Sex Tourism on the Taxpayer’s Dime

by Elizabeth Yore

A not so funny thing happened on the way to the Summit; the emerging scandal involving the U.S. military and the Secret Service presidential advance team’s procurement of prostitutes during a night of drinking and carousing preceding the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Columbia will leave a trail of victims as long as the Amazon River.

Despite the Secret Service’s denial, the scandalous and irresponsible actions jeopardized the protection of the President and his entourage and brought disagrace on the U.S. government. At the very least, their actions were a gross dereliction of duty, and quite possibly, illegal.

The duties of the 11 Secret Service Agents who arrived in Cartegena in advance of the President’s trip to the Summit of the Americas should have kept them busy 24/7. Like every country visit, this Summit had a vast array of critical assignments to ensure the safety of the President. The U.S. Secret Service website clearly delineates the complicated and formidable requirements of a presidential advance team:

Protective Visits
In general, for protective visits, teams of Secret Service personnel travel in advance and conduct site surveys, which assess needs for manpower, equipment, hospitals and evacuation routes for emergencies. Fire, rescue and other public service personnel in the community are alerted.  Before a protectee arrives at any site, a lead advance agent coordinates all law enforcement representatives participating in the visit. Intelligence information is discussed and emergency options are outlined. Prior to the arrival of the protectee, checkpoints are established and access to the secured area is limited.

The assistance of the military, federal, state, county and local law enforcement, and the public safety organizations is a vital part of the entire security operation. During protective visits, Secret Service and local law enforcement personnel form a network of support for members of the detail working in close proximity to the protectee. A Secret Service command post acts as the communication center for protective activities, monitors emergencies and keeps all participants in contact with one another. After the visit, agents analyze every step of the protective operation, record unusual incidents and suggest improvements for the future.

Failure to address any one of these critical details could easily compromise the safety of the President. When questioned about the agents, the President reiterated his confidence in the Service but stated that if the allegations turn out to be true after a thorough investigation, he would be “angry.” His tepid sounding reaction is very curious in light of this ongoing global embarrassment.

Is the Colombia caper the first incident of wild nights of prostitutes and carousing by the Secret Service? It defies credulity that this hasn’t happened before during the 46 visits to foreign countries by Obama. Many of those 46 countries are hotbeds (‘scuse the pun) for sex tourism. Are these presidential trips viewed as taxpayer funded sex junkets by the Secret Service? Taxpayers deserve an answer.

Yet, the smoking gun simmering just below the surface of this scandal revolves around the age of these prostitutes.

In Columbia, prostitution is legal. The age of consent in Columbia is 14 years old. It is also legal to prostitute a 14 year old girl or boy. That is the shocking reality that makes Columbia such an attractive destination and lure for child sex tourists. Taxpayers should demand to know the truth if any of those 21 prostitutes were under age girls? Traveling to a foreign country and engaging in sex with minors is a federal felony in the United States. Welcome to the world of child sex tourism.

The United States has laws that prohibit sex with minors in other countries and has greatly increased its efforts to combat this problem.Under the Protect Act of 2003, United States citizens or residents who engage in sexual activity abroad with a child under 18 can face up to 30 years in prison. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is now actively investigating American sex tourists abroad and making arrests.

Cartegena, Columbia has long been viewed as a destination for child sex tourists. The 40 year drug war and violence has contributed to poverty, displaced families, all indicative of a culture ripe for sex tourism. According to World Vision, 45 percent of Colombians live below the poverty level and are often forced into the sex industry as a result. Many youth and adolescents are at risk for sexual exploitation. According to the U.S. State Department’s Report on Human Trafficking, Colombia is also “a destination for foreign child sex tourists from the United States and Europe, particularly to coastal cities such as Cartagena and Barranquilla“.

The drip, drip, drip of salacious details envelops the Secret Service. Partying on the taxpayer’s dime is outrageous. Carousing on the taxpayer’s dime when the security of the national leader is in your care is unforgivable. If any of the prostitutes are under the age of 18, the perpetrators should be criminally charged and if convicted, face up to 30 years in prison.

Under the PROTECT Act of April 2003, it is a federal crime, prosecutable in the United States, for a U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien, to engage in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18, whether or not the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident alien intended to engage in such illicit sexual conduct prior to going abroad. For purposes of the PROTECT Act, illicit sexual conduct includes any commercial sex act in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18. The law defines a commercial sex act as any sex act, on account of which anything of value is given to or received by a person under the age of 18.

It is estimated that U.S. citizens account for 25 percent of child sex tourists worldwide. Some Americans take advantage of prostituted children while traveling to impoverished countries for business, tourism and other legitimate reasons. Others travel abroad on specifically designed and advertised “sex tours.” The U.S. Department of State estimates that one million children are forced into prostitution every year around the world. One of the worst countries for child sex tourism is Columbia.

The ongoing investigation will determine whether the prostitutes are underage. Nevertheless, the damage is done to the Secret Service, to the United States, to the females of Cartegena, and, most especially, to the children and families of the agents,.

The mission of the Secret Service is “worthy of trust and confidence.” Not in Cartegena.

In the words of a Columbian diplomat who attended the Summit, “How shameful!”

© Elizabeth Yore-2012 All Rights Reserved.

Elizabeth Yore served as Special Counsel at Harpo, Inc. Previously, she was General Counsel at the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services for 8 years and the General Counsel at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

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