Follow Up Report on Guatemalan Child Trafficking

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Follow Up Report on Guatemalan Child Trafficking

I’ve written recently about my experience of being offered an 8-year-old girl for the night at my hotel in San Pedro de Atitlán. It wasn’t easy to write but I felt it needed to be brought to people’s attention. And the response has been amazing.

Can’t do anything?
The hell we can’t.

I immediately started receiving emails, comments and Facebook messages from people who had suggestions and contacts, who wanted to help. Non-profits were the preferred choice, though a couple of people suggested going to the police — I didn’t think that was a good idea.

Many suggested I post the name of the hotel and shame them but someone else pointed out that this would just attract pedophiles — good point. Again, something I hadn’t thought of.

I spent one more night at the hotel after it happened, then left for Mexico. Hundreds of James Bond fantasies ran through my head of how I could lure ‘Pedro’ into my room, beat the living shit out of him and make my escape.

Maybe I’d claim the toilet was plugged, then sucker punch him when he came in. I didn’t want to kill him but I wanted to hurt him. Badly. I wanted to put him in the hospital. Where did I pack those zip ties?

But San Pedro is at the ass end of a large lake and the odds of me detaining him long enough to make an escape were thin at best. Even if I’d had a helicopter, there was nowhere to land it.

Follow Up Report on Guatemalan Child Trafficking

Interestingly, that last night he knocked on my door and asked for the following day’s rent. I invited him into the room but he refused to enter and stood outside.

Predators have good instincts.

Earlier that day, I’d taken a ‘selfie’ of he and I together — I wanted his photo to pass around. He was always asking me to buy him a beer when I walked into the yard — they sold large bottles of Toñya. This last day I bought one and played nice (that took effort) and then quickly snapped the shot, pretending to be best friends.

You can tell from the photo that he wasn’t happy about it.

I waited until I had left the area to publish anything. A couple of people mentioned that it could all just be a setup to shake the gringo down for money — something I should have considered but didn’t. I truly hope that was the case — never thought I’d say that but the idea of a little girl forced into prostitution still enrages me.

Within a week, I had 15-20 people send me leads. I contacted everyone I could and shared the details and the photo. One of those passed my information along and I was contacted by a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent at the US Embassy who asked me to call him.

He interviewed me for about twenty minutes, asking for more details. He said that the area was, indeed, a trafficking hub and that they had managed to assist in the arrest of a couple of people just last year. They have no official influence but they try to coordinate and work with other groups. They’re all doing good work.

His first question was whether I was sure I had heard correctly.

When I explained that he’d said it both in Spanish and English, he said “Yeah, that’s hard to argue with”. Pedro spoke almost no English but this line was well-rehearsed.

His last question was “If someone your age and single went there, do you think he’d approach them?”

I had been at the hotel with a friend — we had separate rooms (I snore) but were always together. When she left one morning, Pedro knocked on my door that very night.

“Oh yeah, I don’t think he would waste time.” I explained how it had played out.

“That might be something we can work with. Let me talk to some people. Maybe we can set something up.”

The outlook is bleak.
He was very honest
about that.

It took them over a year of work just to bust one guy. And the truth is that Pedro is just a middleman — he’s like that guy who offers to sell you drugs in a bar. He didn’t make them — he just moves them. The hope is that they can catch him and maybe the girl can lead them to the ringleaders. Long odds.

But at least there is hope. And there are people out there trying to make a difference.

Thank you to everyone who helped and if anyone has more ideas, please contact me.

You can find the original post here:
So I Almost Murdered Someone Yesterday

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Vagabondette Mandy August 26, 2013 at 6:13 am

I’ve actually wanted to volunteer with a trafficking NGO for a while. I should see if there is anything here in Europe. It’s such a huge and sad problem that is funded almost completely by the west. Thankfully the US made it illegal and prosecutes individuals who have sex with children while traveling. Good on you for doing something. Most people would have been pissed and then moved on.
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hippie Lee August 27, 2013 at 1:29 am

It is illegal for Americans to buy sex from children while traveling abroad. However, such crimes are rarely prosecuted.

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Vagabondette Mandy August 27, 2013 at 3:10 pm

Yes, rarely. But occasionally is better than never and if the thread dissuades even one person it’s worth it. I did a follow-on to Wes’ post with some stats, it’s linked here:
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Marlayna Glynn Brown August 26, 2013 at 6:14 am

Whoa. I’m headed to that very place in a few days – Sept 1. Thanks for sharing.

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Marlayna Glynn Brown August 26, 2013 at 6:14 am

PS – You’re such a Texan man! Always so chivalrous.

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wes August 26, 2013 at 6:17 am

ha! thanks :)

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William Urban August 26, 2013 at 8:04 am

I was oblivious to living in the middle of another child trafficking hub, Oakland, CA. I had to see a story on MSNBC, a rerun of an investigation. I saw many of the street corners from my daily commute in the story. We have MISSY here, a rescue group, and some inter-agency co-operation with the feds in spite of how messed up we are…

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Linda August 26, 2013 at 1:20 pm

Just wanted to say “Well done.” The majority of folk would have been too scared, lazy or helpless to have done anything. And much kudos to the community which offered so much advice to you too.
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Nathan August 26, 2013 at 1:58 pm

After reading the first article about almost killing that guy, I did wonder what became of that girl. It’s very noble of you to go to the trouble and try to stop what is a horrendous crime. Let’s hope that Pedro and the people he works for get what’s coming to them.
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Matthew Karsten August 26, 2013 at 6:09 pm

Good to see something may get done. I spent a month in San Pedro and didn’t see anything like this. Drugs for sure, reports of kids robbing tourists with machetes, but not any of prostitution. At least not in the open.
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Ayngelina August 26, 2013 at 7:56 pm

As a solo woman traveling I never see much of the darker side of travel that you see but I hear so many stories and I’m so proud to *know* (even though we’ve never met in person) someone who didn’t just let it pass but did something about it.
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Ceri August 27, 2013 at 12:36 pm

This is absolutely incredible. So many people in your position would have been horrified but done nothing more. I have so much admiration for you for actually doing something about it so that hopefully this means that poor girl (and however many more children) can eventually be put to safety.
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Jenna August 27, 2013 at 1:32 pm

My son is 6 and it just breaks my heart to think of any child suffering through something so incredibly disgusting. Thank you for writing about it and doing something about it. I am about to look into what reliable organizations are working to stop this.
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Megan August 27, 2013 at 2:10 pm

Thank you so much for posting this. I have a 4 year old and I don’t want to even think that something like this can happen to him. I am so glad to hear you pursued this and it sounds like there is potential that this person will be stopped.
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Keryn @ walking on travels August 27, 2013 at 3:01 pm

As a mother of 2 young children, I actually have a deep fear at the back of my mind that my children could be snatched away from me while we travel and sold into prostitution. Yes, the odds are slim, but it happens enough that it is a legitimate worry for all parents. I deeply appreciate you shining a light on this situation, so that any other traveler out there who is approached will know that there are options to help stop this evil against children in our society. Thank you for taking the time to talk to US Immigration, and getting one more disgusting human being off the streets, even if it was only for one night.
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hippie August 29, 2013 at 10:29 am

There was a businessman in Hong Kong when it was still under British rule. During one of his trips to China, his 6-year-old son was taken from him. For several years, the man kept going back to China hoping to find his son, this after the police had given up on the case.

One day, a starved beggar kid called out to the businessman, the man didn’t recognize his son at first. The kid was starved so he could work as a beggar for the beggar racket. He brought his son back home and reported it to Hong Kong police and news report, the beggar gangs were investigated and quite a few were arrested.

Please don’t give money to beggar kids in your travels. Many are captive slaves, some are even crippled by brute force to make them more appealing to ignorant tourists. If a child looks starved, give it some food. You won’t surprised to see how quickly such a kid eat it all.

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Tracey July 19, 2014 at 2:05 am

I too am a mother of young children. I love to travel with them, expose them to different cultures and lifestyles.. But am constantly plagued by the fear that one of them could be taken. This is a sound reminder of how vigilantly we must protect our children while traveling, and keep our eyes open for ways we can personally contribute to the cause, as Wes so bravely did!

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Lise Griffiths August 28, 2013 at 9:55 am

I am so glad you followed this up and were taken seriously. It is so sad that they seem to get away with it so easily, but at least there is hope. Thanks for sharing the follow-up to what happened.
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Ruzhi August 28, 2013 at 11:13 pm

Now this certainly is a very meaningful post in the travel blogosphere, writing for the greater good instead of self-focused pleasure. It’s inspired me to see what meaningful messages I can bring up through my travels. Keep it up.
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Maria September 8, 2013 at 5:16 pm

Proud of you for doing something. You may feel it wasn’t much, or not enough but rest assured Wes, it’s far more than many people would do. Kudos!
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Gabriel September 15, 2013 at 12:53 pm

At least everything is going in the right direction now. Maybe they won’t catch him through your lead but it could be this that creates or helps to create a snowball effect.
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Ryan September 21, 2013 at 10:30 pm

Wow, intense situation but it is really commendable that you followed up with leads and really tried to make a difference with this. It’s a shame that it will be so difficult for anyone to stop him and the other trafficking, but at least there are some that are trying to make a difference!
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marlayna October 4, 2013 at 11:02 pm

I was in San Pedro a few days ago, and quite sadly recalled this post. Couldn’t help but look at the children we passed and just wonder. :(

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Eitan Herman | Places to visit October 8, 2013 at 4:30 pm

After reading the your article about the killing the man almost, I was wondering what became of the girl. It’s very noble of you who go to the trouble,I’m proud of you to do something. You were not not enough it, or very, rest in peace Wes, you may feel a lot of how much people than many made ​​it. Praise!

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Jennifer November 2, 2013 at 4:49 am

I am so happy you did this, and stepped up for an innocent girl. I just stumbled across your site today, and that is heartbreaking but like you said I am glad to know there is hope. You have my respect. Jennifer
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Tana B February 12, 2014 at 8:01 am

I am actually in San Pedro right at this moment reading this. I work with sexually abused and trafficked children back home in Canada (yes people child trafficking happens everywhere in the world not just Guatemala, Cambodia or Russia). It’s a sad reality that this happens but I’m glad you had the nerve to write about it and bring attention to it.

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wes February 12, 2014 at 2:47 pm

It’s horrible and, yes, it’s worldwide. The US Embassy in Guatemala is looking into things but I haven’t heard anything from them in awhile, alas.

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jen April 11, 2014 at 4:31 am

Keeping a spotlight on the issue in any small way is helpful. The number of comments you are getting demonstrates a desire to help and keep the conversation going. No easy answers.
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Miriam of Adventurous Miriam June 5, 2014 at 4:19 am

Wes, this post touched my heart deeply. Sex trafficking is an issue very close to me and I’m glad to see you shed light on it – because someone needs to. You have done a good deed, and even though Pedro is only a middle man and that little girl is one unfortunate child out of many, it still takes one preditor out of the equation and she gets a chance of a normal life. I wish more people would have the courage to help.

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