Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Western pedophiles APLE target

Western pedophiles APLE target

Western pedophiles APLE target

The hunt for child-sex offenders begins in front of the Royal Palace, leads to

the lawn of Hun Sen Park, and winds up under the lights of Phnom Penh's

riverside carnival.

The man walking a young boy across the street in Phnom Penh has been under investigation by child protection NGO Action Pour Les Enfants for several weeks. Child sex abuse monitors are constantly challenged to distinguish truly kind behavior from malicious intent.

It's about 10 pm in the city; and the backdrop of

balloons - of teddy bears, candy bars and kiddie rides - make for a difficult

place to define the line between the honorable and the inhumane.

But for

37-year-old social worker Map, it's his job.

The Phnom Penh native and

father of two works as a field investigator for child protection NGO Action Pour

Les Enfants (APLE). Five days a week, from 5 pm to midnight, he shadows Western

men who are under APLE investigations for child sex abuse.

It's a life of

hidden cameras, false identities and detective work. Part sleuth and part spy,

Map is part of a network of field monitors and investigation teams meant to

provide "street presence" in the battle against child sex abuse.


don't make arrests, but collect crucial evidence for the courts and police and

maintain a web of informants, look-outs and assistants.

"The sex

offenders are changing their modus operandi," said Katherine Keane, APLE country

director. "They're becoming more aware and increasingly using intermediaries. So

we've changed accordingly.

"Our network includes children themselves,

ex-pats, social workers, hotel staff. They report what they believe to be

suspicious behavior. When we feel we have enough evidence, we ring the police

and then they get involved. Sometimes we monitor for quite a long time: some

cases take two hours, some take two months."

APLE is one of many NGOs

working with the government to thwart child sex abuse. Funded originally by

Spanish humanitarian organization Global Humanitaria, APLE was founded in France

in 1994 and came to Cambodia in 2003. The organization works in partnership with

the Department of Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection and the

Juvenile Protection Unit of the Phnom Penh Municipal Anti-Human Trafficking


Hurni Hans Ulrich climbs out of a police transport vehicle in front of Phnom Penh Municipal Court on March 6. He would be sentenced to 11 years in prison for the sexual abuse of a 12-year-old girl. In a March 8 interview with researchers from the Spanish organization Global Humanitaria, Ulrich said, "I do like to go to the limits of a human being's possibilities. All the time I tried to live exciting experiences. I have always risked myself falling to the bottom. Now, I am there."

"We been able to successfully crack down on pedophilia because we

have good people and NGOs such as APLE that provide us with information," said

Than Phanith, chief of the juvenile protection unit of the Phnom Penh municipal

anti-human trafficking police bureau, on March 7.

"APLE have their own

investigators on pedophilia. The information provided by APLE is very useful and

most of the cases provided by APLE we pursue. After APLE provided us with

evidence, we go immediately to the place to arrest the assailant. But before we

arrest them we also do more research at the scene in order to know clearly

whether the victim is really a child under 15 years old or not."

Map, and

the 12 other APLE investigators, work two shifts: day and night. They stalk

suspects or slink around "active" areas where large numbers of children are

targets for abuse.

Map's best ruse is to pose as an over-friendly

moto-driver. It's common, he says, to feign friendship with suspects in order to

glean information. He said he once shared dinner with a man who was later

arrested based on evidence he provided. Although the majority of child-sex

offenders in Cambodia are not Westerners (Oung Chanthol, executive director of

the Cambodian Women's Crisis Center, estimates less than one percent of sex

crimes by foreigners) they are APLE's priority.

"Street-based child sex

offenders tend to be Western men," Keane said. "Child-sex offenders from Asian

nations, especially virginity seekers, come to Cambodia, but tend to stay in

establishments: private clubs, karaoke parlors. Cambodians commit abuses in

their own communities. It can be a step-father or a friend of a family. We don't

work just on street-based sex, but to our knowledge we are the only one whose

major focus is on street-based child-sex offenders."

On the night Map

takes the Post out to track "Jimmy" - an alleged sexual predator who's been

under investigation for over a month. The suspect is found at the carnival with

two young girls, but his actions appear to be fatherly and kind. According to

Map, he's become very close to the girls' mother and there is still not enough

evidence to present to his supervisor. As the night ends, the suspect lifts the

girls into a tuk-tuk and heads off into the night.

"We don't know if the

suspect is a good man or a bad man," Map said. "There's no typical physical type

for these pedophiles, but there is typical behavior. Normally, a sex offender

will exhibit a lot of physical contact and buy gifts, clothes or toys. But it's

still difficult, because this same behavior can be done by a good


Distinguishing truly benevolent behavior from evil is the most

difficult part of the job, Map said. And Keane is adamant that cases only go

forward if there is an obviously sinister element. Investigators receive the

same monthly pay whether they lead to arrests or not.

"We don't have to

create cases; I would say there's enough bad guys to create cases," Keane said.

"We act as support for the police. There are checks and balances in place. For

example, we don't handle arrests or convictions. We hand them over to the police

- and offer an initial support group."

And although angered, at times, by

the grim realities of the Cambodian sex trade, Keane says APLE is not a punitive


"We enforce the law. We don't beat people up. We have to put

emotions aside, we do this work because it makes us angry - but you must

translate that passion into development of the law - not into crucifying

people," she said. "Overall, things are improving. Cambodia is less and less a

haven for child-sex offenders - the police and courts are doing their job in

this area. The court system is still not fixed, but with in law enforcement and

some parts of the judiciary the will is improving."