Under expanded authority approved by Congress last year, the United States has begun to prosecute Americans suspected of molesting children on foreign soil. Officials have prosecuted five American men, four of whom are awaiting trial. Dozens more investigations are under way from Sri Lanka to Costa Rica.
American officials are hoping their investigations will help break what they believe are shadowy Internet networks used by pedophiles to share photographs of children and travel tips about countries with thriving child sex industries. The initiative dovetails with two priorities for the Bush administration: adopting a more aggressive agenda abroad to protect American interests at home and attacking what President Bush has called the “special evil” of child trafficking and exploitation. In the process, federal officials have forged an alliance with humanitarian groups in exposing havens for so-called sex tourists. That new power is prompting debate over how far the U.S. should go to combat child exploitation abroad.