WASHINGTON – American tourists, with twisted overseas travel plans to engage in child sex tourism, may think they are beyond the reach of U.S. law enforcement. However, they should know that it is a priority for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) to apprehend and prosecute U.S. citizens who engage in sexual acts with minors in foreign countries.
Millions of American citizens travel abroad on a regular basis. While the vast majority of them are law abiding, some commit sexual crimes against minors in foreign countries. Each year, over a million children are exploited in the global commercial sex trade. Child sex tourism involves people who travel from their home country to another and engage in commercial sex acts with children. Child sex tourism is a shameful assault on the dignity of children and a form of child abuse and violence. For the minors involved, these acts have devastating consequences, which may include long-lasting physical and psychological trauma, disease, drug addiction, unwanted pregnancy, malnutrition, social ostracism and possibly death.
Tourists engaging in child sex tourism often travel to developing countries looking for anonymity and the availability of children in prostitution. The crime is typically fueled by weak local law enforcement, corruption, the Internet, ease of travel and poverty. These sexual offenders come from all socio-economic backgrounds and may hold positions of trust. Previous arrests for child sex tourism involving U.S. citizens have included: a pediatrician, a retired Army sergeant, a dentist, a Peace Corps volunteer and a university professor.
In 2003, the United States strengthened its ability to fight child sex tourism by passing the Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to End the Exploitation of Children Today Act (PROTECT Act) and the Trafficking Victim's Protection Reauthorization Act. These laws carry penalties of up to 30 years in prison for engaging in child sex tourism. In the nine years since these laws were strengthened, HSI special agents have arrested 93 suspects on child sex tourism charges.
HSI has 73 offices in 47 foreign countries around the world that serve as the agency's liaison to counterparts in local government and law enforcement. HSI's attachés abroad are critical in investigating these crimes.
Just last week, Jesse Osmun, 33, a former Peace Corps volunteer, was sentenced in Hartford, Conn., to 15 years in prison for sexually abusing four girls, all under the age of 6, while he was a volunteer in South Africa. He never expected that HSI special agents would arrest him for crimes he committed nearly 8,000 miles away from his Connecticut home. HSI's office in Connecticut – working collaboratively with the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Connecticut – has had two other recent cases involving child sex tourism. Edgardo Sensi was sentenced in January to 85 years in prison for production of child pornography and sexual tourism offenses related to his sexual abuse of minor girls in the United States and Nicaragua. Douglas Perlitz was sentenced in December 2010 to nearly 20 years in prison for sexually abusing 16 minor victims over the course of a decade in Haiti.
"I am proud to partner with HSI in prosecuting U.S. citizens who abuse children abroad," said U.S. Attorney David B. Fein, District of Connecticut. "I am hopeful that the cases we have successfully prosecuted in Connecticut will serve as a deterrent to others who would partake in these illegal acts. The Department of Justice will continue to devote resources to protecting children worldwide."
HSI's Child Exploitation Investigations Unit investigates the trans-border, large-scale production and distribution of images of child abuse, as well as individuals who travel abroad to engage in sex with minors. The unit employs the latest technology to collect evidence and track the activities of individuals and organized groups who sexually exploit children through the use of websites, chat rooms, newsgroups and peer-to-peer trading. These investigative activities are organized under Operation Predator, a program managed by the Child Exploitation Investigations Unit.
"If you are molesting children, I advise you to turn yourself in and get help," added Vincent. "The law will catch up to you no matter where you are. If you continue your crimes against children, you should always be looking over your shoulder because we will hunt you down to the ends of the earth in order to protect innocent children from being violated. There will be no refuge for child sexual predators who believe that they may victimize children outside the United States. No place is too distant or too remote to escape the attention of HSI."
To learn more about HSI, visit www.ICE.gov/HSI.