When I grow up, I wanna be a spy

Sometimes I can be very impulsive– I am stirred easily by things I see or read. It is not uncommon for me to see a movie on doctors and want to be one or read a book about space travel and consider NASA. Coupled with a self esteem and belief that I can do anything, thanks mom and dad, it is amazing that I have not actually chased after all these dreams at once.

In light of this, and the fact that I have watched the first two seasons of Alias in the past month, its is not surprising that I found myself drawn to the organization APLE.  APLE, which stands for Action Pour Les Enfants, is a human rights organization that combats sexual exploitation of children.  While they have many programs, such as pro-bono legal aid and social rehabilitation, it was an article on their field investigators that caught my attention.

Like Sydney Bristow, these social workers are out to catch the “bad guys” (read western pedophiles) by following them and covertly collecting evidence.  “Part sleuth, part spy, these social workers are the street presence in the battle against child sexual abuse.” They work, often in the nights between 5pm and midnight, in many of the hangouts where western men lure and buy children. APLE’s network also includes many others who help collect evidence including locals, expats, and even children themselves.

Though they collect evidence and have secret identities and hidden cameras, they never directly confront the perpetrators.  There main goal is to collect enough evidence to bring it to the police. Some perpetrators are trailed for only two hours before enough evidence is collected– others take months.  Regardless, the information gathered is priceless. According to a police chief of the juvenile protection unit most cases presented by APLE are taken.

The Alias watching part of my mind sees the glamor in all this; even the satisfaction in knowing that pedophiles are being taken off the street.  The other part of my mind though wonders if I could do it.  How do you look at depravity every night and then go home to your children (I don’t have children yet– but let’s imagine) and kiss them, put them in bed, and believe that the world is a good place for them?  How do you compartmentalize your emotions enough to interact with the men and not let the repugnance shine through? In the end, I simply find myself in awe of the work they do– and although I am saddened that it must be done, I am glad someone is doing it.



  1. Some of our friends have said the same thing about the work you do. How can you see first hand the way women, children and even men are trafficed into slave-like conditions and still want to get out of bed every day? You witness the results of a real inhumanity and yet you remain an optimistic person. That is pretty amazing. Keep up the good work. Most Americans don’t even like to think about such things.

  2. You know that in my last 3 jobs, a lot of what I had to do was look at “objectionable” material on the internet, right?

    Sometimes, one person’s objectionable is another person’s game for elementary school children. (Neopets, I’m looking at your casino games and forums.) But sometimes, it is child porn, and sometimes neonazi hate propaganda and sometimes horrifyingly violent but newsworthy. (I’m thinking now of the video of Nick Berg being beheaded.)

    Some images get burnt into your brain and you are never free of them. Some people know they won’t be able to handle that, and they should steer clear of these jobs. (The team I trained in India had a huge turnover rate, mostly involving people leaving not just that job, but the company.)

    The most important coping mechanism I found was being able to mix it up. I could NOT spend more than 3 hours at a time dealing with the hate sites, and I couldn’t deal with them every week. AND I had to go take a walk and have a pleasant conversation and cup of coffee when I was done. Nothing else turned out to affect me quite as severely.

    The other key thing I needed were people with whom I could share bleak humor about the issue du jour. Things get to be funny to you that are not funny outside of the context of your “depressing” job.

    I was trying to think of examples, and they just don’t sound funny now — like the time I found a web hosting site that specialized in hosting white supremacist sites. I don’t know why that was funny at the time, but it was. Same with the — thankfully imageless — site dedicated to human-dolphin romantic relationships.

    Yesterday, I was talking to one of my peers at another company. She’s thinking about trying to become an FBI analyst who would work on their child porn cases, in part because she knows that she can handle seeing those images, and feels like she might be able to protect someone else from having to see them too. There’s something to be said for that.

    There’s also something to be said for becoming an astronaut.

  3. It’s kinda funny- but I have met some of the guys who work in the FBI’s online child porn analysts unit. Random. But, here is my funny story about them. A couple months after they first opened one of their offices, they were investigated by FBIs internal review for “inappropriate behavior” online. They actually were at the point of getting written up for looking at porn sites during company time.

  4. They are detectives more than a spy. The work of a conventional spy is intelligence gathering from foreign governments and military, not very glamorous and very risky as it is.

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