A New Zealand teenager stopped at Los Angeles Airport on his way to meet a convicted child sex offender is part of a trend that affects more New Zealand children than people think according to the director of an anti-child sex trafficking organisation.
The 17-year-old turned up at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on Monday at 6am US Pacific time with $26 in his pocket saying he intended to meet a man he’d been befriended on a social media website four years ago.
He flew in to the United States on a one-way ticket with plans to visit the man at his family’s home in Howell, Michigan.
When US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials looked into his claims they found the man was a registered sex offender with two convictions to his name including sexual conduct with someone under the age of 13 and sexual assault.
The teenager is one of a rapidly increasing number of New Zealanders falling victim to online sex trafficking according to Warren Ferdinandus, director of ECPAT Child Alert, an organisation that works with government agencies to prevent child sex trafficking.
Ferdinandus said in developed countries online sex trafficking now dwarfed physical sex trafficking.
“This story is a very common occurrence.”
“If I am a paedophile I can easily send you a one-way ticket that is $700 or $1000. In fact it’s a lot safer than someone coming to New Zealand and getting caught.”
Carlos Martel, Director of Field Operations at CBP Los Angeles said the teenager was interviewed under federal standards for the protection of teenagers travelling to the United States alone.
“Minors are particularly vulnerable to sexual predators that commonly present themselves as individuals they can trust.”
The 17-year-old was returned to New Zealand where he lives with a caregiver according to information provided by CBP.
“Customs and Border Protection officers took decisive action to protect a potential victim from a convicted criminal.”
A spokesperson for NZ Police was unable to confirm if police had visited the teenager’s caregivers since his return or put measures in place to prevent further contact with the sex offender.
“Police are aware of this matter and enquiries are ongoing,” the spokesperson said.
A spokesperson for the Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki, was also unable to confirm if the Ministry was aware of the case.
In 2015 the Crimes Act was amended in an attempt to capture attempts at online grooming through social media sites.
The amendment made ‘indecent communication’ a crime if an adult knew the other person was under the age of 16-years-old.
Ferdinandus said in practice it was very difficult to find out when and where such messages were being exchanged on the internet.
“Kiwis in general are very nice, they don’t think it’s happening in New Zealand as much as it is.”
“Whenever I go and present in a group they are like ‘wow, is that happening in my country?’.”