Kenneth Ng calls his Web site a primer for tourists headed to Thailand, but Fodor’s it ain’t.
The California State University at Northridge professor’s site is a one-stop shop for men drawn to the country’s sex tourism industry. Dotted with pictures of scantily clad women, BigBabyKenny.com advises would-be johns on the art of negotiating with prostitutes. “Start with a compliment,” Ng advises. Perhaps something along the lines of “You have the cutest little titties,” he suggests.
Needless to say, Ng’s Web site is causing headaches for Northridge administrators. First publicized by the Los Angeles Daily News, the economics professor’s site has drawn a wave of unwelcome attention, forcing administrators to at once criticize its content and defend Ng’s right to publish freely on his own time without university resources.
“Until we find representative evidence that it infringes upon the work he does at the university itself, there’s not much we can do about it,” said Harold Hellenbrand, Northridge’s provost.
There may be subtlety in Hellenbrand’s words, but his message is clear: If BigBabyKenny infringes on Ng’s ability to effectively do his job, then Northridge’s position will change. Ng has already said his site is run through a separate server not connected to the university, but Northridge officials might still make a case that the site has interfered with his job. Asked if students complaining that they were no longer comfortable in Ng’s class would compel Northridge to demand the site be taken down, Hellenbrand said, “I’m not inviting complaints, but you just hit on the key issue.”
“If [running the site is] what he wants to do, and at the same time he wants to educate students and students flock away, then that would create a problem,” Hellenbrand said.
How Ng came to be identified as the author of BigBabyKenny.com is a story in itself. A frequent tourist of Thailand, Ng took to blogging on the Web site of a Bangkok bar called Big Mango Bar. In one controversial post, Ng advised men to seek women near a particular Buddhist shrine.
“The naysayers will say its creepy to be hanging around the Muariti Shrine, hitting on the emotionally vulnerable girls desperately praying and paying Buddha for a better love life but I beg to differ. Buddha works in mysterious ways,” he wrote.
Perturbed by the post, the bar owners removed it. That led Ng to start his own site, prompting what Ng describes as a concerted effort by the owners to publicize his penchant for writing about prostitutes. They sent mass e-mails to faculty listed in Northridge’s directory, and also posted on RateMyProfessor.com, warning students about Ng, he said.
Ng readily defends the content of his site and says he has no intention of taking it down.
“The university has no stake in this one way or the other, and besides, professors can say whatever they want,” said Ng, a tenured associate professor of economics.
Some question whether Ng has crossed a gray legal line, however, by advising men on sex tourism. Patrick Trueman, a former U.S. justice department official, notes that there are several federal statutes that could come into play. Within U.S. Code 18 are two sections – 2422 (a) and 2422 (b) – that specifically prohibit anyone from “enticing or coercing a person” to travel internationally in pursuit of prostitutes. Moreover, one section specifically prohibits the use of the Internet to lure people.
While prostitution may be tolerated in Thailand, that’s immaterial under the federal code, Trueman said.
“Inducing and enticing? Isn’t that what this guy’s doing?” said Trueman, former chief of the Justice Department’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section in the Criminal Division.
Trueman, now a lawyer specializing in sex trafficking and child abuse cases, said there would likely be debate about whether talking about procuring prostitutes online and actually arranging prostitutes for a person should be treated differently under the law.
“Given how lax the fed government is on these crimes, they may not charge somebody unless they are more directly involved,” he said. “That’s not to say this person couldn’t be charged, and as I read it they could be charged.”
Beyond the legal implications, critics have already attacked Ng on moral grounds. John Foubert, an Oklahoma State University professor who researches sex trafficking, argues that women – often minors – are forced into the sex tourism industry and often have trouble escaping it. Even if Ng is operating within the bounds of the law, Northridge officials have an ethical problem they’ve yet to face, Foubert said.
“Do they want to live with the blood on their hands of these girls that are being essentially raped by these men, who are going down and purchasing sex? I think that’s a larger question,” said Foubert, an associate professor of college student development.
Ng said he allows anything to be written on his site, so long as it doesn’t involve pedophilia or underage sex. He does, however, write about how difficult it is to effectively negotiate with a “half or sometimes fully naked teenage girl” when she’s “expertly gyrating” on a man’s lap.
While his critics have been speaking out since fall, Ng said he has yet to hear from a student who expressed discomfort about his Web site.
“The job of the university is to expose students to the world – not just a politically correct view of the world and not just the good parts of the world,” he said. “If a student reads that [site], I personally think it’s good for them. They learn about something out there; maybe they disapprove of it and they don’t think it’s good.”