Don't think that staying locked away in your resort excludes you from exposure. These are the hotbeds of activities, thanks to local staffs who are often encouraged to mingle with guests. Other resorts have a "zero-tolerance" policy, but it's hard to eradicate what the people want.
A former Sanky relocated to NYC once detailed methods for skirting policies at a popular resort complex. At night, tourists walk down the beach just beyond the resort boundary, where locals were waiting. After hooking up, they would then have to pay/bribe the security guard to enter the property, the desk clerk to enter the facility, and anyone else who crossed their path and could potentially benefit from taxation.
During this last visit, there were a pair of middle-aged Italian women in the village who always had a bevy of males following them everywhere due to the fistfuls of pesos they were obviously handing out. Their cabaña was across the way, within full view of my porch, and I was disgusted with their ongoing parade of evening visitors...even troubled by some I knew. To think these young men could make more in one night than for a week's worth of hard work at their day jobs sounded all too familiar.
"This Is How We Do It"
Currently, the southeast region is experiencing an evangelistic crusade boom; "the church" recognizes this ongoing problem and is choosing not to look the other way or honor the expected code of silence which has long shielded promiscuous behaviors. A local youth pastor wanted to have an in-depth discussion with me on means of intervention based on my years of working with street kids in NYC's Spanish Harlem.
Obviously, the local commodity in question wasn't drugs...though I was shocked to find for the first time cocaine, ecstasy, and other party drugs readily available from/for tourists and newly addicted locals alike. Experience has taught me that solutions lie in the "why's" and not the "how's" of such behaviors.
In the Western world's second most impoverished country, where education, skills, and jobs are not only limited, but average $5.75 for a day's worth of work, people have to do what they do to survive. Throw in the reputable overactive Dominican libido, further stoked on liquor and Mama Juana, which serves as an aphrodisiac, and coupled with the insatiable desires of many tourists - the outcome seems inevitable.
There have been nights sitting around over beers and conversations when topics diverted to sex and the exploits of tourists. I'd silently listen...trying to understand when somebody always notices my cocked eyebrow or baffled, unamused expressions. The quick reassurance always follows that "I'm different; I'm one of them...they would never...," and before the night is over, usually various apologies masquerading as pleas for acceptance and forgiveness for their behaviors.
I remain consistent in my position: while I don't condone, I certainly don't condemn. But for whatever that's worth, reasoning is hard to compete with the designer clothes, gold chains, and cash that frequently find their way back to the village, sent from Europe. A young man I've watched grow up over the years and consider a good friend sat with me one evening and I point-blank asked about the how's/why's.
The conversation quickly switched to English to insure I'd fully understand everything...though he could have as easily spoken in Italian, German, or the basic French he's in the process of learning. Language fluency is essential for telling foreign patrons exactly what they want to hear in the heat of passion, along with the Sanky being able to communicate exactly what they want/expect later and for the future.
I asked how he could do this night after night, and with some obviously undesirable and twisted people; what kind of toll was gnawing away at his inner being....not to mention the potentially fatal health risks from STDs. His only defense? "I just think about the money." Money. Clothes. Marriage proposals with visa papers to leave the country. And just so you know, cars are also at the top of those lists.
Safeguarding the Unsuspecting Traveler
Over the years, I've helped many travelers plan their time in DR. Usually one of the primary concerns is safety. I relay that safety shouldn't be a problem, but always caution about the very subject addressed here. Whether from the taboo nature of the topic, or self-guilt of exposure, it's usually been enough to cease correspondence right there!
In another case, I ended up serving as translator for e-mails sent from DR that had Sanky written all over them! The woman was making a return visit within months of meeting this individual I didn't know. Again, while assuring that they were both consenting adults, I briefly detailed what she was likely getting into. She haughtily replied that she would never pay for sex. No, but she was obviously footing the entire bill for them to be together during her return, had already wired money, and who knows what costs lay in the future?
Another, when returning from their trip, heatedly wrote, "Why didn't you tell me?" Well...I did, and I'm telling everyone again here and now. People can only be taken advantage of if they allow themselves to be! To say there's one born every minute, vulnerable ones at that, is exactly what they're counting on beyond the one-night stand. Stella may have got her groove back in the Caribbean, but don't count on getting yours!
Sexually Transmitted Diseases, including HIV/AIDS, are prevalent in the DR, further spread by widely practiced bisexuality. During my stay, there was a young man who died in the village from it. Again, you've been forewarned!
Personal Experiences involving tourists and Sankies are regularly sagafied in a specific message board category found at DR1. Not to pass judgement, but...
Did You Really Expect me to post mugshots of the guilty? OK, past/future journals will likely be littered with evidence, but don't automatically label all you see!