Michael Gerson

One sexual predator, when interviewed by the FBI, described his experience with foreign child prostitutes this way: "It's like being a star. They want to try my food. They want to see what clothes I wear. They want to watch my television." Such "stars" are the global consumers of innocence, exercising a particularly brutal form of power over the poorest, most vulnerable children on Earth.

About 25 percent of sex tourists targeting children are from the United States, traveling to Latin America, Asia and Africa in search of abomination on the modified American plan.

Another predator told the FBI that he shouldn't be prosecuted because the girls he used were professionals. In his case, they ranged from 13 to 15 years old. Other transactions involve boys younger than 10. These "professionals" are often recruited by kidnapping or deception. With two or three "customers" a night, they suffer lasting physical damage and become particularly susceptible to venereal disease. They often end their lives as social outcasts, addicted to drugs and alcohol.

The language of commerce -- "professionals" serving "customers" -- is misapplied to violent child abuse.

Until recently, according to Joe Mettimano of World Vision, child sex tourism resulted in "less than a handful of arrests, and fewer convictions." Nations such as Thailand, Cambodia, Costa Rica, Mexico and Brazil were reluctant to admit and confront an embarrassing problem -- a kind of national venereal disease. And these crimes are inherently difficult to prosecute here at home, depending on the testimony of frightened children and evidence gathered in foreign countries.

But since 2003, Mettimano says, there has been "real progress" in ending this impunity -- more than 50 indictments in America for child sex tourism, resulting in over 35 convictions. He praises the Justice Department and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for their aggressiveness. And he credits Thailand, Cambodia and Costa Rica with "at least making an effort" to oppose child prostitution.

Child sex tourism is not only a story of horrors; it provides an example of how an effective social movement can develop in a matter of years. And this achievement offers some lessons.

Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on issues that include politics, global health, development, religion and foreign policy. Michael Gerson is the author of the book "Heroic Conservatism" and a contributor to Newsweek magazine.
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