A leading Christian humanitarian organization has joined with the federal government to protect children from the threat of American adults who travel to foreign countries to engage in sex with them.
World Vision is assisting the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in enforcing the PROTECT Act (Prosecuting Remedies and Tools Against the Exploitation of Children Today Act of 2003), which passed in April 2003. The PROTECT Act increases the U.S. government’s abilities to prosecute U.S. citizens and legal residents who sexually exploit children in foreign countries.
“Some pedophiles are motivated to commit child-sex crimes overseas because they believe foreign child-sex laws are less strict than ours,” said Lorain Brown, special agent-in-charge for ICE investigations in Los Angeles. However, the U.S. government’s partnership with World Vision intends to change this misconception.
Dr. Janice Shaw Crouse, senior fellow for the Beverly LaHaye Institute of Concerned Women for America (CWA) and an expert in the sex-trafficking issue, applauds the effort to combat sex tourism. “This partnership between the United States government and World Vision is an exemplary effort to empower faith-based organizations who are working for the well-being of children,” she said. “The sex-tourism industry is a blight on the nation’s conscience; we at CWA and the Beverly LaHaye Institute are pleased to see World Vision addressing the problem.”
Authorities have already taken eight U.S. residents into federal custody on charges of child-sex tourism, and ICE reports that many more investigations are underway. One of those indicted, Michael Lewis Clark, may have molested up to 50 children.
World Vision reports that “1 million children are abducted, coerced or sold into commercial sex slavery each year.” Foreign tourists molest many of those children. Sadly, the United States contributes approximately 25 percent of “child sex tourists” worldwide; in Costa Rica, as many as 80 percent come from the United States.
Through warning messages on billboards and street signs in foreign countries; in U.S. airports, in-flight videos and magazines; and on television and the Internet, the project’s ad campaign sends “a clear message that offenders risk significant prison time for their actions,” said
Joe Mettimano, director of World Vision’s project. Prosecuting these criminals also prevents the creation of child pornography, which sex tourists often distribute over the Internet.
ICE is also training overseas World Vision staff how to identify child-sex tourists. These staff members often see firsthand the devastating effects of child sex tourism. HIV/AIDS and rejection from their families and communities leave victims isolated and helpless.
“Our partnership with World Vision helps us to work toward ending this scourge against children,” said John Miller, director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking Persons at the U.S. Department of State.
The State Department has contributed $500,000 to World Vision’s Child Sex Tourism Prevention Project, which is already operating in Cambodia and the United States. World Vision plans to expand the project into Costa Rica and Thailand in the near future.