WASHINGTON (BP)–The prosecution of three child sex tourists arrested in Cambodia demonstrates the benefit internationally of a six-year-old federal law, a Southern Baptist public policy leader says.
Officials returned the men Aug. 31 to Los Angeles, where they were charged in federal court with violating a 2003 law focused on preventing the exploitation and abduction of children. The Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to End the Exploitation of Children Today (PROTECT) Act includes a provision calling for as much as a 30-year prison sentence for convicted operators and patrons of child sex tours overseas.
Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), applauded news of the law’s effect.
“I’m gratified that this law, which the ERLC strongly supported in the Congress, is now being used to remove these degenerate predators from the public population,” Land told Baptist Press.
“No longer can these sexual deviants seek to escape the law by raping foreign children rather than American children,” Land said. “Wherever they go, the long arm of federal law will reach out and grab them and put a stop to their rape of defenseless children.”
Cambodia is a popular destination for sex tourists who travel overseas for illicit encounters with children. The defendants are the first to be charged as a result of an international effort known as Operation Twisted Traveler. The program, which began in February, is an initiative of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Justice that targets sex tourists traveling to Cambodia.
The Cambodian National Police arrested all three men, who were previously convicted sex offenders in this country, in February. Under the PROTECT ACT, they were all charged with international travel and engaging in illicit sexual conduct with minors, which carries a maximum prison sentence of 30 years.
According to ICE, the defendants are:
— Ronald Boyajian, 49, of Menlo Park, Calif., who is accused of having sex with a 10-year-old Vietnamese girl in an area near Phnom Penh popular with child sex tourists.
— Erik Peeters, 41, of Norwalk, Calif., who allegedly had sex with three Cambodian boys.
— Jack Sporich, 75, formerly of Sedona, Ariz., who is accused of sexually abusing at least one Cambodian boy.
“The men charged in this investigation apparently thought they could pursue their abhorrent desires by leaving the United States to prey on children in another country, but they were sadly mistaken,” U.S. Attorney Thomas O’Brien said in a written statement. “We are now working closer than ever with officials in other nations and concerned private parties to take every effort we can to identify and prosecute sex tourists, as well as to provide every protection we can to the world’s children.”
The arrests occurred, according to ICE, as a result of information offered by International Justice Mission, a human rights agency that aids victims of sex trafficking and other forms of slavery, and Action Pour Les Enfants, a non-governmental organization that combats child sex exploitation.
It has been estimated as many as 2 million children under the age of 18 are victims of sex tourism. A majority of the adults involved in child sex tourism are from industrialized countries, such as the United States and those in Western Europe. Among the most popular destinations of child sex tourists are Southeast Asia and Latin America.
Tom Strode is Baptist Press Washington bureau chief.