Abuse: Travelling sex offender

15 Nov 2009

Ranjitha Gunasekaran:
"We didn't think he would do something like this as well!” a police officer attached to the Mahabalipuram police station exclaimed, the day after Chennai's Cyber Crime sleuths arrested Will Heum (the police refer to him as John Williams) for uploading child pornography onto the Internet. For the Mahabalipuram cops he was an old acquaintance. They had arrested the Dutchman first in 2002 over allegations that he was sexually abusing boys in an orphanage he ran in Poonjeri near the temple town.

Indeed, Heum is the perfect case study of an alarming kind of tourist visiting India these days — the travelling sex offender. Rights of the Child in the context of Tourism, a compilation of articles updated by Equitable Tourism in 2008 quotes a paper discussing the modus operandi of such offenders. “Running an orphanage is a typical cover for paedophiles, another modus operandi is to claim to be producers of films and documentaries.”

Vidya Reddy, executive director, Tulir, which works in this area, says, “These individuals are more frequently taking the NGO route, arriving as volunteers, gaining access to vulnerable children. The registration and checking up on homes is quite lax”.

Additional director general of police Archana Ramasundaram agrees. “Tell me, why are there so many orphanages in Mahabalipuram of all places? Are there no destitute children anywhere else?”

Indeed, Mahabalipuram has a Wikipedia entry that mentions orphanages as an attraction in addition to the legendary rock-cut temples on the shoreline. Several accounts of foreign tourists visiting the homes and taking children out on unsupervised outings can be found online.

Heum had an uninterrupted four years but his luck ran out when some former victims filed an FIR alleging that he made the boys (aged 14-19 at the time) bathe him, and that he sodomised them. The police arrested Heum, sealed the home and sent the children to their families. Shortly after, he was out on bail even though he had neither a valid passport nor a visa.

missing complainants
Since then, time has virtually stood still.
For one, the Mahabalipuram police say that Heum has filed for “317” (a provison in the Cr PC that allows an accused to be absent from court) for the past seven months now, excusing him from being present. The six boys listed as complainants have not been in touch with police. And Heum’s lawyer Kumaresan told Express that he had gone looking for the boys in Pondicherry and not found them, so there was no foundation for this case.

Meanwhile, in 2003, the Mahabalipuram police had asked the home ministry to deport Heum. The response is still awaited. Senior police officials claim that sometimes the foreign ministry does not pursue such matters because it may affect ties with the other nation. Also, tourism contributes about 11.6 per cent of GDP and employs 9.4 per cent of labour.

Equitable Tourism also points out, “Unlike Sri Lanka and Thailand, this problem (child sex tourism) has not been seriously tackled and has remained shrouded in secrecy, making the likelihood of child abusers being caught and punished very low.” It is no real surprise then that sex offenders are now shifting their gaze to India. Heum’s case is a clear sign that India is a haven for child sex offenders. They’re probably busy packing for the new El Dorado.

But if Heum did exactly what he wanted even after he was exposed, the story of Paul Henry Dean makes Shantaram seem an amateur. Dean, accused of abusing boys from the Mary Ellen Gerber Foundation Children’s Village in Orissa’s Puri last year, is a man of many names.

the fake surgeon
The Australian first came to India in 1976 on a fake passport. Later it was found that he was wanted in Australia for financial fraud. In India, he evaded the law and fashioned a new life for himself — even performing cataract surgeries and amputations in villages.

The FIR filed by Gerber on behalf of the boys last November describes him as “Professor @ Tata @ Paul Allen @ Paul Parivaraj...an eminent surgery doctor (sic), priest and consultant”. She states that he had been terrifying the children and the staff. She had found that “professor had used boys (12-20 age) in a sexual way.”

The FIR quotes a former employee saying, “Tata sucked the penis of young boys and swallowed their sperm for giving himself youthful energy... If they don’t accept… he beats them behind the head...” Sixteen victims agree to testify, she adds, urging urgent action.

Dean was arrested. The police diary states that he denied the charges, did not have a passport or a visa. He gave his name as Allen Herbert Rose, MBBS from Western Australia University, 1965. He also refused consular help. After his arrest, they found that he had been accused of similar offences in 2001 in Andhra Pradesh. In Vijayanagaram, after having literally jumped bail by leaping off a running train! Depressingly, he too is out on bail, no one knows where.

Shortly after, an Australian Broadcasting Corporation investigation revealed his escape from Australia, his abuse of an entire generation of boys in Titlagarh village and more. The police, however, are unaware of these details.

The Australian Federal Police were questioned about the case. Testifying before Senator Brandis, Commissioner Kealty stated, “We have made repeated official requests for information from the Indian authorities that have remained unanswered. Requests have been sent on five separate occasions since November 2007, with the last request on January 31, 2009.” Puri police know nothing of this.

Meanwhile, the Children’s Village was deserted when visited. Gerber is said to have left the country two months ago and Eliziar Rose and Ruth Tumati (named as Dean’s accomplices in the FIR) are evidently in charge. It would appear that the witnesses are in their care. The Puri police say Dean has filed a petition in the High Court to quash the FIR, and the police have filed a counter affidavit. But no one seems to know who he is right now.

no one-night stand
Simon Palathingal, a Catholic priest and vice-principal of a prominent Chennai boys’ school, was convicted of sexually abusing a boy in the US a few years ago. When this reporter asked a senior police official what would happen to him once he returned to India after serving his sentence (in 2020), she was puzzled. “What should happen to him? He would have served out his sentence, right?”

Therein lies a major problem. “Officials need to understand that child abusers tend to be serial offenders and there is a strong link between child sexual abuse and child pornography,” activist  Vidya Reddy of Tulir says. The problem is shown further when queries on travelling sex offenders leads one to the police’s anti-trafficking wing — a completely different issue! Reddy points out that at least with foreign offenders it could be contained by either preventing the entry of those with a history of sexual violence or at least making entry difficult.

grooming victims
Experts point out that offenders tend to ‘‘groom’’ their victims — establish a relationship with them, show attention and affection thereby making the child feel complicit in the act. The US and UK have sexual offenders’ registeries. Global databases also exist. The UK even tries cases of abuse committed by its nationals on foreign soil, best seen in the case of Patrick Matthews, a Briton who volunteered at a Chennai-based school. On his return to the UK, a complaint was made in 2006 that he had sexually abused children in the school and he was arrested under Section 72 of the Sexual Offences Act. UK’s police then spent three years trying to get permission to investigate in India — and finally landed here only in 2009!