The dark side of tourism

Has Cuba become a destination for Canadian pedophiles?  A recent joint investigation by the Toronto Star and El Nuevo Herald says so, and details the arrest of a Canadian accused of “making child pornography, six counts of sexual interference, invitation to sexual touching and committing an indecent act” during trips to Cuba between June 2011 and July 2012.  James McTurk, 78, is said to have made between eight to ten trips to Cuba per year—which raises uncomfortable questions as to how he afforded so much foreign travel on his postal worker’s pension and why neither Canadian nor Cuban officials noticed him for so long.

The report cites a study by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that says

“Cuba appears to be a potential destination for Canadian travelling sex offenders. Seven of the suspected travelling child sex offenders identified in the domestic law enforcement assessment had visited Cuba. This is the second most visited destination country among those whom Canadian law enforcement investigated for travelling child sex offenses.”

The RCMP study also said that Cuba did not appear to have many of the common factors associated with child sex offenses. “Unlike other countries mentioned in this document, Cuba’s population is well-educated and literacy rates are very high. The police and other officials appear to treat sex crimes, particularly those against children, seriously and professionally.” Such crimes usually occur not in tourist resorts where security is relatively good, but in private residences (casas particulares) where pedophiles are able to “access children and locals who are willing to facilitate crimes against children in return for financial compensation.”

It should not be too difficult for Cuban officials to monitor suspicious foreigners in Cuba, for international visitors are photographed upon arrival and departure.  This blogger stayed at two casas particulares in Havana, and my hosts were required to take my tourist card and register my stay with the authorities within 24 hours of my arrival.

Last year I spoke to someone from a child protection NGO who had worked in Cuba.  He said that while child sexual abuse was a problem in the country, it tended to occur along the same lines as in Western countries—that is, such cases usually happened within households and not as the result of human trafficking. Cuba has a low birth rate, which means there aren’t that many cases of impoverished rural families sending children to live with distant relatives in the cities, where they may fall through the cracks of whatever social support system is in place.  The country’s housing shortage means that living quarters are often crowded and sleeping spaces shared in uncomfortable ways.

“It’s a huge problem,” he said, adding that his Cuban hosts would not share any statistics on the issue, “and we quickly learned not to ask.”