A Funny Thing Happened To Me When I Met A Pedophile

It’s not uncommon for me to see Americans in Nicaragua.  In fact, I see them quite often.  Aside from the fact that Nicaragua has a really dense Peace Corps volunteer population, there is also a pretty large body of missionaries throughout the country representing various creeds.  There is also a small US military presence protecting the embassy and the Foreign Service workers at the embassy, as well as a spattering of US NGOs and aid organizations situated in the country.   Those are just the people that are semi-permanently living here for official reasons.  You also have your backpackers, cruise shippers and transients.  So it really isn’t all that weird or interesting for me to run into an American.  Sometimes they assume it must be quite exciting for me and that we should immediately become friends.  I’m reminded of an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm where Larry David is traveling in New York and runs into an acquaintance (but not friend) of his from California.  The acquaintance wants to talk to Larry and have lunch with him.  “Why would we have lunch here?  We aren’t friends in California, why should we suddenly be friends here in New York?”  Exactly.  There are 300 million people who are American, and plenty of them are in Nicaragua at any given time.  It’s really not that amazing and we don’t necessarily need to be friends for finding each other.  I like people fine, and I like making friends.  Being American isn’t enough to immediately qualify you. 

This isn’t really that big of a deal or much of a nuisance.  And sometimes these people can be interesting to talk to for a little while, befriend for an evening or even develop a real friendship.  However, there is a certain group of Americans I’ve found here that are generally never enjoyable: the ex-pat. 

Ex-pats are funny people.

I’m not sure what technically defines an ex-pat or if any of the other Americans I mentioned count, but for my purposes I’m going to call an ex-pat any American living here that cannot (or will not) explain what they are doing here in one sentence.  There is usually some mysterious air about their past and they generally give off an unsettling vibe.  I met a particularly interesting one recently.  He is a pedophile and a rapist.  His name is Mr. Cricket.

OK, his name isn’t actually Mr. Cricket, but I think it would be imprudent for me to use his real name.  I met Mr. Cricket through a mutual friend of ours when I was out one night.  He had recently come from the services of a local prostitute which became the immediate topic of conversation after we had been introduced.  He told me the prostitute was 18 and I was pretty sure he was right since I think I recognized the girl.  I’ve worked on occasion with commercial sex workers, as a development worker of course, not as a client.  He had recently moved to my town from nearby León, where he assured me the prostitutes he frequented were much cheaper and of higher quality.  They were also younger.  I later ascertained that he was about 67 years old.

I can’t say that I ever expected to meet a pedophile and statutory rapist in my life, and certainly not under such cordial conditions.  I also would have imagined that such a person would be very abashed by their status.  Not Mr. Cricket.  I also would have thought that should I ever meet such a person I would be immediately repulsed by them; that I would punch them in the face or denounce them indignantly and shame them.  The thing was, I think I was taken aback by the whole situation.  As he was talking I was becoming physically repulsed by him and angry at him.  I did indeed visualize punching him right in the nose and half my mind contemplated how much I had had to drink and whether a violent encounter would really go in my favor.  In retrospect, it would probably have gone poorly.  A glass of beer can easily help me forget I’ve lost about 15 pounds here.  Yet the other half was genuinely interested in what he was saying.  Despite myself, I found his pathological thinking fascinating. 

I’ve known that perverts and degenerates like this exist, but I’ve never thought that they considered themselves morally justified.  I’ve often lamented ‘super evil villains’ in films, the kind where it doesn’t seem possible where they don’t realize that they are the villain.  I’m much more intrigued by films and stories that feature villains who think that they are doing the right thing, that they are in fact the hero, but are just so pathological that they mistake their heinousness for nobility.  The Signal or the villain in Watchmen are good examples of this.  This guy was like that. 

I asked him how he could do what he does, whether he felt any guilt or remorse about it.  Did he have some moral code that he felt justified his actions or what?  As it turns out he was pretty ready for such an argument.  He didn’t consider what he was doing wrong, and in fact felt justified in what he did.  I happened to wearing my Catholic University t-shirt during this conversation.  “It’s ‘cause of these guys we have all this bullshit.”  He stressed this point emphatically by firmly pressing the word ‘Catholic’ into my chest.  He’s a relatively big guy, in his late 60’s, a Vietnam vet with a bit of a gut but still in pretty good shape.  He made a point to show me his biceps and talk about knowing karate (I did ask him what kind and he didn’t have a name, so who knows.  Maybe it was just some general Army martial arts.  I don’t know what they study.  I thought it was Jiu-ji-tsu.  Maybe he could tell I was thinking about punching him and just wanted to dissuade me).  Regardless, I hated the way he poked me and was indeed thinking again about what would be the repercussions of taking a swing. 

“America is the outlier in the world with our views on sexuality.  We’re the most conservative country in the world; we’re repressed sexually and it’s because of the puritanical religious right.”  He continued comment saying that most other cultures in the world allow sexual intercourse at much younger ages and essentially that we as Americans are weird anomalies.  “In Nevada she can give it away at 16 but if you pay her she’s gotta be 18.  Doesn’t make any sense.  Our whole view on sex is messed up.”  He never gave me a straight answer on how low he goes, but I got the idea that 12 was the youngest.  As such it may not be accurate to call him a pedophile, because I would say it’s a term best reserved for prepubescent abuse, but statutory rapist doesn’t sound hard enough by itself.  

I asked him about his young prostitutes here and if he felt like he was exploiting them, and if he felt any guilt outside of the illegality of it.  “First off, it’s not illegal here for them to sell it if they’re over 16 and they can give it away if they’re over 14 so it ain’t illegal.  And no, I’m helping these girls, giving them money they wouldn’t otherwise have.  Besides, in places like Jamaica, it boosts the girls social status.  Girls just like to be seen with a white man ‘cause it’s like, ‘ooh look at me’”. 

First off, I should clarify some things about prostitution in Nicaragua.  My understanding from my interactions with the prostitutes is that while prostitution is not a sanctioned or regulated part of Nicaragua, it is also not illegal.  Essentially it is tolerated, but not a protected vocation.  They can’t, say, form a union, but they can’t be thrown in jail for working either.  Mr. Cricket is also totally off on the age of consent rules for Nicaragua.  Age of consent is 18, not 16, and definitely not 14, and there is no distinction between commercial sex and non-commercial sex like in Nevada.  18 for paid sex and 18 for free sex.  Nevada has this dual age system because of the fact that only one county allows prostitution.  I’m not sure why it has to be 18 if the state age of consent is 16, I would assume it is for federal reasons.   It seems logical to me anyway.  Prostitution is more intense and requires greater emotional and mental maturity; it makes sense that if a discrepancy exists, it should skew to older prostitutes.  The truth is however that despite the fact that he’s breaking the law, it’s not one that is really strongly enforced.  It’s not uncommon to see old American men come and marry young Nica girls or hire young prostitutes.  So I’m sure breaking this law isn’t a big concern of his, despite the fact that he denies that he is breaking it.  Most Nicas may not even be aware of the actual age.  I previously thought it was 16 since that’s the age needed to vote and receive your national ID, things that basically make you an adult (although smoking and drinking aren’t allowed until 18.  This restriction is only enforced by way of the fact that most people under 18 can’t afford to smoke or drink, although many still do). 

However, all of that is really a moot point.  The PROTECT Act states that it’s illegal for American citizens to participate in “illicit sexual conduct” outside of the US, irrespective of local laws.  It reads, “For the purposes of this law, illicit sexual conduct includes commercial sex with anyone under 18, and non-commercial sex with persons under 16 when there is at least a four-year age difference or the person is under 12 years of age.”  So this guy is clearly breaking American law.  However, I get the impression that Mr. Cricket may even be in Nicaragua because of his lack of deference to American law. 

Mr. Cricket is also quite mistaken about the irregularity of American age of consent laws compared to the rest of the world.  First of all, his history and chronology is screwed.  Our age of consent laws aren’t some outdated puritanical legacy like some kind of sexual blue law.  Wikipedia offers me a different story as it turns out.

“The American colonies followed the English tradition, and the law was more of a guide. For example, Mary Hathaway (Virginia, 1689) was only 9 when she was married to William Williams. Sir Edward Coke (England, 17th century) ‘made it clear that the marriage of girls under 12 was normal, and the age at which a girl who was a wife was eligible for a dower from her husband’s estate was 9 even though her husband be only four years old.’”

Of course that is marriage, what about extramarital sex?  The article continues,

“In the United States, by the 1880s, most states set the age of consent at 10–12, and in one state, Delaware, the age of consent was only 7… Female reformers and advocates of social purity initiated a campaign in 1885 to petition legislators to raise the legal age of consent to at least 16, with the ultimate goal to raise the age to 18. The campaign was successful, with almost all states raised the age of consent to 16–18 by 1920.”

So the story is told backwards.  We were loosey-goosey with ages and then became more conservative (or progressive depending on how you look at it) as time went on.   Also it sounds like age of consent laws changed (at least in part) from a feminist perspective on the rights of women (girls) and not from a religious moral justification.  OK, so we “became” puritanical and irrational he might say.  But what can I say about the rest of the world, from whom we apparently deviate so?  Again, from Wikipedia,

“Social (and the resulting legal) attitudes toward the appropriate age of consent have drifted upwards in modern times. For example, while ages from 10 to 13 were typically acceptable in Western countries during the mid-19th century, the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century were marked by changing attitudes towards sexuality and childhood resulting in raising the ages of consent to ages generally ranging from 16 to 18.” 

And it’s true, while some countries still use puberty or ages under 16 as the marked age of consent, they are far from the majority.  In North America, all countries have an age of consent of at least 16 with the exception of Costa Rica, Honduras (15), and a few states in Mexico are 12 or puberty.  Most of the countries in Europe that are less than 16 are not developed countries.  I would also hazard a guess that there is a strong negative correlation between the history of a country’s age of consent and women employment, literacy, suffrage and other civic rights.

But this also really isn’t the point.

I don’t really have a problem with Mr. Cricket because he is breaking the law.  If it were legal for him under both Nicaraguan and American law to have sex with a 14 year old, I would still have a problem with it.  So, while it’s fun for me to prove him legally culpable, my real concern is to show why he is morally wrong.  The implicit argument he provides is that by adhering to laws (both local and national) his actions are justified.  Essentially he justifies his actions to himself as moral relativism.  Morality is a commonly agreed upon set of a principles by a group of like minded people.  There is no objective truth, only what people come together and agree is the truth.  Laws are a reflection of the context in which people live and the fashionable attitudes of the time.  I cannot judge another culture’s morals because I am not part of that group.  Therefore they cannot objectively be considered wrong.  There is no such thing as an absolute evil, nor any absolute truth (to which one could retort, ‘and you believe that absolutely?’) and so whatever any group of people agree to be moral is ipso facto moral.  The easiest way to contest this argument then is to ask, “Then do you consider the actions of Nazis to be justified?  If morality can’t be judged objectively, and they considered themselves to be acting morally, does that mean that the Holocaust cannot be deemed an atrocity?”  But again, I digress from the point, and while I am neither a strict moral relativist nor absolutist, there isn’t space in this post to discuss the concepts in depth. 

When I told him he was violating the PROTECT Act, despite what he says about Nicaraguan age of consent laws (of which I was less sure of at the time) he responded with some more bogus rationalizing.  He told me that that act only applies to sex tourism.  He said that it only applies when you sign up for some package deal explicitly for the purpose obtaining sex in a country with different age of consent law than that of your country.  If you just happen to be in the country for work, temporary residency, etc. then only the local laws apply.  So since he has been living here for a while, he is not participating as a sex tourist in his mind.  While the PROTECT Act has the reduction of sex tourism as a major aim, this weird loophole does not exist. 

But here’s the messed up part of it all.  He seems to be justifying his actions through moral relativism, (i.e. it’s right because of the moral context, because the local laws say it is ok), yet he realizes he is, in essence, a sex tourist.  When I asked him why he chose to come to Nicaragua over another country he told me because it was safe, the women were cheap and they had a low legal age (despite the fact that it is actually higher than many states in the US).  Thus, according to his own definition, he traveled here with the specific purpose of having cheap, underage sex.  Maybe it is sex migration and not sex tourism, but I think the difference is really negligible.  So even if he doesn’t think he is legally breaking the PROTECT Act (which he is), he realizes he is breaking the spirit of the law in the weird way that he perceives it.  He feels like he is ‘getting away’ with this special loophole.  That can’t be morally justifiable, not even in his whacked out code. 

It was weird to me how he could be so mistaken about so many of these laws, especially since he talked as though he had done thorough research on the matter (as you would imagine one would), and yet be so wrong.  He constantly challenged me, “if you go to ask.com and type in…”, “just type in ‘a’ ‘s’ ‘k’ ‘dot’ ‘c’ ‘o’ ‘m’ and search…” when I called him out on things.  I don’t know why people specify search engines like this.  It’s one thing to use Google as a verb but you don’t need to tell me how to use the internet.  We don’t do this in other contexts.  No one tells me how to drive to Canada by saying “Get in a Ford and fill up the gas tank at Mobil so that your Firestone tires will turn.”  You can just say, “look it up”, I’ll figure out the rest. And is ask.com the official pedophile search engine then?  Maybe it wasn’t the algorithm that killed Jeeves.  Maybe he was up in Sing Sing on a child abuse rap and some ornery inmate shivved him during yard time.   

So I did look up a lot of what he challenged me to.  I had to do a fair amount of research to write this up.    A lot of what I’ve written only occurred to me after the fact.  At the time of our conversation I simply posed a question to him.  “Do you think it’s alright for a bank to give a $100,000, high interest, 20 year loan to a 14 year old girl who doesn’t understand the ramifications of a loan, how finances work, etc.?”  He said he didn’t.  “Then don’t you think potentially impregnating a girl (he commented on his disregard for the use of prophylactics) who cannot adequately grasp the consequences of a teen pregnancy is at least – if not more – predatory than such a loan?  The term is comparable, and the benefit of sleeping with you isn’t nearly worth $100,000.”  I never got a clear response from him.  He is convinced that he is helping the girls by giving them money and claims that should he impregnate a girl he would take better care of her than if she were to get pregnant from a 17 year old Nica, a claim of which I am suspect.

But even all of this is beside the point.  I didn’t write this to point out more faulty logic that people have, or publicly condemn some random pervert I met.  I didn’t even write this to talk about the diversity of Americans you encounter here.  This is actually a very self centered post.  What surprised me more than anything about this ridiculous Mr. Cricket was that I was able to sit down and learn all of this about him.  I didn’t immediately walk away from him, throw a punch at him or start cursing at him.  While I wasn’t exactly polite to him, and I made no secret about what I thought about his lifestyle, I still sat down in a bar with him and discussed all of these things.  I’m not sure how I feel about myself that I did that.  In a way I’m glad I did because I got a chance to learn about sex tourism, child prostitution (which is apparently a bigger problem in Nicaragua than I thought) as well as reflect on my own moral justification for an age of consent (it didn’t change, but it’s good to know why you believe the things you do).  Oddly enough, a few days after this encounter when I walked into my classroom, a bunch of my students asked me about the legality of a teacher having sex with a student if they are close of age (they assured me that it’s the plot of a current telenovela).  I serendipitously was well prepared to talk about the issue. 

On the other hand, I’m a little disappointed in myself for not being more outraged.  I consider myself to be a level headed and even tempered person.  I rarely lose my cool and it’s a trait I’m generally proud of.  Sometimes, however, I think I can be overly temperate.  When I first fell in love with Stoicism my girlfriend at the time called me emotionally robotic.  I don’t fly off the handle when someone cuts me off in traffic, but there are times when I feel like I rationalize myself away from moments of appropriate outrage.  I’m not always sure when keeping quiet makes me the bigger man or a humiliated fool.  If a guy like this isn’t enough to set me off, what would be?  Maybe I’m actually not magnanimously stalwart.  Maybe I’m actually just too scared to speak my mind and be confrontational.  Maybe I’m insecure and in some weird way am afraid of anyone not liking me, even a pedophile. 

I’d like to think it’s not any of these possibilities.  I think it’s a combination of my natural curiosity combined with a level of acceptance I’ve learned in Peace Corps.  When I was talking to the kids about the ‘person of trust’ statutory rape issue I remembered that a teacher I worked with that very day is dating a student (I think the ages are something along the lines of 25 and 16).  This is in fact illegal and against Ministry regulations.  It’s also icky.  There is also a teacher at the school where we were having this discussion who married one of his students.  To be fair, their courtship began in his first year of teaching, so he was 18 and she was 17.  He had attended school with her before becoming a teacher and transferred schools once the relationship started.  Part of the training we receive in Peace Corps is cultural sensitivity training.  We are coached on when, if ever, it’s appropriate to intervene or make judgments on a host country national’s actions.  I had actually forgotten that this guy I work with has (or had, I don’t know if they’re still together) a young girlfriend.  Most other teachers agree that the relationship is wrong, and I never felt it was my place to say anything.  May/December relationships are relatively common here.  Despite the official 18 year old law, it’s really more of a family decision.  I imagine the law exists to protect against commercial exploitation, like the actions of Mr. Cricket.  Still, it suddenly dawned on me that I have already been pretty cordial with statutory rapists. 

Of course Mr. Cricket is leagues away from these two Nica cases.  He targets women specifically because of their naïveté and their youth.  He can’t really hide behind a moral relativism defense.  He hasn’t taken on Nicaraguan attitudes or beliefs.  He can only speak enough Spanish to negotiate a price, but not to communicate (that’s actually how he described it to me), and he seems to generally hate and look down his nose at Nicaraguans.  He doesn’t sleep with Nicaraguan girls because it’s ok in Nicaragua, but rather he’s in Nicaragua because he thinks it’s ok to sleep with Nicaraguan girls.  The courtships for Nicaraguan May/December relationships tend to be much more family-oriented and really cannot be compared with the kind of predatory actions of Mr. Cricket.  Still, the whole encounter a much more interesting experience than I would have expected.  It was quite a funny thing that happened to me when I met that pedophile. 

2 Responses to A Funny Thing Happened To Me When I Met A Pedophile

  1. John T. says:

    You need to come home soon….There was a very good murder mystery with Morgan Freeman playing a detective and Gene Hackman a pedophile that this reminds me of. Your pedophile wont stop with 14 year olds. They will always get younger,

  2. Paola says:

    Really good blog post johno. ive been reading a lot about sex trafficking and its really really horrifying some of the things ive been reading about! its such a big problem even in the states, so i really enjoyed the blog post, i would have to try to stop myself from spitting on this dudes grill,

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