From hunter to hunted: Paedophiles head to Cambodia’s interiors
as cities wise up
APART from their unhealthy interest in children, Dutchman Sebastian Reuyl and Cambodian-American Tan Saravuth share something else in common – both were given safe passage into Cambodia despite their convict pasts.
When he was a sailing instructor in the Netherlands, Reuyl molested a 12-year-old boy and was jailed a year for the crime in 2004. He was banned from working with children but circumvented the setback by fleeing to Cambodia’s Siem Reap, where he ran an orphanage from 2009.
Saravuth has a similar tale – as a refugee in the US, he was jailed a month after being charged numerous times there with sexually abusing at least four young boys. He fled the country in 1997 and returned to Cambodia, where he allegedly spent the next 20 years preying on children in remote areas.
The two, 44-year-old Reuyl and 47-year-old Saravuth, and another Dutchman, 53-year-old Evrard-Nicolas Sarot represent Cambodia’s latest three cases of child sexual abuse involving foreigners – Reuyl was arrested last August and slapped a five-year prison term this year, while both Saravuth and Sarot were nabbed this month and are awaiting trial.
Their stories and the frequency of such cases are not uncommon in Cambodia, a country notoriously known as the favourite hunting ground of foreign paedophiles.
Blame is often placed on lax policing but local authorities say it isn’t easy distinguishing between a foreigner travelling to Cambodia for honest business and one armed with a shady objective.
Cooperation and information sharing with other countries have also in the past been limited, making it difficult for immigration officers and the police to stop convicted paedophiles from crossing into Cambodia’s borders.
But efforts in recent years seem to have resulted in more prosecutions of paedophiles and a promising decline in the number of children involved in the commercial sex trade. In 2015, a study by the International Justice Mission (IJM) revealed that Cambodia, once labelled “ground zero” for the commercial sexual exploitation of children, had seen much improvement.
It said thanks to international attention, investment and strong commitment by the government, the prevalence of minors in the trade dropped to 2.2 percent from up to 30 percent in the 2000s.
Still, as Reuyl, Sarayuth and Sarot’s cases have shown, many are likely still operating in the country. And it appears they have moved away from the cities and its commercial sex hotspots, choosing instead to focus on Cambodia’s rural interiors, targeting the children of impoverished families.
A Channel NewsAsia report quoted an investigator at Action Pour Les Enfants (APLE) as confirming the fear.
“This change became noticeable in 2010. Previously, paedophiles would target tourist spots, orphanages and NGOs that work with children in big cities.
“Now, they go to rural areas, live with local communities and offer help by teaching kids English or doing some voluntary work,” said Phay Sopheak, an investigation supervisor at the NGO.
The report says the NGO has aided the police with investigations into child sexual abuse cases and exploitation in Cambodia since 2003. The work of APLE’s network of informants and investigators helped lead to the arrests of both Savrot and Savaruth.
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Saravuth, who was nabbed on April 10, allegedly abused at least 11 victims – all boys aged between 11 and 15 years and all from remote villages in Takeo province’s Tram Kak district where he was residing.
APLE said the accused was popular among villagers, having dedicated time to build trust within the community by lending them money and paying for holiday trips. Having “groomed” them, he would take the boys to his residence and sexually abuse them.
“The nature of the grooming of perpetrator has shifted; most potential perpetrators target poor community where knowledge of sexual abuse and exploitation remains limited and institutions involving children like childcare NGOs, schools, homestays where they can gain direct access to children,” APLE said in a press release after Saravuth’s arrest.
Sarot too allegedly preyed on the poor, offering his victims between US$1 and US$4 to perform erotic poses for him after luring them into a quiet place. Like Sarayuth, he established close contact with some of the local families whose boys were among the victims found.
Investigators said preliminary searches drew up thousands of sexually explicit pictures of the boys from the man’s digital camera and iPad. Savrot, according APLE, was nabbed last Tuesday while he was photographing the boys by the lakeside in Aranh Sarkor village in Sangkat Siem Reap.
One reason why the predators target these communities is their lack of education, Sopheak said.
“Getting access to children is easier in rural areas because people there aren’t educated. They don’t know what child sexual abuse is or what activity is considered a crime.
“Even the local authorities don’t know much about this problem,” the APLE activist was quoted by Channel NewsAsia as saying.
But the authorities are putting in greater effort to stop these predators from gaining access to Cambodia’s children.
Maj Gen Phie They told the media outlet that police are cooperating with intelligence agencies and various governments in trying to identify offenders.
“Convicted paedophiles will be extradited and blacklisted from entering Cambodia. Immigration officers have also been instructed to double check visitors with a criminal record.
“We also educate the public about child sexual exploitation through various programmes and campaigns,” he said.
Police have also been working closely with APLE, a collaboration that has resulted many prosecutions in recent years. Last year, 17 offenders were booked and 21 victims rescued.
According to Channel NewsAsia, the NGO helped investigate 192 cases in 2015 and 98 in 2016. APLE’s network of informants has also now expanded to include an impressive 200 members.
APLE executive director Seila Samleang applauded police efforts, saying local authorities “have become incredibly responsible to child sex crimes”.
“APLE Cambodia who work alongside police to investigate into suspected sexual abuse and exploitation of children will provide appropriate support to the affected children to ensure that they can undergo emotional difficulties and receive meaningful justice,” a statement by the NGO last week said.
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