ABC Nightline: Tracking Alleged Sex Tourists in Cambodia

September 19th, 2009

ABC Nightline followed a similar trail to mine in Cambodia. All in all, I think they did a great job with the story and must have done some excellent negotiation to get the access they did–although there is something to be said for being ABC vs. a lone journalist.

When I first went to southeast Asia I was focused on the sex industry and sex tourism. In fact, that is one of the things I heard when I was pitching the story back home: give us an American sex tourist to tie the story to the U.S. market. What I learned while in Cambodia, and through much of my research, is that sex tourism is only a small part of a problem founded in much greater issues.

Click through the jump for the ABC video series.


VIDEO: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

ABC touches briefly on the greater issues when mentioning why a mother might sell her 16 year-old daughter–which ABC got on tape. It has to do with how life was devalued during the genocide and civil war. It’s part of the aftermath of war, which includes not only trauma, but a lack of opportunity, lack of education, lack of health care, poverty, and endemic corruption (they also have this on tape). I am not surprised ABC focused on American pedophiles–it’s for an American audience–but I am disappointed they did not address other aspects such as human trafficking for labor, or the fact that most of the abusers are Cambodians themselves. Maybe they will do so in a subsequent series?

I am also not shocked by the encounters with accused sex tourists. I too have worked with APLE and I also went into a jail and worked with the friends of an alleged pedophile. I’ve spent nearly a decade exploring the effects of sexual violence, incest, abuse…what have you. How the alleged pedophiles act in ABC’s news report is no surprise to me. Parents–you will also find this at home.

However, as in-depth as it seems to be, how well-woven the story is, and how they do not recycle footage (like NBC’s Dateline did last year) I’m disappointed by the cursory nature of the ABC piece and how it focuses predominantly on the capture and prosecution of sex tourists. The lengthy recovery process, and the substantial lack of resources, for this is mentioned but, in my opinion, not adequately enough. I understand the difficulty in this–of the ethical dilemmas of working with victims and the guarded nature (rightly so) of may victim advocates–and how this complicates reporting, capturing footage, etc. But I also feel more media time should be spent on showing that rescue is a process, not an event, and while taking the pedophiles off the street is essential, having adequate resources to heal their victims is just as important. And one other thing–their list of “how you can help” is limited largely to big, faith-based NGO’s with comparatively substantial funding. Were they more inclusive, I would feel better about it.

Still, it’s worth a watch. If you didn’t click on the above image, click here to watch the ABC story tracking alleged sex tourists in Cambodia.

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