Saturday, April 14, 2012

Part Three: Former RCMP investigator a beacon for change (with video)

[TRAFFICKING MONITOR: URLs of all six parts are at the end of this post.]

Source: The Vancouver Sun

By Daphne Bramham, Vancouver Sun Sun March 23, 2012

SVAY PAK, Cambodia

A few years ago, sex tourists trolled the brothels of this dusty village looking for sex with children and willing to pay a premium for virgins
and children as young as three.

Little girls with lipstick no longer strike sexy poses along the main
street. But pimps still come and collect their girls and boys from
 a kids’ club run by a non-profit group in a former brothel on that
same street.

Agape International Mission runs that program. It also runs
a school, retraining for girls rescued from the sex trade, a
 medical clinic, and a gym for boys and young men (some
 of whom are pimps and brothel owners).
Vancouver-based Ratanak International provided the seed
 money and continues to fund a third of all the programs.
In November, Ratanak’s founder, Brian McConaghy, came to
 take a look at the most recent rental, a former brothel that
 will be converted into a clothing factory.
“No, it can’t be,” he said as he stepped through the door.
 “This is my Bakker crime scene ... It’s astonishing. This is
my very first crime scene [in Cambodia]. I’ve seen too
many [child pornography] videos of what was going on
here ... This is poetry that it will be transformed in this way.”
McConaghy first entered the building in 2004 as an RCMP
 forensics expert along with a team from the Vancouver
 Police Department. It’s here that they found evidence
proving that Donald Bakker of Vancouver had raped
 seven girls, the youngest of whom was seven.
The building is already different. Dozens of doors once
 ran off the central core.
“There were little cubicles, seedy little rooms. That’s
where men, mostly foreigners, came to rape young
The cubicles are gone and all that remains in the empty
 space is an old video game: Lethal Enforcer. “The kids
 used to play on it in the front, waiting to get abused,”
 he says.
McConaghy’s first visit to this building dramatically
changed  his life and that of several hundred children.
In July 2005, Bakker pleaded guilty and became Canada’s
 first convicted sex tourist.
Four years later and soon after testifying as an expert at
the trial of serial killer Willie Pickton, McConaghy quit
 the RCMP. He was two years short of qualifying for a
full pension.
Brian McConaghy grew up in Belfast, Northern Ireland,
 a protestant, in the midst of ‘The Troubles.’
His family immigrated to Ottawa when he was a teen.
Dyslexic, McConaghy was a poor student. But he
managed to get into Algonquin College’s museum
studies program. Fascinated by weapons, he landed
 an internship at the Canadian War Museum where
 his detailed knowledge came to the attention of RCMP
recruiters. Get a university degree, any degree, they
 said, and we’ll hire you.
After graduating with a history degree, McConaghy was
 hired and sent to Vancouver.
“I went from having a stable, happy home life to feeling
 like an abandoned kid living on a diet of autopsies,
 crime scenes and staff sergeants yelling in my face.”
Through a friend from Ottawa, McConaghy met a group
 of Christian, international students studying at the
University of British Columbia. “Most of them were Asian,
 but I bonded with them because I felt like a refugee, too.”
On his first vacation, the 24-year-old flew to Hong Kong
 in October 1989. He had the names of friends of friends
 and a vague plan to “see Asia.” About a week later, he
 arrived at a Bangkok guest house late at night.
There were young girls from northern Thai hill tribes
 there, smoking dope.
“Mr. Christian RCMP told the girls not to do that
because they’d end up in prostitution,” McConaghy
says with a laugh. “Shades of things to come.”
In Bangkok, one of the friends of McConaghy’s friends
 was a young woman working for the Christian Missionary
 Alliance, which ran a refugee camp on the
 Thai-Cambodian border. McConaghy talked his
way into visiting the camp. There, a medic named Obie
met McConaghy, made it clear that sightseers weren’t
welcome and dropped him off at a hostel.
With nothing to do, McConaghy put on his Walkman,
turned up the volume and went to the local market. He
was oblivious to the thud, thud, thud of shelling nearby
and to all the people gathering around radios listening
 to reports of the Vietnamese coming across the border.
Suddenly, Obie appeared, shoved McConaghy into a
 truck with a plan to deliver him to an evacuation centre.
But McConaghy balked.
“I told him I grew up in Belfast and was totally comfortable
 with shelling.”
Obie didn’t argue. They went to the medical centre where
over the next few days, McConaghy loaded injured
people on to stretchers. He keenly recalls one woman
 who staggered down the mountainside.
“She was featherweight. She had come through the
minefields. I couldn’t begin to guess her age because
she was so emaciated and she absolutely stank. She was
 filthy with excrement from diarrhea caked on her. She was
a pathetic piece of humanity and suddenly my whole world
opened up.”
Where had she come from? he asked. The killing fields
 of Kampuchea, he was told. Kampuchea was the Khmer
 Rouge’s name for Cambodia.
You’ll never get in there, he was told.
“To an Irish guy, that’s raising a red flag. I had to go.”
Back home, McConaghy rented the movie The Killing Fields,
and soaked up everything he could about Cambodia and
 the Khmer Rouge.
The following year, he was back in Bangkok. It took a
month to negotiate a Cambodian visa. Because Cambodia
and Vietnam were still at war, Canadian embassy staff
warned that if anything went wrong, no one would come
 to get him.
On May 1 — May Day and a holiday in Communist
countries — McConaghy boarded a Russian-built plane
with bare tires in the Laotian capital of Vientiane. The
only other passengers were Cambodian-Americans.
One was going to find his mother; the other wanted to
see the country’s killing fields that he’d escaped as a
 child. One was excited; the other was terrified that even
 if he found his mother, he’d be arrested and never get
 out again.
“We flew through Vietnam while the pilot and co-pilot
negotiated landing in Phnom Penh ... I was still young
 enough and naive enough to be exhilarated. I realized
what a rare privilege it was to go to forbidden places.”
Only a few hundred thousand were living in Phnom Penh
 at the time. Most of the city’s two million people had been
 marched out after Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge seized
 power in 1975. In the four years that followed, an
estimated two million people died of starvation or were
murdered in the killing fields.
Terrified and traumatized, no one used their real name.
There was no electricity. Women baked baguettes over
open fires to sell in the city’s alleys.
“It was so silent. In the buildings abandoned by people
led off to be executed, people from the country had moved
 in and used them like caves ... What I was looking at were
 people living as if they were in the Stone Age, with
Mercedes and TVs in heaps, the residue of a functional
society laid waste by its own people.”
McConaghy got around on cyclos, bicycles fitted
with a two passenger seats in front.
“It was so quiet you could hear the squeak of the
saddle. There was a certain charm to it ... There was
a dignity to that poverty. Despite everything, they were
trying to do the best they could with nothing.”
To his Communist minders’ horror, McConaghy
insisted on going to the famous temples at Angkor.
“I was walking with soldiers carrying AK-47s. The fighting
 was so close you could hear the soldiers yelling at each
 other. We could see the odd Buddhist monks and a
few kids in novice robes.”
Retreating hastily to Siem Reap, he went back to
Grand Hotel.
“One of the most profound experiences I had was
 in the dining lounge, which was derelict with six or
eight folding tables with yellowed cloths with holes
 in them. A little, old man came out in a high-necked
white tunic from colonial times with a tray held up
over his shoulder. His jacket was stained and
worn-out. It was heartbreaking. He served us as
if we were in Paris, presenting the very best that
 he had, even though it was only pork and rice.”
Weird as it all was, McConaghy had fallen in love
with Cambodia and its people.
Despite the United Nations embargo against Cambodia,
 over the next year McConaghy amassed nine tonnes
and $10,000-worth of equipment and drugs with
 donations from pharmaceutical companies and
friends. He bought a shipping container. Most
 importantly, he figured out that he had to switch
containers in Singapore so that it couldn’t be
traced to Canada.
Ever the forensic scientist, McConaghy videotaped
the container before it left so he could identify its
 unique rust spots when it arrived in Phnom Penh.
 He didn’t want it to be scooped by Communist
 government officials.
Once the container arrived in Phnom Penh,
McConaghy spent two days negotiating its release
 with government officials who threatened to arrest
 him. All the while, he was suffering from both
dysentery  and strep throat.
In the end, the government agreed to let him
distribute the medical supplies.
McConaghy had breached the UN embargo. He was
 hailed as a hero on state-run television. The
government held a reception in his honour. More
importantly, the health minister gave McConaghy a
 fax number to call whenever he needed a visa.
“That was gold. Because when you go from taking
 two suitcases into a country to taking nine tonnes, you
have to do it again. And that’s the beginnings of Ratanak.”
But, it was his first and last container. It was just too difficult.
Not that it stopped him. In 1992, after McConaghy found
out that a hospital in Kampong Cham province had
 no water, he arranged to have a pump flown in from
 Scandinavia. A water tower needed to be built, but
there were none to be bought in Cambodia. McConaghy
 and local volunteers scavenged abandoned work
sites and took what they needed.
A crane was assembled on the back of a truck that
 was so old, it wouldn’t move. McConaghy hired 20
 guys to push it to the site.
More Canadians started handing him cheques for
 what he called the Ratanak Project, named after a little girl
who died of an curable illness due to a lack of medicine.
For three years, an American charitable organization
 called Samaritan’s Purse acted as Ratanak’s banker
and issued tax receipts to donors. But as Ratanak grew,
Samaritan’s founder Franklin Graham refused to
continue issuing receipts for projects he didn’t control.
So, Graham offered McConaghy a full-time job
overseeing bigger budgets and more projects in
more countries.
McConaghy declined. His heart was fixed on
For the next 14 years, McConaghy had two full-time jobs
— one with Ratanak, the other with the RCMP. Only the
 RCMP job paid a salary.
He went to Cambodia at least once every year. His ties
deepened after he and his wife, Louise, adopted two
Cambodian boys.
His love for the country and its people never wavered,
not even in 1997 after he’d helped Michael Senor go home.
Adopted as a child by Canadians, the young man
was conflicted about his identity. McConaghy encouraged
 him to go to Cambodia.
But when Michael arrived, there were tanks and firefights
on Phnom Penh’s streets. Michael went out on the streets
to capture it on film. He didn’t understand Khmer and
 didn’t stop when soldiers yelled at him. One put an
AK-47 to his head and killed him.
His Canadian fiance witnessed it and only escaped the
 country with the help of the Canadian and Australian
Later, Michael’s grieving parents donated money to
Ratanak, which is used to fund a home for children
whose parents are in prison.
“I was happy to continue working with the RCMP
because I had my different worlds,” McConaghy says.
But in 2004, his worlds collided.
McConaghy was working on the Pickton investigation,
studying the cut marks on bones and fragments of
 some of the 49 women that Pickton is believed to
 have murdered when Vancouver police answered
a distressed call from a woman. She was being tortured
by Donald Bakker in an isolated park along Vancouver’s
waterfront. They searched Bakker’s car and found
pornographic videos stashed in the trunk.
The girls in the videos were Asian. But where were
 they from?
Detective Ron Bieg had heard of McConaghy and
 his connection to Cambodia. He called him and
McConaghy reluctantly agreed to view the tapes.
“It wasn’t a matter that I was investigating. And if
you’ve never seen videos of children being abused,
you don’t realize that it is a pivotal experience. You
have a choice after you’ve seen them: You either walk
 away from it or you extract everything you can from it
and allow it to change you. I did the latter.”
The girls were speaking Khmer — the language of
Cambodia — and Vietnamese. McConaghy also noticed
a 2003 calendar on the wall. McConaghy didn’t
usually watch NBC’s Dateline. That night he did. McConaghy
 believes it was divine intervention.
It featured a segment called “Children for Sale” about a
raid by the International Justice Mission (IJM) on a
brothel in Svay Pak. He immediately called Bieg and told
him to turn on his TV.
The next day, they ran Bakker’s tapes next to the
Dateline clips. There were some of the same girls
and the same calendar. They got in touch with IJM
 and determined that four of the seven girls Bakker
assaulted had been rescued in the raid and were in
a Phnom Penh safe house.
McConaghy, Bieg and two other investigators
arrived in Svay Pak shortly after that. Their first
stop was the brothel where the girls were rescued
and the one that will soon be the Ratanak-funded
textile factory.
“Up until then, I always knew the sex-trade thing
 was there. But I didn’t want to go near it because
 the police were massively corrupt and you could
get knifed very easily,” McConaghy says. “The
vast majority of work that NGOs do is not adversarial.
 But the minute they intersect with the criminal
community to try to intercept their products
[the children], it’s like separating cocaine from
 drug dealers.
“Bakker opened that world to me. It was clear
 there were some senior police officers who
were trustworthy even during that first trip for
 the Bakker investigation. There were also
parents who are disgusted by what was happening.
So, I realized that doing something about it was
do-able with the right contacts.”
Meanwhile, Californians Don and Bridget Brewster
heard about Ratanak. Don was a minister at an
evangelical church; Bridget was a wife and mother
who’d raised four children. They’d spent time in Cambodia
and even though they had no experience and no
 specific training, they were determined to set up
 a trauma recovery centre for girls and young women
 rescued from the sex trade.
McConaghy flew to California to meet them, listened
carefully to their plan for the nascent Agape International
 Missions and then handed them a $50,000 cheque.
 They were so shocked that Bridget says they neglected
 to say thank you.
For the next three years, Ratanak paid all of AIM’s
 bills and it still provides about a third of AIM’s
 program costs.
AIM rented two villas in an upscale Phnom Penh
neighbourhood and spent a year training staff. In 2006,
he first girls moved in to the NewSong Centre in 2006.
It was only three years ago that McConaghy found
 out that among Ratanak’s beneficiaries are some
 of Bakker’s victims. Several went to NewSong;
another was at a Ratanak-funded trauma centre
run by Hagar International, an Australian-based NGO.
At about the same time, McConaghy had made his
decision to resign from the RCMP and devote all his
 time and energy to expanding Ratanak’s work in
It now has full-time staff in Cambodia and, for the
 first time, will operate its own programs which are
likely to focus on prevention. Under consideration
 are a program for sexually exploited boys as well
 as one for women who have been turned out of
 brothels after they’re too old and too damaged to
 continue. With no skills and little education, most
 of those women end up begging on the streets.
But many also turn into pimps and human
As much as McConaghy admires the rescue work
done by groups like IJM, it’s not for him.
Since his first visit, he has felt called to help
Cambodians lift themselves out of half a century
 of violence and poverty. It’s the complicated,
slow-moving stuff of development from digging
wells to building schools and strengthening the
 justice system.
And it’s the only way to build a society where
 selling children into sex slavery is inconceivable.
“All of that is much less emotionally satisfying
 than kicking in doors and rounding up these guys,”
McConaghy says wryly.
Yet, it’s what provides McConaghy with both joy and hope.


Part One: ‘It was a life of darkness’ (with video)

Limey Y was seven when her parents died. Her aunt and uncle refused to take her in, so a neighbour &#...

rape cell cambodia

Part Two: Svay Pak’s glimmers of hope (with video)

Svay Pak is a hellhole, a dirty, stinking slum of about 4,000 people. It’s also notorious for ...

chris neil svay pak

Part Two: Some of the lucky ones get rescued (with video)

Svay Pak is a hellhole, a dirty, stinking slum of about 4,000 people. It’s also notorious for ...


Part Three: Former RCMP investigator a beacon for change (with video)

A few years ago, sex tourists trolled the brothels of this dusty village looking for sex with children...

kids club

Part Four: Boys the forgotten victims (with video)

A couple of “lady boys” were working on the cutting room floor at the Daughters of Cambodia...

chris neil

Part Four: Who are the predators?

Travelling sex offenders are almost always men and they almost always collect child pornography. But...

trauma recovery centre

Part Four: Portrait of a front-line worker

Sopheap Thy works on the front lines against human trafficking and sexual slavery in some of the capital...


Part Five: Corrupt system, scant resources mean justice is rare

The tiny, traumatized four-year-old girl was asked unthinkable questions.


Part Five: What's to be done?

Preschool-aged victims may be off the streets, but Cambodia is still a destination of choice for sexual...


Part Six: From poverty to social pariah

Sreylin is tiny. Her dangling flip-flops barely touch the floor even though she’s sitting on the...

killing fields

Part Six: Echoes of Cambodia's haunting past in its dehumanizing present

Photos of the dead fill display cases at the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide, each a haunting reminder...

sex tourists

Interactive map: Canadians charged or convicted under sex-tourist legislation

This map shows both travelling Canadian sexual predators charged or convicted under Section 7 (4.1) ...

No comments:

Post a Comment