UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre Child Trafficking Research Hub
   Contact usmail   
Internship program


Research project



This sections contains a database of documents on child trafficking. Users can research by title, author, editor/organization, type, topic, keywords, geographic descriptors and year of publication.
 New search

Type of document: News
Topic: Actions/initiatives/projects
Policy and Planning
Trafficking patterns
Geographic descriptors: United States of America
Language: English
Publisher: salt lake city weekly online
Date of publication: 4 November 2004
Long Abstract: Bannon, an American who holds a doctorate in history and now works as an expert witness on human trafficking for U.S. federal appellate courts, was in Boulder, Colo., last month to speak and answer questions about the issue on behalf of Free A Child, a local nonprofit organization that works to end child trafficking in Nepal and in the United States. Although his last mission for Interpol was served in 1999, Bannon continues to fight the crime that, on many occasions, nearly cost him his life–and his soul. Into the abyss “It is a credit to the decency of many people that they can’t wrap their brain around this terrible crime,” says Bannon. Certainly, no one wants to hear about toddlers trained to perform oral sex on adult men. Or of kids beaten and raped into utter and complete submission, passed from one owner to the next until someone tortures them to death–and films it. Or of young girls whose childhood memories consist of nothing but ceilings and sex acts. Or 10-year-old Nepalese prostitutes dying from AIDS in the brothels of Mumbai, India. Or the 28 Chinese baby girls under 3 months of age found stuffed into nylon suitcases for transport to brothels in Asia. We might not want to hear about these things, but we live in a world where such events are a terrible reality–a reality that Bannon faced for almost 20 years. Interpol recruited Bannon at age 19 while he was serving time in a Korean prison for smuggling peanut butter and Jack Daniels. He’d been serving as a Christian missionary when his quest for American munchies got him tangled with a smuggling operation that, on one end, traded in harmless Yankee foodstuffs and, on the other, trafficked in children and child pornography. While Bannon believes a number of his traits led Interpol to approach him, the fact that he spoke fluent Korean–and was a third-degree black belt in the martial art of hapkido–didn’t hurt. Hired first as an undercover “snitch,” he was eventually recruited into Archangel, a covert team within Interpol that worked to hunt down and punish those who raped, tortured and killed children for profit. Interpol is the largest intelligence and law-enforcement organization in the world and is second in size only to the United Nations. Funded by member nations, it functions with virtual immunity around the globe, including in the United States. In the language of Archangel, Bannon was a “cleaner.” It was his job to get close to the worst perpetrators of child trafficking and child sexual exploitation, to extract information from them by force and to kill them. He was an assassin. “There’s no other term for it but assassination, but assassination has all this melodrama assigned to it,” Bannon says. “I think every agency has its own antiseptic terms. When we had such an assignment we referred to as ‘cleaning.’ When the British SAS has an assassination assignment, they call it ‘giving the good news.’ There’s a strong sense of trying to use antiseptic terms to distance yourself from the act of taking the life of another human being.” Bannon puts those who sexually exploit children into two categories: consumer-traders and producers. “The consumer-trader is the guy or woman you’ve heard about–maybe the local fourth-grade teacher–who’s abusing children and buying images and selling images of those abuses online,” he says. “The producer is the one who actually buys and sells the children across international lines, running a multi-billion-dollar business that truly has a global network that has connections all the way to terrorist cells.” Bannon says consumer-traders are usually collectors. “They collect trophies of their victims, and they collect also sometimes tens of thousands of images,” he says. These perpetrators feel a strong sense of connection to their victims, often expressing great concern and even love for the children they harm. “As warped as the consumer-traders are–and they are, indeed, warped–the producers are big-time criminals,” Bannon says. “They are very dangerous individuals. It is their business, and they happen to enjoy their business. They frequently are very sadistic. They torture the children. They not only use mental manipulation–grotesque mental manipulation–[but also] gang rape, demanding subservience through drugs, as well as continual physical violence.” In order to carry out his assignments, Bannon often had to pose as a child pornographer or trafficker. At other times he had to pretend to be a prospective buyer of children or of pornographic videotapes and photographs that depicted the most heinous forms of child sexual abuse. Sometimes his work brought him together with producers who were “with child”–Archangel jargon for an abuser who currently has a child in his or her possession. One particular case found Bannon posing as a customer at a Thai brothel called Kiddie House, the owners of which were most definitely “with child”–dozens of children, in fact. Six of those children had been trafficked illegally into Thailand, where American and European businessmen pay big money to have sex with young children on so-called sex tours. Stolen from Great Britain, Australia, Germany and the United States, the children had arrived in Thailand after being trafficked through Romania. Chained to their beds, they were available for purchase in the brothel’s photographic catalogue. A mix of boys and girls, the youngest was 4, the oldest 10. “I was shaking with disgust, which the other people assumed was excitement,” he says, recalling looking through the catalogue. “Those images will stay with me. You can’t erase them from your mind.” Though U.S. law forbids Americans to travel for the purpose of having sex with children, selling children’s bodies is not only big business in Thailand, contributing an estimated $1 billion to the Thai economy, but it is also legal. This makes rescuing victims difficult. “We were able to rescue these [Caucasian] children, but all of the Thai children we had to leave chained to their beds, padlocked behind steels doors,” he says. “These six children–when we told them, ‘Follow us,’ it broke our hearts to see how quickly they obeyed. No matter what we said, they obeyed silently and effortlessly. And to see young children so broken that any adult telling them what to do they immediately obey is perhaps the most heart-rending aspect of this terrible work.” While child trafficking is condemned globally, it continues to be legal in some countries, such as Thailand and Pakistan. Other countries have laws against trafficking, but fail to enforce them. “Five miles an hour over the speed limit–who cares? That kind of attitude exists regarding child trafficking in certain countries,” says Bannon. In Mexico, for example, trafficking is technically illegal but often happens under the noses of–and with the cooperation and even the involvement of–law enforcement officials. As documented by journalist Peter Landesman for the New York Times in his hard-hitting article “The Girls Next Door,” the trade in Mexico involves a variety of trafficking organizations that pay off local police, airport officials and even special government anti-trafficking squads. Landesman’s article received a letter of support from no less than Attorney General John Ashcroft, who wrote to the paper after Landesman was accused of writing fiction. In Nepal, the status of women and girls in society is so low that male relatives can legally sell their daughters, sisters and even their wives to traffickers, who lock the women and children in brothels in India. In China and Japan, trafficking is illegal, but that’s no more than “a wink and a nod,” Bannon says. “The only time it’s prosecuted is when it makes the newspapers, such as the case with the 28 babies [in suitcases],” he says. The two traffickers in that case, which was covered by CNN, received the death penalty. But while Bannon worked primarily in Europe and Asia, he is emphatic about the fact that trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children is a global problem, with the United States serving both as a leading customer and a supplier. Porn and apple pie In July, Lafayette police arrested Andrew James Lemos on 11 counts of sexual exploitation of children after a tip from his wife led police to find hundreds of alleged pornographic images of children on his computer hard drive. Booked on 10 felony charges and one misdemeanor, Lemos had allegedly been storing images of pre-pubescent girls on his home computer. Reports indicated that Lemos hadn’t taken the photographs himself, but had perhaps downloaded them off the Internet. Still those images were produced somewhere and involved the very real abuse of young girls. The people who made the photographs–and those who paid for them and enjoyed them–are linked together through the law of supply and demand. Those who pay to view the victimization of children keep those who victimize children in business. Thanks to the Internet, pedophiles in the United States contribute to the earnings of brothel owners in Thailand, traffickers in Russia and crime syndicates in Mexico, making child pornography and the trafficking of children a truly global issue. The United States is both an importer and an exporter of child sex slaves and child pornography. “Some of the things we’ve seen and done–they’re all across the world of course, but perhaps it would hit home most for people here in the United States to know that this traffic exists right here,” Bannon says. “Usually the people who are trafficked into the United States are a little bit older–that is there’s a median age of about 14, and it ranges from about 11 years old to 17, who are brought into the United States for the sex trade.” One need look no further than the local and national headlines for confirmation. As reported by Landesman in the New York Times, police from Plainfield, N.J., raided a suspected “stash house” and found four girls between the ages of 14 and 17 who had been trafficked to the United States from Mexico and forced into sexual slavery. “Stash houses” are places where trafficked women and children are kept for illicit purposes before being transported elsewhere. They have become increasingly common in big cities–Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City. The problem is severe enough that on Sept. 23, 2003, President George W. Bush addressed the United Nations General Assembly, calling the global trafficking of human beings for the sex trade a “humanitarian crisis.” “There is a special evil in the abuse and exploitation of the most innocent and vulnerable, and governments who tolerate this are tolerating a form of slavery,” he told the assembly. “This problem has appeared in my own country, and we are working to stop it. The trade in human beings for any purpose must not be allowed to thrive in our time.” According to the Central Intelligence Agency, more than 50,000 people are trafficked into the United States as slaves annually. Many serve in the sex trade. In addition, an estimated 10 percent of the 800,000 American children who go missing each year end up being sold internationally for as much as $30,000 each. And not all of them are young girls. “The primary target of those who abduct these children is a 5-year-old Caucasian male–blonde, blue-eyes,” Bannon says. The typical recruiter in the United States is a woman age 21 to 25, who will approach preteen children who display character traits that make them look like victims, he says. Perhaps the child hangs out at the mall alone, complains of his parents or acts as if he doesn’t want to go home. “She’ll befriend the child. She’s attractive. She’s cool. She’s got money. She says, ‘You can blow this Popsicle stand. You don’t have to put up with all that crap at home. I’ve got the answer.’ And the next thing you know that child is in the car and off–whoosh!–to whatever brothel will enslave the child. And by enslave I mean that subservience will be mandated by physical and mental manipulation–physical violence, as well as drugs. And that’s right here in the United States.” Grassroots resistance Interpol’s solution to the international child sex trade was simple: Find the perpetrators, force information out of them and kill them. The trouble with that plan–in addition to its brutality and the high emotional cost borne by Interpol’s operatives–is that it didn’t work. The child sex industry is as vigorous today as it was when Bannon began his career more than two decades ago. “When we were on the front lines we really felt that we never made a difference, really,” Bannon says. “It was just a drop in the ocean of this huge problem.” Growing awareness of the problem has resulted in not only a presidential address to the UN, but the growth of nonprofits and non-governmental organizations that fight the child sex trade on its own turf–in the brothels, in the streets and alleyways, in rural villages. Free A Child has been doing just that since it was founded by Carolee Corey and Hilarie Kavanagh in 1998. Corey had recently been on a backpacking tour of Nepal and was stunned to learn that some 7,000 to 10,000 girls and women are trafficked annually from Nepal to brothels in India, where some are kept in cages and 60 to 70 percent contract AIDS. Kavanagh saw a documentary on the subject and was horrified. The two traveled to Nepal together and spent a year working in the field, researching the complex roots of the problem. What Corey and Kavanagh learned ultimately was that they as outsiders could not impose a solution. “The solution to the problems of indigenous folks lies with those folks,” Kolleen says. “You just need to give them the tools or whatever they’re asking for, help them in whatever way they need, and they will solve their own problems.” Corey and Kavanagh looked for Nepalese organizations already in the field with which they might be able to build alliances. They found General Welfare Prathistan (GWP), an indigenous organization that was already working to educate Nepalese villagers about HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases using street drama, songs and videos to reach a population that, in places, is largely illiterate. Piggy-backing on GWP’s existing outreach, Free A Child developed a trafficking prevention program, called Putali Yojana, or The Butterfly Project. The Butterfly Project works to combat trafficking in four ways: by researching the extent of child prostitution and trafficking and the routes used to move children out of Nepal and into India; by conducting outreach in rural areas particularly vulnerable to trafficking; by providing scholarships so that girls can attend school and participate in other education programs; and by offering small loans to at-risk young women to help them develop cottage industries and build economic self-reliance and a sense of empowerment. “Oftentimes traffickers can go right to the parents and say, ‘We want to buy your kid for a brothel,’” Kolleen says. “But other times to get older girls–early teens to 19 years old–they’ll say, ‘We have a job for you in India.’ And because everybody is so poor, they’re susceptible. They hadn’t been trained to ask questions like ‘Well, what is the job? And how do I know?’” The program is tailored to address the root causes of trafficking in Nepal, which are largely economic. “The economics are so brutal that you get all kinds of things,” Kolleen says. “You get parents selling children. You get husbands selling wives. You get brothers selling sisters. That’s why it’s a complex social issue, because the folks that you wouldn’t think would be involved sometimes are involved–not all the time but sometimes.” Free A Child’s outreach programs involve peer-to-peer education, with peer leaders getting specialized training. “We have girls’ groups–they call them girls’ club–and that’s kind of the focus of the entire program, because on a grassroots level it gets people talking to people who are most at risk and most marginalized, because women, as you know, are not high up on the ladder,” Kolleen says. “They don’t have a say. Until recently they couldn’t own property. So we’ve empowered them by forming them into a group and then training group leaders.” The groups then receive micro-loans that enable them to start small businesses. One group might buy goats. Another might use the money to learn a skill, such as sewing. What results is a group of women who are aware of the danger and who have an economic value to their communities beyond the number of rupees they’ll fetch on the sex slave market. Importantly, Free A Child does not involve the young women’s families or offer these micro-loans to their fathers, brothers or husbands. “We watched the men and the older women of the communities listening to us talk, and they were very supportive of it, but this is really something the girls get to do, and there’s not a whole lot in their culture, besides doing the chores, that they get to do,” Kolleen says. Because the program was designed to address the problem of child trafficking as it exists specifically in Nepal, it is having an impact. Kolleen says Free A Child reaches an estimated 2,000 girls and women each year and has resulted in the building of a sense of community and empowerment among previously disempowered young women. Just as importantly, the program is transforming villages into communities where the victims of trafficking can find support and healing. “I was there one day there was someone who’d just returned from the brothels and her parents weren’t letting her out,” Kolleen says. “There was a fear that maybe she had HIV or STDs… And what this community of women knew they were going to do is they just knew they were going to be there, and at some point she would emerge from the house, and then they would be able to take her in and then, eventually, slowly, talk to her about her experiences and get her the help that she needs.” In addition, a group of young women publicly confronted a known trafficker in their community. “The guy said to [one of the young women], ‘I’ve got a job for you in India that pays a lot of money,’” Kolleen recounts. “She looked at him and she said, ‘Well, if it pays a lot of money, why don’t you take it because you look like you need it.’ He was poorly dressed. That’s just an amazing empowerment statement in a place where women’s rights are at the bottom and being a woman is often equated with a curse.” Through donations and fundraising, Free A Child hopes to be able to expand its programs in Nepal. Although a Maoist insurgency means some areas of the country are off limits, there is more to be done in areas of the countryside where volunteers are still free to work. Free A Child also hopes to address the problem of reintegrating rescued child prostitutes by building a much-needed facility in Mumbai where these children can receive the medical and psychological help they need to heal from their nightmare before being safely returned home. “I think our vision of the future is to become an umbrella organization that can actually put together whole solutions by pairing up the frontline grassroots organizations that are doing the work,” Kolleen says. “We need to broker a solution, put together the pieces of the puzzle that need to be together to respond to the needs that are out there, and we see our primary thing as creating awareness of these issues.” Facing evil When Bannon tells people what he used to do for a living, he more often than not receives praise from people who believe that those he killed didn’t deserve to live. And certainly for a time, Bannon’s training encouraged him to believe the same thing. But more than 20 years later, the former assassin finds himself dealing with remorse. “People ask me so frequently how I could possibly feel guilty about killing this filth–an excellent question,” he says. “However, when you have felt the dull, throbbing horror of taking another human’s life, no matter how justified it may seem, it is very difficult not to feel some sense of remorse and to recognize that I embraced the training of Archangel, which taught us that these were demonic others, non-humans, unworthy of life, and that we were the chosen few to eliminate them and snuff out their existence. “Having embraced that hatred and having had an entire mechanism in place to pat me on the back for a job well done and to encourage blood lust and an addiction to this type of danger and then looking at myself 20 years on and realizing what I’ve become, I may never ever feel a sense of Christian charity toward these individuals who so horrifically torment and abuse children, but I cannot deny that I also in my own way became something of a monster.” While Bannon took lives, he and his fellow Archangel team members also saved lives. “That we were on occasion able to save children is my greatest comfort,” he says. Today, Bannon thinks the way to address the problem is though public awareness, legislation and the court system. But one of the challenges in trying to combat any social ill is raising awareness. When it comes to a topic as grim and heartbreaking as the sexual enslavement and trafficking of women and children, people have a hard time paying attention–or even believing such things truly occur. “I found that to my great shock people did not believe that child sex slavery exists,” Bannon says. “I was stunned to learn that even professional journalists and editors denied its existence.” Bannon responded by writing a book about his years with Interpol. Titled Race Against Evil, the book is Bannon’s way of taking readers to the front lines in the fight against the child sex trade. “I felt very strongly–I had already committed 20 years of my life to this–it just had to come out,” he says. “My book provides people with a bird’s eye view to see what it’s really like.” Kolleen, too, has found people reluctant to engage on the topic. After doing a radio show with Bannon, she received an angry e-mail from a Denver-area woman who accused her of being a fraud. “The hardest part in doing this work has been just it’s such a hard topic for people to listen to and hear, especially when I start saying it’s happening here,” Kolleen says. “You get a variety of reactions because it’s just a hard topic to hold.” Kolleen is making a documentary about Bannon’s experiences combating these terrible crimes in hopes that the documentary will help educate the public and inspire others to become involved. Meanwhile, Bannon continues to face his nightmares with the help of his wife and daughter, his Christian faith and seven years of therapy. “If I was a monster, I am today only a man,” he says. “As a man, I can see the grotesque evil of child trafficking and still fight it through awareness and legislation–soul intact.” He is pessimistic that the child sex trade will ever be completely abolished, but he believes that economic sanctions, imposed by the United Nations against countries that fail to combat child sex slavery and child trafficking could have a significant impact. And, ironically, the man trained to take extreme, extra-judicial measures against traffickers believes he’s having a greater impact within that judicial system than he did as a secret agent. “When I am called to act as an expert witness and my testimony leads toward setting a precedent, I feel like we’re really making inroads toward true change,” he says. “I think the only way to stop this horrific evil is to increase awareness of it at a grassroots level so that we, as citizens of the world, can face this evil, and facing it, stop it.” Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the Boulder Weekly. • Contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children for tips on how you can keep your children safe from molesters and traffickers. Call 1-800-THE-LOST, or go to www.missingkids.org. • Contact Free a Child at 720-890-1457 to volunteer or for more information about The Butterfly Project. Learn more about their programs and child trafficking at www.freeachild.org. • Send tax-deductible donations to Free a Child at P.O. Box 4203, Boulder, CO 80306-4203. • Write to your representatives and ask them to support legislation that holds traffickers accountable and that places sanctions on nations that do not have or do not enforce laws against sex slavery and the trafficking of human beings. • Report collectors and sellers of child pornography to your local police. This is not a victimless crime. • Urge your state lawmakers to make trafficking and child pornography a priority for state and local law-enforcement agencies. • Become informed, and then work to inform others. • Locally, plan to see Born Into Brothels at the Amnesty International Film Festival. The documentary will be shown at the Salt Lake City Library on Sunday, Nov. 7 at 3 p.m.
Files: ( doc 59 KB )

UNICEF Home | Contact us | Copyright | Technical Support ©UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre