15 Sep 23

HSI’s Critical Efforts to Counter Child Sex Tourism

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Last Updated on: 21st September 2023, 11:03 pm


HSI’s Critical Efforts to Counter Child Sex Tourism

Child sex tourism is a horrific crime that involves traveling to another country and engaging in illicit sexual conduct with children. This terrible exploitation of innocent children destroys lives and families. Thankfully, there are dedicated agencies working hard to combat child sex tourism and bring offenders to justice.

One of the leading agencies in this fight is Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). HSI plays a critical role in efforts to counter child sex tourism and protect vulnerable children worldwide. Their specialized units, cutting-edge tactics, and global partnerships make them highly effective in investigating and prosecuting child sex tourism crimes.

The Scope of Child Sex Tourism

Experts estimate that over 1 million children are victimized globally in the child sex trade each year. The rise of cheap air travel and the internet has fueled the growth of child sex tourism. Offenders can easily make travel arrangements to visit destinations known for sex tourism, communicate with local facilitators online, and share child sexual abuse material.

Popular child sex tourism destinations include Thailand, Cambodia, India, Mexico, Costa Rica, Brazil, and the Philippines. However, no country is immune. Child sex tourism happens everywhere – from major cities to small villages and remote areas.

Offenders engage in child sex tourism for various reasons, including perverted desires, beliefs that sex with virgins brings good fortune, and mistaken ideas that sex with children is safer. Some purposely travel to destinations with high poverty rates and weak child protection laws. The anonymity of being in a foreign place also emboldens offenders.

Child sex tourism not only devastates the victims, but also fuels human trafficking rings and organized crime. The illicit profits drive further exploitation of children. It is a cycle of abuse that destroys young lives and corrodes communities.

HSI’s Angel Watch Center

A major part of HSI’s efforts is running the Angel Watch Center. Launched in 2019, this intelligence unit proactively tracks registered sex offenders who may be engaged in child sex tourism. The Angel Watch Center monitors registered sex offenders in the U.S. for suspicious international travel that could be linked to child sex tourism.

When offenders on the sex offender registry purchase tickets for suspicious destinations, the Angel Watch Center is alerted. Agents then conduct further investigation to determine if the travel is legitimate or linked to possible child sex crimes. This allows HSI to flag high-risk offenders and prevent child exploitation.

The Angel Watch Center brings much-needed focus to monitoring registered sex offenders. Their expertise in analyzing travel patterns is vital to connecting the dots between registered offenders and potential child sex tourism. This forward-leaning approach provides a critical line of defense against child exploitation.

Global Partnerships & Prevention

HSI also works closely with foreign governments and organizations to strengthen prevention and awareness. For example, HSI trains airline industry personnel, hotel staff, and tourism providers on spotting potential signs of child sex tourism. This empowers the travel industry to know the warning signs and report suspicious activity.

In addition, HSI helps fund prevention programs overseas, supports NGOs assisting trafficking victims, and works with local law enforcement on cases. They partner with INTERPOL and foreign agencies to share intelligence and conduct joint investigations. These global partnerships bolster the worldwide fight against child sex tourism.

Investigations & Undercover Operations

When child sex tourism is suspected, HSI deploys their specialized units to target offenders through undercover operations. HSI has highly trained agents who impersonate minors online and in person to catch predators in the act.

In one case, HSI agents uncovered a man from Chicago sexually exploiting young boys in Mexico. The offender believed he was communicating with a Mexican tour guide who could provide underage boys. However, it was actually an undercover HSI agent. When the offender traveled to Mexico, he was arrested. He received 40 years in prison.

HSI also works with global partners to identify child sex tourism hotspots and send undercover agents to investigate. In an operation in Thailand, undercover HSI agents helped rescue dozens of victims and arrest multiple offenders.

These types of complex, international undercover operations are extremely challenging but vital. HSI’s commitment to conducting difficult undercover work makes them highly skilled at apprehending child sex tourism offenders.

Victim Assistance

An important part of HSI’s mission is ensuring victims get help. When offenders are arrested abroad, HSI works with local NGOs to place victims in safe housing and get counseling services. They also provide emergency medical care, food, clothing, and other basic needs.

For victims found in the U.S., HSI makes referrals to social services and victim assistance programs. They work with advocates to ensure child victims have support through the investigation and trial process. Helping young victims rebuild their lives is a central goal.

Education & Training

Furthermore, HSI prioritizes education and training to combat child sex tourism. They provide training on investigative techniques, online undercover operations, and victim assistance strategies. HSI experts also present at major conferences and offer specialized courses.

For example, HSI operates the Child Exploitation Investigations Unit (CEIU) training program. This intensive program trains HSI agents and international law enforcement on tactics for child exploitation and child sex tourism investigations. Growing expertise worldwide strengthens the fight against child sex tourism.

Impact & Results

HSI’s critical efforts have produced significant results. In 2019, the Angel Watch Center reviewed over 1,500 registered sex offenders related to possible child sex tourism. Many high-risk offenders were denied boarding or their passports revoked.

In 2020, HSI made 508 criminal arrests related to child exploitation and identified or assisted 308 child victims. HSI’s global outreach also trained over 12,000 law enforcement officers and industry personnel to help spot signs of human trafficking and child exploitation.

While the challenge is immense, HSI continues leading the charge. Their global footprint, strong partnerships, and specialized capabilities make them uniquely effective. HSI’s critical work keeps children safe both in the U.S. and vulnerable destinations abroad.

The Way Forward

Child sex tourism is a complex global problem requiring shared responsibility across borders. As the leading homeland security investigative agency, HSI brings substantial expertise and resources to counter child sex tourism.

However, the private sector, NGOs, governments, and individuals all have a role to play. Companies must train staff and report suspicious transactions. Governments need to strengthen laws and dedicate more resources. Individuals should learn the indicators of human trafficking and immediately report concerns.

With expanded global cooperation, increased law enforcement pressure, and greater public awareness, the world can turn the tide against child sex tourism. HSI’s critical efforts provide a powerful model for combating these terrible crimes. By working together, we can protect the world’s most vulnerable children.


[1] ICE HSI opens Angel Watch Center to combat child sex tourism, announces FY19 child exploitation investigative results

[2] ICE – Child Exploitation

[3] DHS Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking, the Importation of Good Produced with Forced Labor, and Child Sexual Exploitation

[4] HSI and the Angel Watch Center: Combating Child Sex Tourism

[5] The National Strategy for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction

[6] DHS Blue Campaign: SROs Play a Critical Role in Combating Human Trafficking