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Recent election coverage that centered on a certain candidate’s alleged attraction to underage girls brought back memories of pedophilia in one of my old anchorages. I suspect that if you’ve dropped the hook in Latin America somewhere, you may have seen or suspected something similar. My experience was pretty disturbing and left me wondering what I could or should have done.

For the purposes of this blog, the guy’s name was Fred, and he’s dead now. He was in his 70s when I knew him and in good health, perhaps too good. We were together in a Latin harbor with dozens of other foreign cruising boats. Most belonged to cruising couples, but there were a handful of boats with single guys aboard, including mine and Fred’s.

Fred was generally well liked and easy to talk to. His table at the weekly cruisers flea market, shown in the photo above, was always one of the best.

When I got a gig as the captain of a 50-foot ketch (owned by a Canadian money-launderer, we later learned), Fred signed on as crew/maintenance hand. At one point, he and I delivered a vessel to the other side of the country. Long story short: We got to know each other, and Fred began to confide in me.

Before I go on, let me provide a little background. Latin America, as Catholic as it may be, is actually a lot less puritanical than the United States. Prostitution is legal, and love-shack hourly rental complexes dot the countryside in case the boss and his administrative assistant get the urge. And older men and young women in courtship does not look quite as ridiculous to local eyes as it does to ours. Love in a developing country can be very transactional in nature.

Consequently, a lot of gringos come south, whether by boat or airliner, to engage with younger women. Those of you who have visited these ports know what I’m taking about: Paunchy, balding retired guys sipping beer with hot 19-year-olds. Usually they have nothing in common, not even a common language. Once I saw an older guy with an ironic T-shirt, which read, “She loves me for my peso-nality.”

As bad as that seems, Fred was much worse. Based on his comments and my observations I concluded that his passion was for pre-pubescent girls first, young teens second. Teenage courtship rituals call for kids to visit the village’s central park with parents on Sunday so they can get to know one another in a controlled setting. So that’s where Fred would go on Sunday, an oddball, leering American among the villagers.

At one point, when he made a lewd remark about a four-year-old, I became angry and warned Fred to quit including me in these kinds of conversations. I remember saying to him, “Don’t ever go back to the States, Fred. They’ll hunt you down.”

In the country of which I speak, girls can marry at age 14 with parental consent, which, when a foreigner is the groom, usually involves a cash transaction. Fred’s Social Security income made him a rich man in the local economy so he bought himself a 14-year-old bride and a house in the village. I sailed away soon after and left pedophile Fred in my wake.

What could I have done? What should I have done? I never witnessed any illegal behavior, just creepy behavior. I communicated my observations to my friends and acquaintances in the anchorage. Of course they were appalled too, but even the wives—and there were some pretty strong women in this cohort—refrained from confronting Fred.

These events happened 15 years ago. Given today’s hyper-awareness of sexual misconduct, maybe the answer is clear. What should we have done? You tell me.