Monday, November 28, 2011


It finally happened.

As a result of the hysteria generated by the western press, and perhaps a bit of racism as well, today I was accused of being a pedophile, for absolutely no other reason than being a white male in the company of brown children – my son and daughter. 

First, just a bit about us. I’m 50+ years old, white, a businessman and have lived in Cambodia for more than 18 years. I’m married to an Asian woman. We’ve been together more than 10 years and have two beautiful children - a 9 year old girl and 7 year old boy. We are the natural parents of both. They are wonderful children, the loves of my life. They are well-behaved, excellent students and speak perfectly accented American English as well as 2-3 other languages. And though it sickens me that the situation requires me to make note of their racial features… though they are not distinctly Asian, they are darker than me and not 100% European in appearance, to anybody with an eye, clearly ‘kon kut’ (mixed race.)

I work a lot, perhaps too much, but always reserve Sundays for my family and children. It’s become a Sunday afternoon tradition in our family to give Mom a break, some time for herself. The kids and I always go somewhere together on Sunday afternoons - the Museum, the park, the Palace, the Russian Market, or quite often the riverfront for snacks and CD shopping, as we did today. 

We took a tuk-tuk to the riverfront, got out at K-West (Sisowath Quay and Street 154) and started walking up the riverfront road. My children were dressed in their Sunday best, happy and smiling. We strolled hand in hand, my daughter anxious to buy the newest installment of Harry Potter at the CD shop, my son looking forward to strawberry and passion fruit ice cream at K-West.

We hadn’t got but 40 meters when I noticed a woman – white, 50ish, seemingly a tourist - walking toward us taking photos in our direction. A man, presumably the husband, stood next to her. As we got closer I thought she might be trying to get a riverfront shot, perhaps of something behind me, so I stepped slightly to the side to get out of the way. But she tracked us with her camera. As we got closer and she kept shooting I furrowed my brow in a ‘what are you doing?’ sort of way, but didn’t actually say anything.

She held up her camera, pointed at it and said, “Internet!” I wasn’t sure I got the meaning so I said “what?” She pointed at her camera again and said with a smirk, “Internet,” pointed at me and said, “you pedo!” Hearing clearly but not wanting to make a mistake I stepped closer to her and asked again. She repeated, “Photo you, internet, you pedo…for police,” in a distinctly Italian accent. I said something like “These are my children.” She just shook her head and started to raise her camera again. I said, “You want police? You want to call the police?” She nodded. I said, “I’ll call police.” She nodded again and we stepped to the side of the pavement together. My children backed off a few steps, frightened by the obvious tension in our voices. I pulled out my phone, called my staff and asked them to call the police and I called the police myself as well. I told them where I was and asked them to come quickly.

We stood there uncomfortably for a moment. I considered grabbing the camera, but didn’t want to start a fight, especially with my children there. I motioned my children to us and told my daughter to explain who she was. I figured my daughter’s thick American accent alone should be enough. My daughter started to tell her name, age and such when the Italian woman cut her off. “No English. No English,” she barked. Startled, my children moved behind me.

We stood there another uncomfortable minute, waiting. The woman started to get nervous. She said “I go,” and tried to push past me. I said “No, we wait for police.” She repeated that she was going. I told her to either wait for the police or delete the photos. She said, “No, you pedo,” and tried to push past me again. I stood firm and told her we were going to wait for the police. She pushed me back but I stayed in front of her like a blocker. I didn’t touch her myself because she was a woman, but she pushed me back repeatedly. It became a jostling and yelling match, her pushing, me blocking, staggering down the riverfront back toward K-West. Khmers and tourists stood and stared at the commotion. I just kept repeating, “wait for the police or delete the photos,” as did she, “no, no…go, go.” 

Through all this her husband did nothing to help her. I kept expecting him to jump in. Rather hoping he would actually.  But he just looked uncomfortable, slowly, silently, wimpishly following behind his wife.

In front of K-West they jumped in a tuk-tuk. I thought about getting in too. Or perhaps grabbing a motodup. I saw my children standing about 15 meters away, wide-eyed. I didn’t want to involve them in a chase. This was already too much. I pulled out my phone and aimed it at the woman to take a photo. She screamed, “No photo! No photo!” and covered her face. It took a few seconds for my camera to work allowing her time to cover. I took several photos, all of her with face covered.

After they left, I called the police back and told them she was gone and to not bother coming.

My kids and I went into K-West, got some tea and sodas and we talked about what had happened. I tried to explain, leaving out the bit about pedophilia and replacing it with ‘she thought I was trying to steal you.’ “Why?” they asked. I could only say because I’m white and they look Asian. “But we’re a family,” they said. They know that their Mom is Asian and I’m a barang, but they haven’t yet learned that this is an important distinction in the minds of some.

I know there is more to it than that, but how do I explain that to a 7 and 9 year old?

In moments of silence, as they tried to comprehend what this woman had done, I tweeted about it. The whole thing left me rattled. Bitching about it on internet seemed to help relieve the tension a bit.

My daughter made an astute observation in the aftermath. Thirty minutes later, as we walked to the CD shop she said, “She knows nothing about Cambodia. Doesn’t she know that Asians and Americans can have children? She doesn’t know anything.”

I think my daughter is right about that, or perhaps even understated it a bit. The woman doesn’t know anything about Cambodia. She, in fact, probably only imagines she knows something because of what she has read in the western press, which is something less than nothing in many cases.

If this Italian woman isn’t simply a racist, her mind has probably been twisted by the constant stream of sensational, repetitive and often wildly-overstated stories of western pedophiles and abused children in Cambodia.  And not only by the western press but by NGOs that profit from it and feed the beast with exaggerated stats and a constant stream of rehashed horrors stories that keep the funds flowing and the presses humming.

Back in the US a few months ago I saw MSNBC playing their 8 year old ‘Children for Sale’ video yet again, about a brothel village that hasn’t existed in more than half a decade. Some NGOs are still pawning off the ’33,000 child prostitutes in Cambodia’ stat when there aren’t 33,000 prostitutes of any age in Cambodia (link). Some Christian NGOs tell their people that there are women chained to beds and being raped in hostess bars in the center of the tourist district on the Phnom Penh riverfront. Every westerner busted for pedophilia in Cambodia is repeated in the international press for weeks while the fact that they make up a tiny fraction of the pedos in Cambodia goes unmentioned. Nicholas Kristof parachutes into Cambodia to do a sensational live-tweet of a brothel raid, painting himself the cowboy hero riding to the rescue of women and children in the Wild West (link1 link 2). Some NGOs in Cambodia parade their rescued victims (link) of trafficking in front of an insatiable press and voyeuristic tourists to repeat their stories of victimhood again and again - donations accepted. Sex in Cambodia sells. 

Don’t get me wrong. Human trafficking and trafficking in children for sex is a real and present problem in Cambodia, and the rest of the world. There are pedophiles, especially amongst the Khmer and Asians, and certainly westerners too. It all needs to be addressed, there is no doubt about that. But the western press’s manic fixation on abusive sex in Cambodia has made the country name synonymous with pedophilia, unfairly and inaccurately so.

From her exposure to the press, tourists like this Italian woman think that pedophiles are as common as cockroaches, that any white man with an Asian looking child must be a pedo who can simply waltz through tourist areas in broad daylight with a prepubescent child on each hand. (And I can’t help but believe that if my children had been white, she wouldn’t have made this judgment about us.) Kristof’s sensationalism has 3-day tourists believing they too can play super-hero, identifying pedos at a glance, swooping to the rescue and saving a child in between their afternoon visit to the Royal Palace and authentic Cambodian Curry dinner on the riverfront.

Ultimately, as good as their intentions might be, as important as the problem is, the press, some NGOs and these misguided tourists are doing the country, the victims of trafficking, and yes, even little people like me a terrible disservice, while enriching and glorifying themselves in the process. This needs to stop. This isn’t a game or an action hero movie or an opportunity for tourists to feel righteous pity. The problems need to be addressed realistically and not in the context of sensationalism, mania, big-money, and dare I say, racism.

If, unlike this Italian woman, you have a reasonable, rational belief that you have seen a child in a risk situation, by all means, call the ChildSafe helpline, if possible keep the child in sight and wait until the ChildSafe team arrives to sort things out.

Anyway, I figure that when my photo turns up on some Italian website as another pedophile operating openly and with impunity in Cambodia, it will also include a story of my powerful police connections that were on their way to protect me and how she had to flee for her life. A narrow escape by our heroine, just like in the movies. Cambodia is a very dangerous place, you know. And her harrowing tale might even generate a few donations for some Cambodian anti-trafficking NGO.


  1. I put the blame on the media. I can say this because I live in Jakarta, and you know what media tells about this town and this country.
    You guys are beautiful (I mean, you, your wife and children). Have a great day. God bless

  2. Truly a shame you and your kids had to go through this ordeal... I hope they get their heads around what happened soon. Many thanks for sharing this stupidity with us; a shame you didn't get her face in the photos so she could be well and truly be damned publicly for her actions. My Asian wife and I have a 5 yr old daughter, and the wife points out people giving us the "knowing eye" almost every time we walk the riverfront.

  3. It is truly a shame you had to be assaulted by such ignorance. Being a tourist and living in SE Asia I'm surprised by judgmental stereotypes. One we get often because my ex, live nearby is farang also, and including our son are a clean cut well dressed family - we are automatically missionaries (were not). It's a huge joke in our Moo Ban, as several good friends living nearby are family friends, at the expats who say they will never waste a single word on a missionary family like ours.

    Ps, your kids sounds like great kids

  4. "It finally happened."
    This sounds as though you have been expecting this to happen one day, being 50+ with two young kids.

  5. I am really that your kids had to go through that it is fortunate that they did not understand. Too bad the cops did not come - would have been nice to get the tourist done up under the defamation laws.

  6. "This sounds as though you have been expecting this to happen one day, being 50+ with two young kids."

    In a way, I have been. Not being 50+ with two kids but being a white man with brown children in Cambodia. I am not blind to the effects of the press on people's perception of Cambodia and this has been building for years. Tourists think they see foreign pedos almost as soon as they get off the plane in Cambodia. While very disturbing it was not wholly surprizing when it finally came down on me.

  7. Good for you for calling the police. A learning experience for your kids but
    that's part of growing up. It does suck that people assume so much from the
    get go. I saw a similar thing in Sihanoukville,and wasn't impressed with the assumers. I hope the rest of your day with your children was great and that
    she went away thinking a bit about her actions. Unlikely she did,but by her snapping pics of people without their permission,she doesn't seem the type

  8. GOOD FOR YOU! Hopefully that woman thinks twice next time!

  9. What a horrible and yet very revealing story about the prejudices of not only Western tourists new to SE Asia but especially a Western female tourist new to SE Asia....someone who knows nothing at all, not even a little, and yet who feels free to parade around in a self-righteous cloud of her own creation....wish her a speedy return to Italy and her life of over-consumption and ignorance....good riddance....

  10. The blame is on her and her alone. She made the decision to be influenced by the media and not take the 0.5 seconds to look at the situation and realize what was actually going on. This tourist did not come to learn about Cambodia, she already had an idea in her mind, which she is unwilling to change... a shame she spent money on that plane ticket.
    Sorry to hear this happened, you handled it a lot better than I ever would.

  11. Funny, because now that I am back in USA with my Euro-Asian grandson, everyone just thinks he is adopted!

  12. Really sorry this happened to you and your kids, Casey. I worked in anti trafficking, child protection & child rights in Cambodia for 8 years, and I know that the VAST majority of kids in Cambodia are sadly abused by those they know (same stats as every other country in the world). As for the sex tourists or genuine pedos, more Asian than Westerners, just that the Asian ones are more discreet. The righteous, holier-than-thou, cowboy mentality of the likes of Kristoff and some of those crazy commando-type Christian groups makes my skin crawl (and I work for a faith-based NGO now and identify myself as Christian...). And if you ask me, they are putting children at MORE risk, by driving it all further underground. Wish you'd caught that woman's photo, and I wish you luck explaining that to your kids...maybe when they're a bit older.

  13. Nice one.

    Its just amazing that this women possibly comes from Italy where they had a prime minister who slept with under age girls for money and he couldn't get voted out but as soon as she hits SE Asia all bets are off. Shocking.

  14. Having lived and worked in Cambodia on mine clearance and EOD projects on and off since 1992 I have also met these small minded ill informed morons that consider all of us that work or live in the Kingdom as "Pedo's." Unfortunately the bigoted idiots that I have had the misfortune to encounter have been in the UK and never even visited or know where Cambodia is!!
    Good luck with your plight and keep on loving your children as any good father should!!
    Regards Gary Elmer

  15. So sorry you had to go through that. Exactly the same thing happened to me, in almost the exact same riverfront location 14 years ago when I - white woman - was walking along with my Cambodian adopted child. Wish the tourists would learn to ask before they shoot off their mouths and cameras.

  16. I live in Phnom Penh, about 2 years ago I walked into my local pub, an Aussie garden bar, business/NGO/kid/dog-friendly, run by good mates of mine. I'd just crossed the road and was still holding hands with my 15 year-old eurasian daughter, she was still just young enough to accept holding hands - I'm always warning her that the most dangerous things in Cambodia are the roads. 2 tables of 'development world'people turned, went silent and scowled at me. My regret is only that I didn't go over and tell them all to go f#$% themselves.
    Don't worry about your kids - mine didn't even discover there was something called race until they were about 10 years old, and I guess finding out there's something called race goes along with finding out there are things called bigotry, narrow-mondedness and stupidity. All this stuff is part of the growing up experience for kids.

  17. The MSM have become total 'presstitutes' for the 1% {actually,4% with 16% minions},and this/other blog information is the antidote along with social media prompting & links.

    People must get busy and educate themselves before jumping to uninformed assumptions...ONELOVE & you sound like those kids are fantastic future citizens.

  18. It's unfortunate that travelers who indulge in child sex & those who sensationalize the issue have created this kind of paranoia. I have met such men in Phnom Penh and also had to deal with suspicions of my motives when I was doing a video on street children for a NGO. However, the woman's behavior was astoundingly stupid.

  19. well interesting story,the proper response,would have been to take the camera,smash it on the pavement,bitch slap the women,and her husband,and leave,dont be such a pussy,this is cambodia,do what a khymer would have done,problem solved.

  20. I'm really glad I read this post. I live in PP, and I thought there was something wrong with me that I DIDN'T see pedos everywhere once I stepped off the plane. After reading this and some of the comments, I realize now that I may not be naive after all, just not prejudiced.

    As a single, white, young female here, I find that I, too, occasionally feel the pressure to have to justify my existence here.

    It's not always about pedophilia--last year at about this time, I developed a massive thyroid problem. When I went to the doctor, she saw that I was a young American female teaching English and promptly accused me of being an end-stage drug addict, since that's what all young Western English teachers are, right?

    The myths are all around, and sometimes I wonder how I'll ever re-integrate into American society.

    Anyway, thanks again for the post. You're going on my blogroll, good sir!

  21. Poverty and the lack of law enforcement both contribute the prevalence of sex tourism in Cambodia. I would like to applaud international aid organizations like World Vision for helping to combat sex slavery in the country.

  22. Also see NGO APLE and their methods at:

  23. The mass hysteria in Italy is fed by inaccurate reporting of the problems of sexual abuse and missing children. For example, a 17-year-old Rom (gypsy) boy was taken into custody by the police and placed in a group home. When he escaped to be reunited with his family, he entered the statistics as a "missing child." He was later recaptured in another city but gave a different name, escaped again to be reunited with his family, and is now counted as "two missing children."

  24. Thanks for this! I have also lived in Cambodia for 18 years, have children of color, and have had similar experiences - if not quite so confrontational. I agree some NGOs and the media have sensationalized the issue to their own advantage.

  25. its not just in your country, unfortunately. My son is of mixed race (hispanic-eastern european), but looks very white to most people. His father often gets that 'knowing eye'and it pisses me off no end. I am sorry your children had to learn about racism so young.

  26. White women are such racist, hateful, evil bitches. Most western women are brainwashed by man-hating feminism, by MAN HATRED, and so they hate all white men.

    White women are very nasty people to be around, which is why I have absolutely nothing to do with any of them.

    You pointed out her husband was just a pathetic beta-male pussy-whipped mangina. This is what happens when you give women freedom. They become out of control.

    White women are the most evil cunts on the planet, I hope they all fucking die.

    1. Really 'Anonymous', what a rude and hateful post, and silly and distasteful.

  27. I'm Italian and I feel ashamed that there are people so ignorant and arrogant travelling around. Such supidity is sadly fueled by the media. The two things go together: people don't want to hear the truth, the just want to hear what they have been brainwashed to like. And the media give it to them. I have been traveling/working periodically in Cambodia since 1995: I have met a few western paedophiles at Km. 11, and occasionally around PP. Local peadophiles outnumbered them 10 to 1. Simply, a Khmer man would think nothing of paying a few bucks to have sex with a 13 years old prostitute. This was(and still is) happening in rural areas. Things have changed massively in the past 15 years, but people want to believe Cambodia is still just out of the Khmer Rouge era. Same happens with Thailand, especially regarding Pattaya and Bangkok. Tourists seem to have a weakness for sad, macabre relics of the past: the most visited places are the killing fields and S-21. Khmer Rouge genocide, paedophiles, opium dens, street drugs: that's all they want to see or hear about, to tell their friends back home how dangerous Cambodia was. They are the real weirdos, not the locals, who just try to live a normal life in a developing country.

  28. Perfectly understandable assumption on the ladies part in those parts. You should thank her for her concern.

    You need to get out more.

  29. Hi, maybe you can help me. Do you know what happened to tpf-cambodia, the site is down?