A few months back, I was honored to have been approached by the Editor of the official magazine for the Australian Federal Police Association Magazine called ‘Blue Star’, about the fight we are leading to create awareness and action on child sex trafficking. The AFPA represents the professional, industrial, and social interests of the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and law enforcement employees across a range of agencies. Their world and that of the charities that work in this space are a distance from the world of most of us.
For most, a completely different reality exists. Whilst you are ordering your soy latte or making school lunches, a little girl perhaps no older than 5 years old is being brutally trafficked for sex. You may be talking about your next family holiday by the beach with your colleagues at the water cooler, but somewhere else, a child is dying from neglect, starvation, HIV, abuse, drug overdoses, disease, or torture. Thirty children will die today and every day in this evil trade.
The place that offers a morbid reality akin to that of a horror movie is none other than Cambodia, one of the world’s poorest nations where child sex trafficking is thriving. Immoral people from all over the world who have one thing in common, a perverted and psychologically depraved thought process, greedily descend upon humanity who will quite literally sell their soul to the devil out of desperation. Here, the average life span for these children trafficked into sex is just seven years — perhaps a fate less cruel than survival, where, as women, they relive the inhumane horror inflicted upon them as innocent children playing like a newsreel through their mind every day.
It is not my place to determine the true description of “riches in life,” but it is my strong view that every child deserves a childhood, where they play, learn, and are kept safe from harm. The Sunlight Foundation is part of a movement that gives these children their lives back. It is the very least they deserve, as fellow humans on the same planet as you and I.
Our Federal Agencies, like the AFP, already do amazing work with their always limited resources, so the least we can do is raise money and awareness for this terrible reality. This evil trade is a blight on the humanity of all of us and we do have the opportunity to do more than we think we can, about it.
I love reading crime stories. I also write them.
My charity, The Sunlight Foundation, is passionate about stamping out the vile sex trade of children in Cambodia. Having visited many places in Cambodia and seen the heroic work of several charities, I know first-hand about the grinding poverty that feeds the sex trafficking of children. The hardest question for me was “Why?” Why do mothers sell their children’s virginity? Why is Cambodia the centre of this monstrous crime?
For my personal journey, it was important for me to try and answer these questions for myself. They’re not hard to find, and go back to the dark years of the 1970s. Many of us might remember movie The Killing Fields made in 1984, and awful as it was, it was a movie made about a land most of us knew little about. I was just across the Bassac River border in Vietnam at the time, in another war, so heard and saw much myself.
Yes, there is a real Killing Field. As a matter of fact there are 300 scattered across Cambodia. The one I walked in back then was at Choeung Ek village, only a few kilometres outside Phnom Penh, the capital. It was the most hellish place I’ve ever visited. Not dangerous, just ghastly. I was determined; many people run away in horror and disbelief. I believe everyone should visit this place.
Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge was one of history’s most genocidal regimes and over a period of four years in the 1970s, they killed a third of Cambodia’s population under a Mao-inspired vision to create a rural society. Education, technology, and independent thought were banned. People were sent to work in brutal labour camps, millions to die of starvation or beatings. Those viewed as a risk were taken away: doctors, lawyers, monks, teachers, children in school – anyone with an education or hands not calloused by work, were tortured and killed. In less than four years, the religious, cultural, educational and professional lifeblood was erased from Cambodia. It was called “Year Zero”. It has not yet been rebuilt.
The Killing Field is benign these days, I would say even supernatural. Chickens peck in the dust, but the silence is overpowering. People talk in quiet whispers, respectful of the 17,000 ghosts that can be sensed all around. There are trees spreading over the meandering dirt paths between the lawns, offering shade from the oppressive heat. The lawns look like bombs had exploded, but are where the mass graves were opened. A lotus pond lies at the corner of the field, like a place lovers might even enjoy a picnic, and I wondered how such a dissonant sight could possibly exist.
I passed by the mass graves, the remains of holding rooms, of tool sheds destroyed by Cambodians after Pol Pot was overthrown. The sign beside me said this used to be the place where prisoners waited their turn to be executed. I tried to imagine what those people might have been thinking.
There is a large, gnarled tree on the path with spreading branches and roots like tentacles where many people stop. It’s called the Magic Tree. This was where the guards would hang speakers blasting loud music to drown out the victims’ cries so neighbouring villagers wouldn’t hear.
I heeded the advice to keep to the path because each rainy season more bones, clothes, and personal items get washed to the surface and are collected respectfully by the caretakers. There was another tree, decorated in colourful friendship bracelets. There is a sign. It says: “Killing tree against which executioners smashed children’s heads” more harrowing because of the grammar. The trunk was still pierced by skull fragments. I thought I was going to be sick.
A magnificent glass windowed stupa was in the centre of the Killing Field. It is a tower where hundreds upon hundreds of skulls and bones reach to the sky. They were the people from the mass graves, their skulls showing how they were killed: clubs, hatchets, chemicals, garden hoes, heads beaten against trees. The stupa was claustrophobic, trapping me between the tower of skulls and the outside world. I looked up and when I saw how high the tower was, I wanted to get out from being surrounded by death and tragedy. Seeing up close is so much more devastating than reading crime stories.
On the way back to Phnom Penh, I looked out from the tuk tuk and saw people going about their normal day. Life goes on. And I understood how beautiful that was.
Back then, I knew if I was to raise my voice to help, I needed to see with my own eyes what terrors humans are capable of inflicting on each other. I was glad I went, even though my heart hurt so much more than it would if I had just learned of Cambodia’s Killing Field from books and Youtube videos.
Cambodia is recovering, but it will take generations; I learned that lesson. The killing fields, the Toul Sleng centre, and other monuments to its tragic past are important to preserve and we must remember that it’s the children who survived the killing fields who are now the parents and grandparents of today’s children. That is most of the answer to “why”. These parents have grown up with a tilted moral compass, in appalling poverty, without the cultural values and opportunities which have made them prey to exploitation.
I can never accept the idea of selling a child into a grotesque future, but I can see why it happened and understand more of how to look for solutions. This why I decided that writing and reading crime stories is not enough. We must all do something.
Robert BarclayRobert Barclay is an Australian author of some of the best Australian crime/mystery novels. His Australian romance novels and stories follow the lives of Katy Yehonala and her daughter, Clara, his strong female protagonists as they confront the evils of society.
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The past week has held my attention with the Crown Casino debacle as more scandal comes to light. Being in my neighborhood, it’s been all over the news. The main issue is around promoting gambling at Melbourne’s Crown Casino in China, where the promotion of gambling is against the law. And of course, the trafficking of women for sex is involved in the mix too. I say ‘of course’ because sex trafficking often seems to come hand in hand with great wealth and power.
The six-month investigation was carried out jointly by 60 Minutes, The Age, and the Sydney Morning Herald. They discovered that one of the men paid to lure Chinese high rollers to Crown was involved in the sex industry and an alleged money launderer. During the time this person has been what’s known as a “Junket Representative to Crown Casino”, his business was involved in illegal sex work activity and several sex trafficking investigations and played host to Casino guests.
I’m sure Crown corporate representatives were perfectly aware of his colorful sex trafficking history but turned a blind eye to it, due perhaps to the value of the high roller clients he introduced to Crown. In fact, some of the many junkets Crown has been working with are allegedly controlled by Asian crime syndicates, including one of the world’s biggest drug trafficking gangs, involved in laundering money through Crown’s bank accounts and importing drugs into Australia.
Now, we will, or perhaps will not ever, get to the bottom of this; it appears several high ranking present and past lawmakers, from both sides of politics, appear to be like deer in headlights, and will no doubt do all they can to have us believe “there’s nothing to see here, move on.” There are enormous tax revenues, political donations, and even friendly Board appointments that may be at risk by what could be unearthed by any serious investigation. Not to mention potential criminal behavior by any number of characters that are, as far as their reputation represents, pillars of our society.
Despite my, and the community’s, disgust at the apparently rampant corruption by powerful people, my interest is in the sex trafficking activities that appear to be involved. As those who read my commentaries will know, I’m a passionate advocate for action to wipe this scourge from society and through my charity, to work in my own small way to save at least a few children from this grim fate, as well as raise awareness among others who will join me to bring a halt to this inhumanity.
What I find particularly interesting in this latest scandal is that sex trafficking and wealthy, powerful men again seem to go hand in hand. I have literally just written about Epstein and his illegal sexual involvement with underage girls, and here we are again. This time it involves drugs and casinos too.
It makes me wonder whether rich and well-connected people really do think they are invulnerable, and our laws just don’t apply to them. Do they really feel they are so all-powerful and self-important, that they lose sight of even basic moral decency?
Is something also going on at the chemical level? These people are often thrill-seekers by nature and have a strong need for that adrenaline rush. Not afraid to take risks, they work hard and smart, are not afraid to turn on the charm when required, are attracted to mega-deals for self-promotion, and end up with control over a lot of money. Already with a preference toward risky behavior and the various protections afforded them by wealth and friends, they enjoy activities that feed their egos. Does engaging in illegal sexual activity spike their adrenalin so they think nothing of making this possibility available for others who can pay for the “ultimate thrill”? I don’t know about you, but this reminds me a bit of “they love you for your wealth, you don’t need to do anything, you can grab their pussy…”
Now we are not only talking about wealthy, important business people and Presidents but pop stars, athletes, and entertainers — really anyone drunk on sycophancy, power, and wealth. Many seem to believe they have their own set of rules, and the law that applies to the rest of us isn’t for them. The problem with wealthy and famous people like this is that obstacles are simply removed for them by others. Their drink too warm, their tax too high, their clothes too tight, their house too small, their bed too lonely – no problem. Nothing is too much of a problem if you have enough money to pay for it, even protection from realistic views of the world. They are oblivious, or uncaring, of the fact that their rules only apply to everything and everyone in their orbit, immune from the consequences of their actions and to society’s laws because they are rich, powerful, or famous.
Society commentators have put forward ideas that, for example, visiting a brothel would be a proper compromise for these people’s sexual aberrations, but I think the reality isn’t about sex itself at all. These sociopaths — and let’s call them out for what they are — are looking for scenarios that will provide them with more power to fuel their ego and forcing sex onto a person or paying underage girls for sex is what does it. This is completely different from paying a willing adult for a legal sexual encounter.
These people break the law while turning their backs on any moral recriminations about feeling guilty for the harm they cause or showing any remorse for having harmed or mistreated others. The Crown debacle is bringing more people to the surface who meet this description.
It’s a repudiation of good faith as well as good governance that a business corporation like Crown that trumpets its vision that: “Together we create memorable experiences by acting respectfully, being passionate, working together, and doing the right thing” can stand accused of betraying this lofty-sounding vision so abysmally.
Why are monsters posing as wealthy influential men beyond the reach of the law and can enjoy the protection that wealth affords them?
Another headline. Wealthy influential men face sex charges. It should not come as any great surprise that Jeffrey Epstein has been charged with abusing girls as young as 14; he’s a serial trafficker of underage girls. He was accused over the weekend of paying underage girls hundreds of dollars to come into his various homes in New York and Florida and give “massages”, between 2002 and 2005. The 66-year-old hedge fund manager was arrested as he arrived in the US from a trip to Paris. It’s about time.
It appears he also provided the sexual services of his victims to his mates, for fun or for favors, many of whom are in positions of great power. Under the media’s gaze, they are now scurrying down their boltholes or looking like deer caught in headlights. Or rats leaving a sinking ship might be more apt.
Reading more of the details is horrifying. Apparently, hundreds or even thousands of photos of girls were found in his home and now are part of the evidence. In an earlier plea bargain, this monster served just 13 months in jail, with day release, for his admitted crimes to date in what is now being seen as a travesty of justice, facilitated by friends in high places. He has made dozens of financial settlements with victims in the past for soliciting and procuring a person under 18 for sex; chump change for this billionaire. Now, hopefully, and finally, he’s facing around 45 years in jail. But don’t hold your breath.
Epstein is enormously rich. His social circle of sleazy friends includes Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, Prince Andrew, and many other unsavory celebrities in the political, legal, and entertainment industries now in the spotlight for their reprehensible behavior. These new charges will no doubt be an enormous blow to Epstein, and I hope some of his wealthy mates on the so-called “Lolita Express” – his private jet used to ferry influential men to debauched parties with female children – may be feeling decidedly nervous about what revelations are waiting to surface.
But it gets me wondering: why do these types of allegations tend to float around men who are super-rich, lingering about them like a putrid smell? Is it because of their wealth that they feel they are invulnerable? Why do they feel they want to do things that are so far outside the realm of what most of us would consider normal? As an example, who can forget Trump’s obnoxious bragging: ‘I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.’ When the most powerful man on the planet can joke about his crimes with impunity, what hope really exists for the victims, or for change.
Another, more sinister, reason, comes to mind. Perhaps it’s more of a “keeping up with the Jones’” mentality. Even a sort of peer pressure. Is there a desire to brag to your friends? The more beautiful women, the younger, the less willing? That you can pay these women to do anything? A naked photo, a massage, then what? The problem is a 14-year-old girl might be happy to do anything for a few hundred dollars, but then how does she feel about herself when she is older and wiser? She may have made a choice she regrets. The point is as a society we have determined that 14 is too young to make these types of decisions. Imagine how much damage you may have done to the psyche of this woman as an adult. Do Epstein and his cohorts even care? Again, I suggest you don’t hold your breath waiting for a mea culpa.
The reality should be that nobody is above the law, no matter how wealthy or famous they are, that they can’t buy off the law. But that isn’t really true. Now Epstein will face the music and his wealth or private jet, we trust, won’t save him any longer, but it will be a tortured accounting that may or may not see this monster jailed. The prosecutors say that these underage girls he ruined deserve to have their day in court and have him answer their questions. The reason why they agreed to go to his house is not relevant. He should never have asked. But it will be necessary for these brave women to confront the best defense that money can buy, and triumph, before much will change. We can only wish them well in that ordeal.
It’s time this picture of privilege and entitlement being a passport to depravity was changed. Because it’s not defensible to commit these heinous offenses and it’s certainly not acceptable bragging about it to your rich mates. It’s cruel and illegal. I am sure the very wealthy have better and more beneficial things to do with their fortunes. If they want a buzz, then at least find an activity that is not harming innocent, vulnerable people in the process. There is no embarrassment to being wealthy, it’s what you do with your fortune that matters.
Like the rest of the sane world, I will follow this story in the hope this disgusting human being, his cronies, and wealthy influential men with similar dysfunctions never cast their evil shadow over-civilized society again.