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Apr 13, 2022 / 20:12

US man gets 11-year imprisonment for child sexual abuse in Vietnam

Child sexual exploitation becomes a thorny issue in many countries as tourism booms.

US citizen and substitute teacher Paul Bodner was sentenced in the US District Court for the Northern District of California to 11 years in federal prison for sexual abuses against Vietnamese boys in Ho Chi Minh City.

The conviction was made on March 31, 2022 following three counts of Travel with Intent to Engage in Illicit Sexual Conduct and one count of Engaging in Illicit Sexual Conduct in Foreign Places he committed.

Bringing the criminal to justice is the result of US-Vietnamese law enforcement cooperation, the US Embassy in Hanoi said on April 13.

 Homeland Security Investigations police. Photo: Department of Homeland Security

It said Homeland Security Investigations office at the US Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City successfully worked on this investigation jointly with Homeland Security Investigations San Francisco International Airport and the Vietnamese Ministry of Public Security.

Between approximately 2010 and 2019, Bodner made yearly trips to Vietnam for the stated purpose of meeting underage boys. During a border search interview upon returning from Vietnam in late 2016, Bodner acknowledged he is attracted to underage boys but denied having sexual contact with them until they reached adulthood.

Homeland Security Investigations (HIS) in Ho Chi Minh City was able to identify, locate, and interview multiple minor males who had been victimized by Bodner. Many shared similar stories in which Bodner, who used the fake name “Kevin,” befriended them at a local sports complex and invited them, some as young as 10 years old, back to his hotel room to hang out where he then photographed and abused them. He bought the loyalty and silence of his victims, who were predominantly poor, with money and gifts to avoid detection and prosecution.

In January 2020, Bodner was indicted by a federal grand jury and later arrested in conjunction with the execution of a search warrant at his San Francisco Bay area residence the following month. During criminal proceedings, it was discovered through analysis of texts and social media communications with his victims that Bodner attempted to tamper with evidence and encouraged witnesses to lie about their ages. He ultimately pled guilty to the four charges above in June 2021.  

“This case is an unfortunate reminder child sexual predators continue to target vulnerable populations in Vietnam and countries across the region thinking their resources and distance from the US criminal justice system will help them evade prosecution,” said Acting Consul General, Robert Greenan. “Luckily, law enforcement officers now have a global reach and through diligence and cooperation with international partners in this case, HSI was able to provide justice for these young victims.” 

HSI is the largest criminal investigative body of the US Department of Homeland Security and plays a critical role in combating criminal organizations illegally exploiting the US travel, trade, financial, and immigration systems. HSI is also a worldwide leader in the fight against the sexual exploitation of children. With over 200 domestic offices and more than 80 offices overseas, our special agents can follow a case wherever in the world it may lead.

 Child abuse remains a thorny issue in many countries. Image: Thomsons Reuters Foundation

Risks in Vietnam

In 2016, ECPAT International, a global network of civil society organizations that works to end the sexual exploitation of children, released a study that named Vietnam one of the new destinations of child sex tourism, alongside Laos, Cambodia in Asia and Portugal, Moldova, and Ukraine in Europe.

ECPAT said the growth of the internet, cloud computing, and advanced encryption are contributing to the growing problem of child-sex tourism.

Despite international efforts to combat child sex tourism the problem has only grown worse over the past 20 years due, in part, to the proliferation of international travelers, the internet, and private rental opportunities, it stated.

In another report published in 2018, ECPAT said low capacity in law enforcement, as well as the fact that families often feel reluctant to report child sexual exploitation due to financial necessity, are big barriers to ending this threat to children in Vietnam.

Other issues surrounding the sexual exploitation of children in Vietnam include a rise in online child sex abuse material – and an increase in the number of traveling child sex offenders visiting the country, as its tourism industry expands rapidly, it said.

The report also has praised the government’s improved prevention measures, which include awareness campaigns aimed at children. A number of Vietnamese travel and tourism businesses have also committed themselves to helping prevent the sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism, by becoming members of the Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism, an industry-driven initiative supported by ECPAT.