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Operation Twisted Traveler: The New Front Against International Sex Tourism

October 9, 2009
Pervs. Creeps. Pedophiles.
These were some of the words being used in the news to describe Californian sex offenders Ronald Boyajian, 49, Erik Peeters, 41, and Jack Sporich, 75 as they were being arraigned last month. The three men were arrested separately in February for different reasons. Boyajian’s traveled to Vietnam via Cambodia last year and paid a 10-year-old girl to have sex with him. Peeters had intercourse with at least three boys at an average of seven dollars a pop, plus some rice and cash gifts to the parents of the children.
The Perpetrators: Sporich, Peeters, Boyajian

The Perpetrators: Sporich, Peeters, Boyajian

Sporich, known as the “Pied Piper of the Pedophiles” by the police for his molestation of an epic 500 boys at summer camps, was the most flagrant violator of all.  Upon his release after 9 years in American prison, he went straight to Cambodia, where he drove through poor towns throwing candy and luring children to his pleasure den of water slides and video games. He is accused with having had sex with three boys aged 9 to 13.

It seems that the U.S. laws requiring the registration of sex offenders has made American neighborhoods safer, but at the expense of other nations. In other words, sexual criminals of America can go find fresh children in disadvantaged countries  to violate with impunity.

The street boys of Cambodia: The next victims?

The street boys of Cambodia: The next victims of Western sex offenders?

So in fact, no disparaging remark is adequate to describe these dirty old men. Yet, they are not the only ones; they are simply the first to have been caught for international violations in this new law enforcement collaboration between  U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the FBI, and Cambodia’s own police force.

Cambodian police approach a suspected pedophile

Cambodian policemen approach a suspected pedophile

Disturbingly, this trio of offenders represent just a drop in the bucket of the “sex tourism” industry powered by approximately 2 million recorded children, according to UNICEF. Convicted pedophiles are not the only ones who have been perpetuating this horrific business; sex tourism’s clientele also include (former) members of the Australian embassy in Indonesia, “normal” young men, prosperous businessmen, and tourists who think that bedding a pre-teen girl or boy overseas  is a part of the scenery.
A backpacker strolls casually into a brothel full of teens in Thailand

A backpacker strolls casually into a brothel full of teens in Thailand

The Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting reveals the shocking statistic that a good third of all sex workers are from the Mekong sub-region of Southeast Asia (Vietnam. Cambodia. Thailand.). Here in the world, customers often assume a “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude about the children, while the communities turn a blind eye to the statutory crimes happening in front of their eyes because of the taboos involved in outing sexual activities. In some cases, as with Thailand, political instability only adds to the failure of corrupted law enforcement system to protect their own nation’s women and children.

Sexual tourism is not the only problem. According to the U.S. Department of State, trafficking of human beings within and across borders is the third largest illegal trade after drugs and weapons, carrying a market value of $32 billion (United Nations). An estimated 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across borders every single year; 80% of these people are female, and half of them are children. UNICEF also estimated in 2007 that the total annual number of children trafficked within and across borders is about 1.2 million. Whichever way you cut it, there is a huge issue here, and it doesn’t stop at the trauma of the sexual violations, either. Sexual tourism and trafficking is exacerbating the global HIV/AIDS epidemic.

A child prostitute in India - the nation is one of many in the region that is tormented by the HIV/AIDS epidemic borne through the sex trade

A child prostitute in India - India is one of many nations in the region that is tormented by the HIV/AIDS epidemic borne through the sex trade

The new operation’s efforts hark back to the comprehensive Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to end the Exploitation of Children Today, or PROTECT Act of 2003, which extended the penalty for previously convicted child sex offenders to a lifetime sentence in prison. Notably, the Act also enabled the prosecution of sexual tourists and pedophiles who commit crimes overseas, standing now as a rare example of a U.S. law that holds Americans accountable for their actions outside their homeland.

Yunnan, China might not be so far from home for Americans anymore...

Yunnan, China might not be so far from home for Americans anymore...

Even with these signs of progress, the sexual tourism and human trafficking issues tend to be forgotten in between sporadic bouts of sensationalism by the media. For example, coverage of the recent arrests was limited to brief air time on outlets such as Fox News and CBS. Moreover, these popular news sources have not provided details about how the offenders were caught, and how future offenders will be patrolled. However, thorough and continuous reporting of these issues does exist; it exists in the good organizations that are fighting sexual crimes with persistent lobbying efforts and undercover investigations. We are all responsible for making sure to keep up with these organizations.

The International Justice Mission is a human rights agency protecting adults and children from sexual exploitation, slavery, and other forms of violence and oppression. IJM goes as far as to provide aftercare measures for victims so that they can move on with their lives.

Anti-trafficking organization Polaris Project has a compelling “Take Action” section and also delineates relevant developments against human trafficking and sexual slavery in the United States, from California all the way to Rhode Island.

End Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes, or ECPAT International has bases in each region of the world, and strives for the end of the sexual exploitation of any child. Importantly, the website offers a free subscription to news updates and information about the continuing fight against the sexual oppression of children. The Bangkok based organization has a very informative “Get Involved” section that offers specific outlets to campaign or speak out about the cause.

Action Pour Les Enfants is an even more targeted non-governmental organization devoted to protecting children living in the touristic areas of Phnom Penh Sihanoukville and Siem Reap in Cambodia. The website is extremely informative, and details how sexual exploitation can be divided into establishment-based and street-based incidents. Establishment-based exploitation occurs through the management of brothels, while street-based exploitation is facilitated by offenders like Peeters, who literally pick children up off the road. Hair-raising personal accounts of children embellish the “About Us” page. APLE has also posted a wish list of very tangible needs with prices to guide donors so that they can specify exactly where their money will be used.

Minga is an amazing 501 (c) 3 established in 2005 by 14-year-old Katie Simon against the child sex trade. The group is now flourishing, powered by concerned teenagers!

MINGAling: These girls will make a difference in the lives of children all around the world

MINGAling: These girls will make a difference in the lives of children all around the world

Finally, The Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting puts out a superblog called Untold Stories, which consolidates reliable, cutting edge news bites from the blogs and reports of their own dispatches. Where FOX News and CNN blank out, sites such as these will fill in the gaps.

Imagine if your own child, your niece, your grandson, your youngest sibling had been born in a place of disadvantage. Now imagine that this kid, either in order to escape destitution or pull her weight in the family, finds a job. The recruiter tells the little girl or little boy that they will work in a fabric shop or a factory, which in itself would have deplorable conditions. Instead, the children wake up one morning in brothels with no way out and seemingly no one who gives a damn. And standing over them is an American, a Britain, or an Australian who will most likely go back to their countries and resume their Average Joe lives with a few crazy stories under their belt. Imagine if this happened. You would do something about it. So do something now!

Someone's daughters at the doorway of a brothel in Cambodia [Agape International Mission]As the IJM States in its fact sheet, sex trafficking “will endure as long as it remains a profitable criminal enterprise.” So, too, will sex tourism. From our vantage point, it is easy to shake our heads at the supply end of this story—what hopeless poverty, what corrupt people, what desparate families, what inept law enforcement! However, Westerners must hold themselves accountable to the demand side of things. Even those of us who do not directly pursue sex with Asian or Pacific women or children may do our part in their defilement through ignorance and forgetfulness. Every uninformed luxury honeymoon package to Thailand, every detached business trip to China, every careless bit of American luxury tossed into the hands of children in Cambodia, and every boast about the services our currency can buy in paradise contributes to the same engine that runs the business of sexual tourism.

Who's gonna be there to keep "tourists" like these in check?

Who's gonna be there to keep "tourists" like these in check? You are.

The best that the average and well-intentioned citizen can do in the face of all this to support the organized efforts that are making operations costly for the providers of the sex industry. We can also diminish demand for sexual tourism by strengthening public aversion to child sex slavery, traveling responsibly, and spreading the importance of this issue by word of mouth to one person at a time.

As for Boyajian, Peeters, and Sporich…they will be tried in November, facing up to 30 years in prison for each child they violated. Keep your eyes peeled, and get ready to help keep the momentum going as Operation Twisted Traveler does some serious cleaning up.

Based in Andover, Massachusetts, Jia H. Jung is a Master of Pacific and International Affairs accounting for an international wholesaler. You can contact her at jia.h.jung@gmail.com

One Comment
  1. October 10, 2009 2:47 pm

    Another great organization is ChildSafe – http://www.childsafe-international.org/

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