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Child Exploitation

TOP STORY: Work of HSI Manila profiled on ABC's NIGHTLINE

Did you know U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) has 74 offices in 48 foreign countries around the world? HSI attachés – part of HSI's Office of International Affairs – direct operations and coordinate with local host government and law enforcement counterparts to further HSI investigations.

Did you also know that under U.S. law, U.S. citizens can be apprehended and prosecuted for engaging in sexual acts with minors in foreign countries? HSI is one of the lead federal law enforcement agencies that identifies, investigates and arrests child predators and sexual offenders worldwide – a priority investigative area.

This week on ABC's NIGHTLINE, correspondent Alexander Marquardt joined HSI Special Agent (and Deputy Attaché) Eric McLoughlin, as the staff of HSI Manila partners with a non-governmental organization and law enforcement officials in the Philippines to track down and arrest a child predator. The predator just happens to be a U.S. citizen living in the Philippines who is facilitating sexual crimes against numerous minors.

You can watch the nearly 20-minute NIGHTLINE segment here, which aired Feb. 25.

Americans, with twisted overseas travel plans to engage in child sex tourism, may think they are beyond the reach of U.S. law enforcement. Special Agent McLoughlin reminded this American living abroad that he might have been out of the country, but he wasn't out of reach of HSI. In addition to arresting U.S. citizens, HSI attachés abroad also provide resources, training and expertise to foreign law enforcement counterparts, assisting them with investigations. HSI Manila regularly partners with law enforcement agencies in the Philippines.

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 260 suspects on child sex tourism charges.