May 30, 2014

Initiative Focuses on Child Sex Tourism

Help the Victims, Apprehend the Abusers

Traveler Wheeling Suitcase

Last month, the FBI asked for the public’s help in a case involving a suspected serial child predator who for years taught in private international schools overseas. The suspect committed suicide after his employer saw pornographic images on his thumb drive, but as part of our subsequent investigation—when we began the process of identifying and notifying the victims shown in these images—we also asked that possible victims and others who may have information come forward, not only to aid investigators but to potentially access our victim assistance services.

Child sex tourism—people traveling to another country specifically to engage in illegal sexual conduct with children—is a very real issue that causes devastating and long-lasting psychological and physical consequences for victims. And the problem is growing, thanks to the relative ease of international travel coupled with the popularity of the Internet in helping individuals exchange information about how and where to find child victims in foreign locations.

The U.S. State Department estimates that more than a million children are exploited each year in the global commercial sex trade. That’s in addition to the untold number of young victims of non-commercial sexual conduct.

But whether it involves commercial or non-commercial sex acts, the FBI—in conjunction with our domestic and international law enforcement partners—investigates U.S. citizens and permanent residents who travel overseas to engage in illegal sexual conduct with children under the age of 18. Since 2008, our Child Sex Tourism Initiative has employed proactive strategies to address the crime, including working with foreign law enforcement and non-governmental organizations to provide child victims with support services and to investigate and prosecute individuals engaging in child sex tourism.

The FBI also shares intelligence products with our overseas law enforcement partners that focus on trends, methods of operations, offenders, etc. And we offer training to foreign law enforcement and non-governmental organizations to build capacity and develop an effective team approach to address the problem. Intelligence sharing and training help develop cohesive multi-disciplinary teams, which in turn enable better international cooperation during the investigation of these crimes.

Children from developing countries are often seen as easy targets by Americans. Our investigations, however, have shown that American perpetrators travel to a variety of locations—from less developed areas in Southeast Asia and Central and South America to more developed areas in Europe. But it makes no difference where these crimes occur—any U.S. citizen or permanent resident who engages in sexual contact with a minor overseas is subject to prosecution under various U.S. laws.

And these laws were strengthened in 2003 with the passage of the federal PROTECT Act, which authorized a variety of additional prosecutive remedies and other tools to use against those who victimize children. It also makes clear that there is no statute of limitations for crimes involving the abduction or physical or sexual abuse of a child.

So a word of warning to perpetrators of this horrendous crime: No matter where you go, no matter how long it takes, you will be caught and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

And a word of comfort to the victims: The FBI will work with your country’s authorities and non-governmental organizations to bring perpetrators to justice and to help coordinate the services you need.

 Justice is Served: Recent Child Sex Tourism Investigations

The FBI and its partners work tirelessly to identify and bring to justice individuals from the U.S. who travel overseas to engage in illegal sex with children. Over the past few years, these efforts have paid off with the successful investigation of numerous U.S. residents on child sex tourism charges. They include:

  • Hector Orejuela, Jr., a former teacher and tutor in China who molested one girl under the age of 12 and attempted to molest another. He was arrested in China, returned to the U.S. to face charges, and was recently sentenced to 30 years in prison. 
  • Walter Lee Williams, a California man wanted for traveling to the Philippines for the purpose of having sex with minors. Williams had been added to the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list but was apprehended in Mexico one day later with the assistance of Mexican authorities and brought back to the U.S. 
  • John D. Ott, a former medical doctor for non-governmental organizations and hospitals in Kenya, who admitted to engaging in illicit sexual conduct with at least 14 minors who ranged in age from 9 to 17. He later pled guilty and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
  • Michael James Dodd, a former teacher in Cambodia who was arrested in 2008 for engaging in sexually illicit conduct with a 14-year-old girl. He was returned to the U.S. in 2010 to face charges and was ultimately sentenced to nearly nine years in prison. 

Through our international partnerships, there have been cases where foreign authorities have successfully prosecuted U.S. citizens involved in child sex tourism. When that happens, the FBI—often while conducting its own parallel investigation—will offer help.

That’s what happened in the case of an American man working as an English teacher in Thailand who was arrested by Thai authorities for engaging in illicit sexual conduct with a 9-year-old boy. The Bureau offered computer forensics assistance in analyzing the subject’s computer and video camera, which revealed that he had videotaped himself having sex with multiple young boys. He pled guilty last fall and was sentenced to 39 years in a Thai prison.