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The white male gaze that drives child sex tourism


The Monthly 'Fallen Angels' photoMany 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 a child outside of Australia under the age of 16, as well as benefiting from or encouraging such an offence.

In 2010, legislative amendments were made to broaden the scope of offences, adding grooming and procuring sexual activity with a child, as well as preliminary acts. This means, for example, that a person in Australia who makes arrangements with a CST operator overseas could be arrested and charged before he leaves the country. In theory, it enables Australian authorities to take on primary enforcement, thus preventing harm.

In practice it seems that little can be done to keep pedophiles from going overseas. According to the Australian Federal Police, around 250 Australians with child sex convictions travelled to the Philippines in the last four years. Between 1994 and 2011 only 30 people were charged with CST offences, of which 21 were convicted.

There are obvious considerations regarding police resource levels in both countries, as well as the degree of enforcement that can be undertaken without jeopardising innocent people. It can be difficult to establish evidence where criminals assume fake identities or periodically change them, and move around from place to place, as Scully did.

There is also no doubt that the expansion of internet access in the Philippines and cheap international flights have made impoverished children vulnerable. The modus operandi for foreign predators is devastatingly simple: convince parents that their children will be provided with an education, fed, clothed and sheltered.

However, there are factors that are harder to explain and painful to reconcile. In almost every story that I come across involving the abuse of Filipino children involving Australians and other foreigners, at least one Filipino adult knew. Sometimes it's the 'girlfriend'. In one case in Cebu, a Filipino couple was involved.

The complicity is in part about money. Child sex tourism and child pornography command top dollar because of the lengths involved to sustain business. Perhaps for locals involved, making a living has its own morality. They disgust me.

But it is also about a culturally entrenched, implicit trust and hope in white saviours. Once, when a salesperson in the Philippines realised that the white man in her shop was with me, she said 'Kasuwerte nimo'. You're so lucky. I was dumbstruck. How on earth do we undo that?

For me, it crystallises some aspects of the problem regarding the sexual exploitation of Filipino women and children by foreigners. As long as they feel disempowered – when their sense of worth is measured by the white male gaze and the dollar – then they will continue to be preyed upon.

Fatima Measham

Fatima Measham is a Eureka Street consulting editor. She tweets @foomeister .

Topic tags: Fatima Measham, Philippines, sex tourism, Peter Scully



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Existing comments

This is a dark subject. It's difficult to think of adequate adjectives to describe the horror of paedophilia. It's difficult to think of a worse betrayal of trust. And it's difficult to imagine people, even in the worst of financial or emotional circumstances, being accepting of this most base of behaviours. The Philippines, like other south-east Asian countries, is a target for these criminals and it is a shameful fact that a number of offenders are Australian. Fine article, Fatima, and I agree, most especially, with your final paragraph.

Pam | 24 July 2015  

I some Aussie/Filipina couples with a families who've chatted off the record/jokingly maybe that the attraction of the Aussie male is not as obvious as it appears, mentioning that Aussie men are more comfortable acknowledging the reality that it's the women in the Philippines who keep things in order and really wear the pants!

AURELIUS | 27 July 2015  

A voyage into a real Heart of Darkness Fatima. I doubt, if you did not fit in with the locals, you would have gained the insight you did. So much reportage of these matters is by earnest expatriate journalists. Their work should not be derided but I think it is the locals who really know what is going on. Paedophiliac sex tourism and the sort of activities which Peter Scully was engaged in are the absolute rock bottom of the international sex trade and tourism business. I hope all countries like the Philippines throw the full force of the law at people involved.

Edward Fido | 27 July 2015  

The real question Edward F is why in God's name don't Asian governments do anything about it. The levels of corruption in administration are monstrous, the lifestyles of those in power exceeding anything we see here, while their own people are left to make their own way in slums without any government input in safe infrastructure etc. It seems to me that many Philipino women no doubt desperately seeking a better life are quite willing to accommodate these predators from wealthy countries and as Fatima points many are quite prepared to accept payment from dregs like Scully in return for the use of their children. Human beings do the most remarkable things in order to survive. Indeed a great sadness. If only we could return to seeing the image of our Creator in our fellow human beings - particularly in an allegedly Catholic country like the Philippines. I am not holding my breath though.

john frawley | 27 July 2015  

An important article that touches on 'disempowerment' and 'money' as key in the dynamics behind child sex crimes. I fully support your observations of the destructive fusion of these drivers. I do wonder, however, about two conjectures drawn in the article. Firstly, I doubt that foreigners targeting disadvantaged communities for adult sex are the same category as foreigners targeting those communities for child sex offenses. And secondly, I am not convinced it is a peculiar 'white' (I presume you mean Caucasian) problem. To my knowledge Japanese, Korean and Chinese males are equally if not more active in this scene. If I am right, the 'cultural' relevance of this problem is less straight forward than you suggest.

Willem | 27 July 2015  

'As long as they feel disempowered – when their sense of worth is measured by the white male gaze and the dollar – then they will continue to be preyed upon'. It's quite a few years since I heard the same comment from a friend who was a community worker in the Kimberley. She'd almost lost count of the lovely, intelligent and hopeful indigenous girls who'd dropped out of one or other of the courses she ran. "I'm having a baby", they'd say, so proudly. Then she'd meet the father - always an older white guy, usually raddled with drink, who'd find it impossible to get a non-indigenous girl. He'd use his new girlfriend, give her the longed-for 'white' baby - and be off. My friend found it impossible to understand how these men were so attractive to young, healthy and beautiful women, but it was the case. A white 'boyfriend' was a longed for prize. And no economic advantage, either.

Joan Seymour | 27 July 2015  

Corruption is there because of the immense general poverty and the consequent power imbalance John Frawley. As and if the general living standards improve I think this ghastly trade is more likely to become prosecuted.

Edward Fido | 28 July 2015  

Most male (& female) users of the Internet these days will inadvertently see some pornography - it is cunningly inserted into many places. What I would like to comment on is on what many users of the internet (& sad to say, those vast numbers of internet followers of pornography) mistakenly think - that this is a "victimless" activity, when it is manifestly not, as Fatima demonstrates in her article. Pornography grows & is run by people captured by the dehumanising evils of the love of power and money & the resultant human exploitation. Recently, I even heard a Federal politician on the radio reminiscing on his time in a state police force, about the "victimless" crimes of illegal (mostly SP) betting and prostitution. This is NOT SO - as Qld's Fitzgerald Inquiry demonstrated. It is way past time for higher ethical standards and more informed social consciences are DEMANDED of our state & federal politicians who are elected to REPRESENT US, the people of Australia.

John Cronin, Toowoomba | 28 July 2015  

Thank you Fatima for your insightful account. I have been married to a Filipino, now for over 30 years .We return 'home' at regular intervals. I can certainly confirm your observations. Not long after our wedding in our "home" church, my wife remained with my consent to complete her contract as a College Teacher .I went back for a six weeks to be with her. I took a wrong bus from Manila and ended up in Pampanga .To catch the right bus I took a jeepney which took me through Angles City, close to the then US Base at Clark Field. The sight of the burley U. S. Serviceman 'dragging around' the petite Filipino women in the 'Red light' district filled me with a horror and disgust which I still feel. Education of the Filipinos children at elementary /secondary school level may be a part of the solution. But a far more rigorous enforcement of the Law at our end is urgently required . Border Control should have access to paedophile offender files so we can stop them leaving here . The broader problem of poverty and the "White Saviour " Dream which fuels this 'trade' will be much harder to solve.

Gavin | 28 July 2015  

Willem, the 'cultural relevance' as described by Fatima has its foundations in the colonial period - extended locally in the social context of Angeles City by the proximity of the now closed US Clark air base. While it is likely that Japanese, Korean and Chinese men also exploit young Filipina women and girls, they were never the colonists. In Indonesia also, where the Netherlands colonial period ended only a generation ago, a Caucasian man is seen very differently from a wealthy Japanese or Korean businessman. The Caucasian man still, for the poorly educated Indonesian, represents status and opportunity. Fatima's comments are clearly reflected in Indonesia, as a neighbouring country with a quite different culture and a different faith, but a shared history of being colonised by a Caucasian nation.

Ian Fraser | 30 July 2015  

Well, John Frawley - if you asked the same "why" of Australian authorities during the past 20 or 30 years of Catholic Church history of rampant sexual abuse impunity, you might realise that sex abuse id the same the world over. It's about power.

AURELIUS | 31 July 2015  

Ian Fraser’s attempts to finesse the pedophilic behaviour of Asian males by references to Western colonialism requires a response. The Japanese colonized vast swathes of Asia from 1895 till 1945. First was Taiwan in 1895 (from China), then Korea (1910), Manchuria (1931) and much of China (1937-45) and finally most of South East Asia to New Guinea from 1942-5. Japan’s colonization, especially of China and SE Asia was particularly brutal, one of its most vile features being the recruitment of hundreds of thousands of comfort women to sexually service Japanese soldiers. Moreover, a strong pedophilic sub-culture exists in Japan. I was astonished to learn recently that it’s not illegal to possess pedoporn in Japan. The Indonesian colonization of East Timor (1975-99) and West Papua (1964 till present) shares similarities with that of Japan’s. Besides general brutal repression of the colonized, rape of local women and probably pedophilia has been quite common. In addition, the readiness of local people in servicing the needs of foreign pedophiles, Asian as well as “white”, demands greater scrutiny. It’s nice that Fatima briefly mentions this point at the end of her article which seems to be a disguised diatribe against white males. But the extent to which Asian peoples in such countries as Cambodia, Thailand and the Philippines have been ready to sell their children to foreign pedophiles should be examined further. It might help counter the usual tedious politically correct feminist attacks on “white males”. Notwithstanding that reptiles like Scully should be ruthlessly hunted down and permanently jailed. .

Dennis | 31 July 2015  

This is an abhorrent topic, one that causes so much pain to so many people. However, readers may be enlightened by the knowledge that My Scully was raised in a Catholic family and attended Rupertswood as a teenager. Power and the misuse of it is entrenched in our culture and the Catholic Church is far from one in a position to condemn.

Michelle | 12 August 2015  

The fact that Filipino people are or feel dis-empowered is the result of the same predatory behavior inflicted by the same predatory species since first contact and subsequent 'colonization'. If these people are studied from a biological and anthropological perspective, we may be able to establish a world wide pattern that goes back several centuries. They bear all the characteristics of an invasive species. What you describe is still happening here on our western hemisphere, since 1492. We know this species well including their predatory, desctructive, and manipulative habits. Just about all indigenous people of earth can attest to the same. This is a classic case (typical of their behavior) of being brutally beaten(colonization)....repeatedly, and still being beaten, exploited, and victimized while you're trying to get up and recover. We are waking up to this.

Alejandro Quiahuitl | 05 October 2015  

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