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The white male gaze that drives child sex tourism

  • 27 July 2015

Many years ago, when one of my uncles learned that I was engaged to an Australian, the first thing he wanted to know was how old my fiancé was.

He found it reassuring that there was only three years' difference in age, saying that many foreign pedophiles were known to be Australian. I was in my 20s then, so my uncle's concern was touching and a bit offensive. But it did speak to the enormity of a problem that not many Australians grasp.

For her latest essay in The Monthly, Margaret Simons visited the Philippine city of Angeles, speaking to women in the red light district and meeting the children abandoned by Australian fathers who had gone there as tourists.

The women look like me, though they are much younger. I feel uncomfortable that photos of their children were published in this context. Something in the small faces reminds me of my son.

In reality, Angeles is only one of several Philippine destinations for foreign sex tourists. Given the mix of official complicity (prostitution is illegal), absence of regulation and the sort of poverty that makes choice meaningless, many sex workers are underage. I doubt that tourists would bother checking; brothel-keepers lie.

The same conditions that draw sex tourists to the Philippines draw child pornographers and pedophiles. In February, an Australian man named Peter Scully was arrested for raping and trafficking children.

He allegedly produced child pornography videos to sell online. The body of a 12-year old girl was found at his former house, though he is yet to be charged for murder. The total number of victims varies in reports but since moving to Mindanao in 2011, Scully is believed to have abused between 8 to 11 children, including an 18-month old.

I remember the heavy pall over the phone when my sister and I discussed the case. This man had walked freely in the streets of our home town.

The Scully case, though extreme, is not isolated. In an international police operation in 2014, three Australians were among 11 foreigners arrested in the Philippines for child sexual abuse and pornography. On the one hand, it is no small thing when such arrests are made. They are the result of diligent, collaborative investigations across borders. On the other hand, the scale of abuse exposes failures in harm prevention.

Under the Keating Government, extra territorial offences were brought within jurisdiction, specifically sexual intercourse and various acts of indecency with