Indonesia has detained 28 "beach boys" accused of selling sex to female tourists on Bali after a documentary on the resort's "gigolos" hit the Internet, an official said today.
The round-up of Bali's so-called "cowboys" began as tourism officials fretted over the impact of the film on the holiday island's image as a family destination.
"We've rounded up 28 men we suspect might be gigolos. They're young, fit-looking and tanned, mostly surfer beach boys," I Gusti Ngurah Tresna, the chief of security on Bali's main Kuta beach, said.
"We're still questioning them. If we have good reason to suspect they may be involved in shady activities we'll hand them over to the police," he said, adding that the raids were ongoing.
The documentary, Cowboys in Paradise by Singapore-based writer and director Amit Virmani, was released at a film festival in South Korea last week.
Segments of the film, which contains candid interviews with "beach boys" and the foreign women who fall for them, have gone viral on the Internet after appearing on YouTube.
Bali Tourism Board chief Ida Bagus Ngurah Wijaya said the "cowboys" had been fixtures on Bali's tourist beaches for some time but had not attracted much attention until now.
"The film is over the top and only focuses on this group of people on the beach, but that's not what Bali is about. If the film is shown to the world, Bali's image will be tarnished," he said.
"I hope the authorities will get rid of these cowboys because they're of no benefit to us."
Tresna said the documentary ran counter to the authorities' preferred image of Bali as a world-class destination combining unique Hindu culture and history with famous beaches and surfing spots.
"All this while we've been selling our beautiful waves, sunsets, turtles, culture and nature conservation, and suddenly now we're seen to be selling gigolos? Such films are really harmful to our image," he said.
The beach police chief could not explain what charges the "beach boys" could face and admitted it would be hard to prove they were selling sex.
"We're always on the beach so we can guess which beach boy may be taking advantage of foreign women," he said.
Similar arrests had been made in the past but the suspects had been released "with a stern warning", he added.
"They will approach foreign female tourists, especially Japanese, on the beach, befriend them and the women will pay for their company and food during their stay here. Sex may be involved.
"It's like prostitution which is hard to prove because the foreign women may be willing partners, too."
Filmmaker Virmani told the twitchfilm.net website that the men "have no reason to be ashamed and they know it".
"They're proud of their 'conquests', of being desired by so many. They're always game for a little kiss'n'tell once they know you," he said.
He said they were part of a "male sex trade" on Bali but could not be considered male prostitutes in the usual sense.
"They've blurred the lines that might invite shame or discourage women from being with them. They do without the cold transactional elements, for example," he said.
"A lot of people scoff at the need to distinguish between cowboys and gigolos, but I see the distinction. It's a very fine line, but it's there.
"The cowboys are the most visible face of Bali's male sex trade but they're not sex workers. How's that for a blurry line?"