The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday charged convicted British pedophile Richard Fruin, 36, with sexually abusing two brothers, aged 8 and 11, at a guesthouse in Phnom Penh, court officials said.
Fruin—who previously served a year in prison in the U.K. for the production of child pornography—was arrested on Sunday night at the Boeung Meas Guesthouse in Daun Penh district, where he had been living for a month while employed part time at a private English-language school.
When anti-human trafficking police raided the hotel, they discovered him with a shirtless 8-year-old boy.
“The evidence against my client is not strong; it is based only on answers given by children,” Sam Sokong, Fruin’s defense lawyer, said Wednesday, adding that the 8-year-old, along with his older brother, testified in court to being molested.
While the court has yet to decide Fruin’s fate, his case—and many similar to it—begs explanation for how a convicted child abuser could so easily travel to Cambodia and secure employment at a job involving children, thereby gaining access to potential victims.
Ven Piseth, general manager at the Universal English School’s branch in Chamkar Mon’s Boeng Keng Kang III commune, where Fruin had worked as a teacher-in-training for about a month prior to his arrest, offered one answer.
“He applied [for a job by] email,” in early September, Mr. Piseth said.
“I interviewed him, I just saw his C.V. and his passport and then I let him come to class,” he added.
A copy of the resumé that Fruin sent to the school states that his “career objective” is “to teach english [sic] in a safe and productive manner to children [and] adults.” The document goes on to list a high school education in “Child Development and Psychology;” experience “teaching English to local children” in the African countries of Gambia, Senegal, Mauritania, Guinea and Sierra Leone; and employment at the Paradise House Children’s Home in the U.K.
In 2005, Fruin was charged with 15 counts of producing child pornography by the Gloucester Crown Court in the U.K. and sentenced to one year in jail, but was released on bail and left the country for seven years. During that time, he traveled to Africa, Southeast Asia and the Middle East before returning to the U.K., where he was rearrested in 2012 and served his prior one-year prison sentence. After completing his jail term, he immediately fled to Cambodia.
“I did not pay much attention to him [Fruin] because he was not a full employee; he just came here for [teacher] training,” Mr. Piseth said, adding that Universal English School has three campuses in Phnom Penh where more than 3,000 children, teenagers and adults are enrolled.
“To us, he was a good guy,” said Chuon Sopharida, general manager at the school’s branch in Tuol Svay Prey I commune.
“Everything he did for us was good. He seemed like he liked children, but as a teacher. That is what we could see,” Mr. Sopharida said.
The boys that Fruin is accused of molesting were not students at the school where he worked.
Neither Mr. Piseth nor Mr. Sopharida were able to identify anything they might have done differently to avoid hiring someone with a history of sexually abusing children.
In February, the British police’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Center introduced the International Child Protection Certificate (ICPC) to Cambodia, a background check intended to “prevent U.K. sexual offenders travelling to other countries and gaining access to children through teaching or volunteering roles.”
While schools, NGOs and orphanages may opt to make the ICPC mandatory, the applicants themselves must request the certificate from British police, at a cost of about $93.
“I have not heard of any institutions who have actually applied for this yet, except for iCan [British International School], which hosted that [launch] event,” said Samleang Seila, country director at anti-pedophile NGO Action pour les Enfants (APLE), Wednesday.
And even if the ICPC and similar documents are more widely adopted, Mr. Seila said, “a pedophile will actually not attempt to get into those environments where this certificate might be required…. They are actually targeting those low-level international schools because they [such schools] don’t really care.”
Mr. Seila said that unless the Ministry of Social Affairs makes background checks mandatory, employers will continue their lax hiring policies.
“If this continues to be on a voluntary basis, [where] businesses are responsible to report any crimes or screen their employees, I don’t think [there will be] change in a positive way,” Mr. Seila said.
“It’s a great burden for the employer to ask for [background checks]. And some of these individuals offer services for free, and the employer has a tendency not to bother their applicants [in cases of] free services,” he added.
Lieutenant Colonel Keo Thea, chief of Phnom Penh’s anti-human trafficking police, conceded Wednesday that foreign pedophiles are finding easy employment at schools and nonprofits catering to children simply by omitting their criminal histories from their resumés.
“Schools and other establishments just look at their C.V.s, and don’t ask for background information from the foreigners’ home countries,” Lt. Col. Thea said.
Mr. Seila said that while the number of arrests and convictions of foreign pedophiles is decreasing every year, there is no way to tell if actual instances of child sex abuse are decreasing, as the perpetrators are becoming more savvy.
“The trend is going much more underground, and hidden, and veiled,” he said.
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