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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Inside the mind of a pedophile

Inside the mind of a pedophile

Alain Filippe Berutti, a convicted pedophile serving time in a Cambodian prison,

is many things to many people. He is a source of shame to Italian communities, a

parent's worst nightmare, a warning to the world's pedophiles who have come to lawless,

wild Cambodia for years seeking gratification that they can no longer operate with

impunity.

For each side - pedophiles and the larger community who cannot tolerate pedophilia

- he is spine chilling, whether for his words or thoughts, or for the fact that he

was lured by the prospect of cheap sex in an impoverished country and has been one

of the few who has paid the price.

On July 16, 2002, the now 32-year-old electrician from Milan was sentenced to the

harshest prison term ever meted out to a foreigner at that time for debauchery (the

Cambodian name for a pedophilia-related charge) after being convicted of sexually

abusing four male street children aged between 11 and 14. He was arrested in broad

daylight, naked in the reeds that line the Tonle Sap, the boys naked with him.

He has now served a quarter of his sentence, but will prison change him? He says

it will not.

Berruti shuffles into the interview room of Prey Sar prison, just outside Phnom Penh.

He is slightly built, painfully thin, his hair cropped, the beginnings of a beard.

After just a month inside, he was angry, in shock, and distrustful. After two and

a half years, he has accepted his fate and says he is happy. He wants to tell his

story. In court he confounded journalists with his openness and his inability to

grasp the gap between his behavior and normality.

After his arrest, he explained, patiently at first and then angrily, that his victims

were "street boys, and they are prostitutes". He reveled in recalling his

last days of freedom, triumphant in his declaration that never in his life had he

met such "super extra-available boys". Then reality set in.

"There are 31 people in my cell," he laments. "You have nothing here

if you do not have money." About his current predicament, he says: "I will

never understand, but I have stopped being angry."

Berutti begins to tell his story. He had visited Thailand and the Philippines, both

well-known shopping grounds for pedophiles, before coming to Cambodia. He says he

had never thought of committing any sexual acts with children in either country.

In Thailand, he felt alienated. The Philippines frightened him.

"At six o'clock, when it gets dark, they change. People you thought were friends

become dangerous..."

But in Cambodia, with its smiling people, its poverty and its reputation as a hedonistic

heaven where money can reputedly buy you everything including impunity, there was

temptation. Cambodia was fateful for Alain Filippe Berutti. He says he visited once,

then felt its draw again when he had left. He returned.

"I never do this before I come here. In those places [Thailand and the Philippines]

it is not always in front of you, so close like it is here. Here, you walk down the

street and you see boys stand up and call 'Hello, sleep boy'."

He embarked on what he calls his "experiment" soon after arriving in the

country for the second time and settling down in a room at the Capitol Guesthouse

in downtown Phnom Penh.

From there, he walked the kilometer or so to the riverfront each afternoon and sat

and waited for the scores of street children who frequent that busy stretch, many

of whom live on less than a dollar a day, scraping a precarious existence through

begging, shining shoes or selling snacks or newspapers on commission.

"At 4pm they arrive. Many kinds of boys, quiet, but with interest," Berutti

says. He waited for them on the river promenade across the road from the busy bar

strip at the heart of the riverfront that includes the Foreign Correspondents' Club,

directly opposite Wagon Wheel restaurant.

He says he bought them dinner. He befriended them. He gave them small amounts of

money and learned snippets of Khmer from them.

"But I never gave them cigarettes or alcohol. I hate that. Never anything like

that from me! Forget it!"

Now, Berutti felt, it was quid pro quo.

The first phrase he learned in Khmer was 'Pram roi, taup moi'-five hundred riel for

a kiss.

"I said, 'Why should I give you money for nothing? I want to enjoy you'. Again

they ask for money. I have some affection, because they are so young, so little -

from ten to fifteen years old. I said, 'Could I have from you one kiss?', and after

less than twenty seconds, one agrees. He said, 'Come on, I need the money'."

In Berutti's mind, though, it was not a matter of him exploiting them, but the other

way around. He does not see himself as the corruptor but the corrupted, and he cannot

completely forgive them for allowing their poverty to tempt him.

"They were never impolite. I don't want to say they are bad. But they destroyed

my life. I said to them, 'If you want more money, what can you do for me?'"

They took just hours to think of an answer, he says. He describes the moment. One

boy, braver or more desperate than the rest, came to him, and, staring over the river,

without looking him in the eye, uttered a single word. "Sleep."

Berutti had won. But he would have to take his prize during the day. He shudders

when he talks about the dark. He is scared of the dark.

"I am sure all bad things happen at night. Storms, fights, murders..."

He took a group of boys across the river about 2pm, away from the crowded city. More

than one, he says, because they were frightened to be alone with him.

Then 29 years old, he says he was sharply conscious of the milestone of the big Three-O

approaching. Berutti says this was the catalyst that changed his life. Whether he

had fantasized about these acts before, whether he had actually offended before,

he took a step in Cambodia that day to reclaim his youth that most people would recoil

from. He speaks about it with an almost vampiric zeal.

"I have lost something about youngness. I am not so young. Not so new. I wanted

to taste the quality of muscle, of legs, chest, skin. I never had sex with them.

I just watched, with myself. But afterwards, I realized that no, no, no possible

- to go into a new life, born again, young and feeling fresh. This experience was

a kind of realization of the quality of the meat of the young. During the experiment

I got the chance to taste young meat again, but afterwards, what remained? The feeling

was gone, and I was left with just myself, my body again. Then I understood. To touch

someone's beauty, something beautiful, does not mean I can become like it."

But despite his resolutions, he could not help himself. His need to "taste youth"

tortured him, and he repeated his experiment soon after. And this time, police from

the sex crime bureau of the Ministry of Interior arrested him, naked in the reeds

with four boys under 15 - the legal age of consent in Cambodia. He was sentenced

to ten years jail under the debauchery law.

The crime scene pictures show Berutti with a resigned look of bemusement, the boys

huddled in some reeds behind him. Then, the enormity of that moment had not yet sunk

in for the young Italian.

"You can change sides of a sidewalk and your whole life can change in one minute,"

he says. "Ten years! I had no feeling at the time of my arrest, but in the court,

when they said that, I was very surprised. I am not a pedophile. I never collect

pictures of young boys. I hate pedophiles, but technically, I suppose..."

He is vehement in insisting he was caught during his first phase of "experiments"

in this realm, despite being tempted and acting on his temptations at least twice

in Cambodia. He suddenly grows angry at the suggestion he feels has been made in

the press that he is homosexual. In his mind he is merely covetous. The distinction

is one he feels is very important.

"I would never do this to a young girl. Never! Absolutely! A boy is a man. A

boy is like me. It is to taste a new body. I like women. I have girlfriends before.

Two times I felt disappointment in my life (from women in relationships). I have

traditional values. I take the example of my mother when I am growing up. My experiment

with boys doesn't mean I am changed. It does not make me gay."

He wants people to understand that. He wants his mother to understand that. He misses

her and says she is the person he loves most in the world. But when she told him

he must change, he says, he could not. Not even for her.

"I told her 'This is what I am. I cannot change. It is too late. Accept me.

Accept it'," he says, two and a half years after the experiment that landed

him in jail.

"I miss my mother, and I am so, so sorry that I hurt her, but I do not carry

Italy with me. I do not want to go back. I love Cambodia."

Above all, when he first arrived at Prey Sar, in every muscle of his face there was

anguish and incomprehension. He is still appealing the sentence, but the years stretch

solidly before him. An appeal in the overloaded Cambodian court system can take years,

and his grounds for an appeal - that the boys were consensual because he paid them

three dollars each - is unlikely to hold up well against the fact of their legal

age. Two and a half years later, there is still self pity, but still no concept that

what he has admitted to is wrong. Instead, he says he has made himself a home.

"In Italy, in Europe, on this charge? I would be afraid. Here they accept me.

I have made friends. I respect these people so much. They are the best people I have

ever met - so much better than me. I could almost say I am happy," he says.

"There are all kinds of levels of criminals here, from chicken thieves to top

kidnappers. I leave them to live without complication."

There is no therapy to be had in a Cambodian prison. Indeed, the jury is out among

experts as to whether therapy even helps. Child molesters in general, but pedophiles

in particular, are notorious recidivists, doomed to continue their cycle of inflicting

pain again and again. Temptation, then, awaits Berutti on the outside once more -

perhaps even stronger than before. A decade more of youth will almost certainly slip

by him here without the opportunity to taste it.

But many of the boys he made his victims and their friends are still working selling

papers on the streets of the city. For most, their cycle of poverty seems unlikely

to be broken despite the efforts of NGOs to place them in training programs or broaden

their horizons. They remain vulnerable.

Their families say they are landless, and their children's own children will probably

grow up with the riverfront and the streets as their homes. Some of the boys say

they still sell their bodies when the opportunity arises. To earn a few dollars for

sex takes just hours or minutes. A pittance from selling newspapers and shoe shines

takes a day. They want to eat and provide for their families, and with the money

they can earn, sniffing glue or smoking methamphetamines dulls the pain.

Walking free and seeing the river again is the thing that used to drive Berutti through

the days. He still dreams of freedom, but the drive is not so strong now. He says

he is happy that he has enough to eat, and sunshine. There is never the terror of

darkness and aloneness inside Prey Sar.

"The only place that is dark here is inside the toilet room at night, but the

other inmates are all so afraid of ghosts. If one person gets up in the night, four

or five will come running to go too, because they do not want to be alone with the

ghosts. That is the only darkness here. It is funny, no?" he laughs.

Years ago he talked about a dream he had, when he finally found freedom. It is one

he still remembers, but where once he spoke about it with anguish, now it is just

a dream.

"I dream I will marry with a Filipino girl when I get out. Oh, why didn't I

do this already? They are the best women in the world!" he says.

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