Posted August 31, 2004
Student's Summer Job Targeted Predatory
|Cristi Head, right, on a follow-up visit with
a former shelter resident (in the middle holding the baby). The
two women on the left are CWCC staff.
Cristi Head is trying to change the odds for sex tourists who go overseas
to impoverished places to sexually abuse children, confident that the
chance they will be caught or punished is near nil.
Head, a second-year law student, spent her summer working for the
Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center (CWCC), in their Siem Reap office
in northwest Cambodia.
“CWCC is so fantastic, so effective. I could see right away
the difference they are making. It’s exciting to me to work on
something that I know will improve people’s lives. I really enjoyed
working in direct services,” said Head, a Williams College graduate
who majored in art history and political science. She’s married
to fellow second-year James Head, who spent his first-year summer working
for two law firms in the United States.
“CWCC is victim-oriented,” explained Head. “They
are mainly concerned with domestic violence, rape, and sex trafficking.
They want to punish criminals and deter them, but really they are coming
at it from the victim’s perspective. Among other services, CWCC
provides legal assistance for abused women and runs a shelter where
they can get counseling and learn job skills like sewing and weaving, ” Head
said. “Some of the victims they help are very young—the
youngest I know of was an infant—but most are between the ages
of 14 and 40.”
Head’s project focused on prosecuting tourists who come to Cambodia
to sexually abuse children.
“CWCC needed help with a specific project. They had never distinguished
before between foreign and Cambodian child sex offenders. They wanted
me to write a report that answered three questions. First, what do
these cases look like (how old are the perpetrators, what countries
are they from, what kind of children do they target, etc.)? Second,
how have these cases proceeded through the Cambodian legal system and
how can CWCC help get the perpetrators successfully prosecuted (the
fact is, many perpetrators bribe their way out at various stages)?
And third, what are the laws in foreign perpetrators’ home countries
that can be used to prosecute them there? The U.S. has such laws.” Head
said she is researching applicable laws in about 20 “sending” countries,
such as Japan, Sweden, and the United States, and expects to finish
the report in the next few months. “CWCC needs a document they
can use to look up laws from other countries and get the text of the
laws, the procedures and relevant contact names.
|This sign greeted those leaving the airport.
|The CWCC's Siem Reap office.
|Women at the shelter were taught job skills like
|From left, Lee Gordon '06, Head, James Head '06,
three Cambodian NGO staff, and Katie Head, James' sister.
“Pedophile sex tourism is all underground, so it’s hard
to get statistics on. The Internet is making it worse. Pictures allow
people to objectify victims more easily. Pedophiles are using the Internet
to network, too, and give each other advice about how to succeed. They
know how to target the most vulnerable girls and boys.” In another
twist, she said some victims have been brought to CWCC by sex tourists
who were appalled by the conditions they found their intended victims
“For a girl to be the victim of a sex crime in Cambodia is devastating
for her future,” Head explained. “It is very hard
for a girl to get married if she is not a virgin. She may also be ostracized
by her community, even if the community members see her as a victim
and don’t blame her for what happened.”
Head said she felt great respect for Canadian police whose relentless
investigation of a Canadian who videotaped himself torturing young
girls finally led to the room in Cambodia where the abuse had been
Cambodian law does not target prostitutes personally. “In Cambodia
it’s not illegal to be a prostitute, but it is illegal to be
a pimp or own a brothel,” explained Head. “But if you walked
up to someone on the street and offered her money to have sex with
you, that isn’t illegal.
“There’s a huge amount of prostitution in Cambodia, and
the prostitutes tend to be very young. Men want young girls because
of fear of sexually transmitted diseases. Younger girls are also easier
to control. There are also true pedophiles who simply prefer to have
sex with children.”
Fighting the problem is hard because Cambodia has weak legal institutions. “Cambodia’s
government is corrupt and disorganized,” said Head. “It’s
easy to bribe your way out of an arrest or out of jail. Government
officials also own some of the brothels.”
“Many cases are brought forward by nongovernmental organizations
[NGOs],” she said. She found out about CWCC, which was founded
and run by Cambodians, through Human Rights Program Director Deena
Hurwitz. The Human Rights Program gave her a $2,000 grant, enough to
cover Head’s travel
and living expenses. The Human Rights Program also supported three
other students involved in overseas summer projects: Thomas Goodman
'06 at the Center for Justice in International Law (CEJIL) in Costa
Rica; Olivia Wang '06 with the International Criminal Tribunal for
Former Yugoslavia, The Hague; and Sue Chen '06 with Human Rights Watch
in London. Second-year Lee Gordon was also in Cambodia for the summer
working on freedom of assembly issues for the Cambodian Defender’s
Project, the largest legal aid and human rights law group in Cambodia.
Reported by M. Marshall