Stolen Innocence: Inside the Shady World of Child Sex Tourism

From the taxi driver who provides brochures and escorts the offender to a participating hotel, to the pimps and poor children lurking at the neighborhood bar, accessibility to child prostitutes is all too simple.

"Many child sex tourists actually think the sex is legal in the foreign country or seem to morally justify it. They don't even try to hide it," said Smolenski of ECPAC-USA.

The initial contact is sometimes made on the street, where a kid or agent will go up to "Western" guy and actually offer to sell sex with the child, she said.

Often, a middleman "recruiter" lures children into the sex industry by promising them jobs in a city and then forcing them into prostitution, wrote a Department of Justice spokesperson.

In impoverished areas, the uneducated children, mostly females, often must hustle money for their family or are kicked out into the streets. These children are sometimes prostituted out by their own families who are desperate for money, the Justice Department said.

A child sex tourist can also reel in wandering poor kids with "luxury goods" like video games and sneakers that poor children tend to view as status items, said Franzblau of Equality Now.

Profiling the Predator

The majority of child sex tourists are typically male professionals or mentally ill pedophiles from Western European nations, the United States and Canada, said Driss Temsamani, founder of SOS Morocco, a Morocco-based humanitarian agency. The offenders come from all different income brackets and career paths, he said.

Since the passage of the Protect Act, a 2003 law that criminalizes different types of child exploitation like child porn and sexual assault, even when committed in foreign countries, the tourist who travels with the intent to have sex with a minor and the one who decides to do it after he arrives both violate federal law.

Meanwhile, many sex tourists have claimed they are not abusing these children, many of whom contract HIV and suffer from severe psychological problems later in life, but actually are helping them by giving them money, said humanitarian experts.

According to the Department of Justice Web site, one retired U.S. school teacher said about his child sex tour, "I've had sex with a 14-year-old girl in Mexico and a 15-year-old in Colombia. I'm helping them financially. If they don't have sex with me, they may not have enough food. If someone has a problem with me doing this, let UNICEF feed them."

Child advocates are not convinced, saying this line of thought is merely justification.

"If they have the disposable income to buy sex, they have the disposable income to donate to a shelter or school to help keep kids away from prostitution," said Smolenski of ECPAT-USA.

Many children that fail to earn enough money are punished severely, often through beatings and starvation. Venereal diseases run rampant, and drug use and suicide are common for victims of child sexual exploitation, said the Department of Justice.

Global Efforts to Combat the Cycle

New Jersey millionaire Anthony Bianchi began his trial in Philadelphia federal court Monday for allegedly violating the Protect Act by sexually assaulting nearly a dozen minors on foreign soil. Bianchi has pleaded not guilty, and faces up to 180 years imprisonment for his multiple counts.

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