When Vadim Scott Benderman landed in Hanoi, Vietnam in June 2014, it was his second fresh start in an Asian country in as many years. As he had throughout his 12 years living in Asia, the longtime Canadian expatriate would make his money teaching English. The rest of his time would be spent fronting bands at bars and small live music venues, indulging dreams of rock ’n’ roll fame.
But by October, his fresh start had already turned rotten, as allegations of sexual abuse began to filter up from the streets to Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation, a nonprofit for vulnerable youth. The homeless teenagers that scraped out a bare existence in the capital couldn’t settle on one name — sometimes it was “Ben,” sometimes “Dan,” according to the charity’s founder Michael Brosowski. But they were as one in their insistence that a middle-aged foreign man was soliciting them and their peers for sex.
It would be another 15 months before Scott — Benderman being his rarely used second surname from his stepfather — was convicted of sexually abusing four homeless boys aged 13 to 15. Luring the boys to his rented home, he would pay each of his victims between $10 and $15 for sex. After an hours-long trial on Jan. 13 last year, a Hanoi court sentenced him to four years in jail.
Fifteen months might seem like an inordinate amount of time to bring a child sex offender to justice. But in Scott’s case, it is just a paragraph in a much longer, meandering saga. A months-long investigation reveals the Canadian’s conviction to be part of a winding trail of allegations and brushes with law enforcement that spans several countries and goes back at least a decade — one which Canadian authorities were informed of several times but failed to act on. Despite Canada’s official commitment to fighting child sex abuse by its citizens abroad, solidified in laws that allow prosecution for crimes committed overseas, official channels — including two foreign embassies — stand accused of failing to address reports against Scott that could have prevented child sex abuse in several countries.
In the spring of 2008, several of Scott’s friends and acquaintances in Seoul, South Korea, where they were living, were racked with anxiety. They were tormented about how to respond to the suspicion that a member of their social circle, someone who taught children, might be a sexual predator.
Like many of the expats who lived or socialized in Haebangchon, an oasis of bars, cafes and restaurants popular with foreigners, they had heard the story of Scott’s alleged run-in with the law the previous year after an incident at his house involving two underage boys.
In fact, although his circle couldn’t have known at the time, Scott had displayed troubling behaviour around minors before he ever left Canada.
“He would show me his porn stash and or tell me things he loved to do to his girlfriend Sonya at the time,” Jeremy Murray, 28, recalled of the friendship he formed with Scott, nearly two decades his senior, when he was just 13. “He was very open about his sexuality. Being a 13 year-old-boy, I was intrigued to hear these stories and see what porn of this world had to offer.”
Murray, who first met Scott in Montreal in 1999 or 2000, remembers his much older friend showing interest in other young teens, too.
“He had also become friendly with a friend of mine who was my neighbour who quickly caught on that he was a strange dude to be hanging around with kids 13–15 years younger than him and discontinued his contact with him,” he said.
“My stepfather also had a very bad feeling about this guy. Vadim had never put his hands on me so I never thought anything about it.”
In Seoul, Scott became well-known among expats within the foreigner enclave more commonly known as HBC. A charismatic showman who liked to compare himself to David Bowie and Robert Plant, he played in numerous bands in South Korea during his decade-long residence in the country.
“He’s there for the show,” said Giordan Benavides, a fellow English teacher who was friends with Scott for several years in Seoul. “He’s always doing something creative. He likes the attention.”
As word spread that he had been questioned by police in 2007, Scott confided details of the incident to at least three people in South Korea, each of whom spoke to this writer, and one of whom shared an audio recording of his former friend’s statements.
One of the three was Benavides. He says that he called and met with Scott the day after his alleged questioning, after hearing about it from a neighbor. According to Benavides, Scott told him he had come across two boys crying outside of a convenience store while he was on his way home from playing a gig.
“Vadim offered them to come with him, back to his place,” Benavides said.
There, allegedly, what happened next would see the police called to Scott’s home. “He told me that he touched their genitals,” Benavides said.
A former musical collaborator, who asked to only be referred to by his first name, Valentino, also says that Scott confided in him. In Valentino’s telling, Scott acknowledged being arrested after “touching” the boys.
“He was kind of strangely unapologetic about it, which was the weirdest part, for me,” Valentino said.
Another former friend and bandmate who, racked by guilt, set out to gather evidence of wrongdoing, secretly recorded Scott alluding to his arrest, as well as multiple instances of sexual contact with minors in other countries. Two other former acquaintances verified the voice as belonging to Scott.
“I fucked up. I’ve been exercising restrainment (sic) and I’ve been seeing women,” Scott says at one point in the recording, in response to his former bandmate’s plea that he get counseling for an attraction to minors.
Later, he claims that the contact that prompted his arrest happened on another date, after the boys returned to his home of their own accord. Denying he had sex with them, Scott admits, “I had a minor in my bed who was not appropriately…who was too close.”
According to both Valentino and Benavides, the parents of the alleged victims declined to press charges against Scott for fear of sullying the family name in a country where sexual assault remains largely taboo. Police in Seoul refused to confirm Scott’s questioning or arrest on privacy grounds.
The bandmate said his decision to make the recording was made in a desperate attempt to gather evidence after the Canadian Embassy in Seoul ignored concerns brought to it by him and two friends, including Louis Savoy, another Canadian.
“The Canadian embassy’s reaction was basically the equivalent of telling me that they didn’t have a form for that kind of a problem,” said Savoy, who now lives in Montreal. “That’s really how it had struck me. There was no subtext to the conversation. Everything was very clear.”
Apart from insisting it could not investigate the allegations, the embassy claimed it was even unable to contact local law enforcement on their behalf, according to Savoy, who said he had earlier tried to contact the South Korean police only to be laughed off the phone. “Everything I was trying to do just kept hitting a wall,” said Savoy. “So that was it. It was a pretty hopeless.”
The third person involved in notifying the embassy, another Canadian who lived in South Korea for nine years and has returned home since, recalled similar apathy.
“The Canadian embassy did not respond — in fact, they refused to. They didn’t want to have anything to do with it, which I thought was bewildering,” he said. “Why? Why wouldn’t you want to investigate this?”
The diplomatic mission’s apparent inaction raises questions about Canada’s commitment to tackling child sex abuse by its citizens abroad. A government website advises citizens who are abroad and have information about child sex abuse by a Canadian to contact their embassy for “information and assistance,” as well as to contact cybertip.ca, which receives tips about child exploitation online.
It is unclear what an intervention by consular staff with local law enforcement might have achieved — especially as, at the time, South Korea did not prosecute child sex abuse in cases where the parent or guardian decided not to press charges. But the embassy could have passed the information on to the Canadian authorities. Canada retains the right to prosecute citizens who commit child sex abuse abroad, and doesn’t require a conviction or consent from the foreign jurisdiction where the crime took place.
Jonathan M. Rosenthal, a Toronto-based criminal attorney and spokesman for anti-child exploitation non-profit Beyond Borders, says nothing in Canadian law would have prevented the embassy from notifying the authorities with a view to pursuing charges and Scott’s extradition.
“In my opinion when a Canadian embassy becomes aware of a Canadian committing offenses abroad it is simply disgraceful to not take action by doing everything humanly possible and to allow the offender to continue to abuse children abroad,” Rosenthal said.
When asked what, if any, protocols exist for diplomatic staff informed of alleged child sex abuse, Global Affairs Canada spokesperson Diana Khaddaj dodged the question, referring to the department’s recommendations to the public.
“Consular representatives at Canadian missions abroad recommend to persons reporting a crime to report it to law enforcement agencies,” Khaddaj said. “Investigating such allegations is the exclusive mandate of law enforcement agencies, and does not fall within the purview of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada.”
Khaddaj, however, acknowledged the existence of a committee — the Travelling Child Sex Offenders Committee — for sharing information with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police about Canadians already convicted overseas. Scott is not known to have had convictions at the time, suggesting this committee would not have had any relevancy to his case. When pressed, the department failed to offer any reason why consular staff could not have alerted the Canadian or South Korean authorities about the allegations against Scott. Both the department and the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner of Canada declined to confirm if they had any intention of looking into the Seoul embassy’s conduct.
“I think we have a responsibility for our citizens abroad when we export mayhem in the form of paedophiles,” said Brian McConaghy, a former RCMP officer who was instrumental in Canada’s prosecution of “Swirl Face” pedophile Christopher Neil after his release from a Thai jail.
McConaghy, who runs the Cambodia-based charity Ratanak International, laments a disconnect between the official rhetoric decrying child sex tourism and the reality of limited resources.
“Just on a national pride level and a national honour level, we need to be on top of this. And generally speaking we’re not,” said McConaghy.
After the nonresponse from official channels, Scott would go on living in South Korea for another four years, continuing to teach children in different jobs. He would eventually leave South Korea in 2012, though not because of the authorities. Frustrated by the apathy around him, Benavides contacted job recruiters en masse about Scott’s alleged history.
In an email dated March 2011, Benavides informed what he said were dozens of recruiters of Scott’s alleged arrest, warning them he was “not fit to be a teacher.” Along with the email, he sent a photo depicting what he said was Scott “inappropriately holding” a young boy while taking the bus home from the set of a local TV show on which Scott sometimes appeared. From then on, Scott apparently struggled to get work in South Korea. But within a year, he would be on a plane, planning to continue his life of making music — and teaching children — in Asia.
This time, he was headed for Thailand.
Jonathan Bailey, originally from the U.K., got to know Scott as a colleague at Sarasas Witaed Bangbon School in Bangkok, where the Canadian taught music and drama to kids throughout 2013. To Bailey, Scott came across as a “chameleon” who radiated showmanship.
“He changes his accent depending on who he’s talking to,” said Bailey. “He could tell you he’s English and he could pull off a good English accent. He could tell you he’s Ukrainian and speak fluent Russian to you. He could do a Canadian accent, he could do an American accent.”
Scott’s exact employment history in Thailand, where he spent about two years, isn’t clear. But, according to Bailey and two other former colleagues, the Canadian left Sarasas Witaed Bangbon near the end of 2013 after about a year.
Sharmayne Whitter, another Briton who worked at the school, said that Scott told her that he had been fired after an argument with the school’s management. It was only after Scott left that former colleagues became seriously concerned about his relationship with students. Soon after his dismissal, and seemingly oblivious or unconcerned about appearances, Scott uploaded photos to Facebook of himself and former students socialising in settings such as a movie theater and bowling alley.
On one occasion, he posted pictures of a former student and himself together at a beach in Pattaya, a popular tourist resort, according to one former colleague who wished to remain anonymous.
Then, in January 2014, Scott’s name made headlines. After entering Cambodia on a tourist visa, he was arrested on suspicion of paying a local 14-year-old boy for sex after luring him to his guesthouse room. According to local police quoted in The Phnom Penh Post, Scott admitted to sexual contact but claimed to have thought the boy was of legal age.
Following the initial interest in his arrest from local media, Scott’s case quickly dropped off the radar. Unbeknownst to the public, however, the Cambodian authorities declared Scott innocent and free to go on April 4, less than two months after he was arrested. The circumstances of his release remain murky, with discrepancies between court and prison documents, which were obtained by this writer, and other evidence including Scott’s own statements.
According to a letter of acquittal signed by the investigating judge at Battambang Provincial Court, UK Sovannarith, Scott denied engaging in any sexual activity “at every stage” of the investigation, while the alleged victim agreed there had been no sexual contact.
The document also says that “new information,” which differed from the police report, had emerged showing Scott’s innocence, without elaborating. It further states that the alleged victim had turned 15 on the day of the alleged assault. The age of consent in Cambodia is 15, but it remains a crime to pay anyone under 18 for sexual services.
In contrast to this version of events, however, Scott can be clearly heard admitting to performing oral sex on the boy in an audio recording of him talking to investigators. In the recording, heard by this writer, Scott claims he had not sought out sex and that the boy had fondled his genitals of his own accord. He also insists that he believed the alleged victim to be 17.
James McCabe, the director of operations at the Child Protection Unit, a partnership between local police and the nonprofit Cambodian Children’s Fund, said his inquiries found Scott’s release to have been justified on the grounds that the boy was actually of age. Court documents make no reference to any such defense, which would not have been applicable if Scott did pay for sex, but instead claim that no sexual activity took place.
Cambodia’s justice system is notorious for its opaque dealings and corruption. In 2015, at the launch of a report into Cambodia’s justice system by the International Bar Association, Canadian Judicial Justice Brenda Edwards described the existence of political and financial influence “at virtually every stage of the judiciary.”
Koy Heang, the police official who presided over Scott’s arrest, said that the court had not provided police with any explanation for the release. He reiterated that Scott had confessed to the crime, and said the alleged victim had testified to being paid for sex, as media had reported at the time.
Following his acquittal, Scott returned to Thailand. By now, news of Scott’s arrest in Cambodia had filtered through expat circles in Bangkok and it’s possible that he was unable to find another job. Regardless, Scott appears to have already decided to leave Thailand some time before. In a message he sent his former colleague, Whitter, after he was fired in Bangkok, Scott indicated his intention to move to Vietnam.
In Hanoi, Scott was no longer confident using his real name. On the local music circuit, he became Dean Wilson, performing as a solo act or with his band Dzoo at venues such as RockStore Hanoi and The Doors Cafe. Meanwhile, he paid the bills by teaching elementary level students at Cleverlearn Hanoi, an English language academy in the city. In an online video the school made to celebrate Christmas, Scott refers to himself as “Mr. Musicman” before one of a group of students corrects him: “No, no, you are not Mr. Musicman, you are Mr. Dean!”
“He was being extremely careful to not let kids know who he was,” said Brosowski, the founder of Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation. “Then at the end of 2014 or the start of 2015, he moved — so it seemed we had lost him. It really baffled us that we couldn’t work out who he was. We kept hearing about him but still couldn’t see him anywhere; he was picking up the kids from Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi at midnight or even later, and he seemed to have a really erratic schedule.”
Eventually, Brosowski’s organisation uncovered Scott’s true identity and gathered sufficient evidence to hand over to the police. But before this, there is evidence to suggest that Canadian authorities threw away yet more opportunities to prevent Scott from abusing, this time right before he moved to Vietnam.
McCabe, of Cambodia’s Child Protection, said that his organization twice warned the Canadian authorities about Scott after his arrest in Cambodia, as well as informing Thai immigration and the Vietnamese police.
According to McCabe, the CPU received no response to a report it submitted to the Canadian embassy in Australia, which handled Ottawa’s affairs in Cambodia. Following Scott’s release from prison, the CPU then attempted to contact the RMCP directly, McCabe said, only to be told they had “no interest” in the suspect as he wasn’t wanted for crimes in Canada. The RCMP would not respond to inquires about whether it had knowledge of Scott before his arrest in Hanoi.
“It is of serious concern that a Canadian national has been in multiple Asian countries, over a period of time has come to the attention of police in at least three of those countries and a formal or international inquiry into what he is doing in Southeast Asia is not being conducted,” said McCabe, a former police offer in Australia.
Canadian authorities had an obligation to look into his alleged offenses across different jurisdictions, he added.
“Unfortunately, because he’s crossing so many countries, not one agency would actually go back and look at him, his entire [history of alleged] offending. Now is that the responsibility of the Canadian police? I’d suggest it is,” he said.
The Department of Justice and Global Affairs Canada both declined to discuss any details related to Scott’s case.
“Canadian police are hugely handicapped if they get a call from somebody in Cambodia saying you’ve got a problem with a Canadian in Cambodia, and they’re stuck in Bangkok,” said McConaghy, who confirmed McCabe’s account of warning the Canadian authorities.
The RCMP has 37 liaison officers in 27 locations around the world, including Bangkok. Canada’s response to child sex tourism has nevertheless come in for repeated criticism in recent years.
A 2013 investigation by the Toronto Star revealed that just five Canadians were convicted for child sex tourism in the 16 years after the law took effect. The same report claimed that Canada had one of the worst records of any major country for prosecuting such crimes. The U.K. prosecuted 457 people in a span of just four years, the report said, while less-populated Australia secured 31 convictions in seven years.
For Scott, the immediate future is not yet set. While his sentence extends until 2019, Scott could be eligible for early release for good behavior after he has served at least a third of his sentence — less than 18 months. Should he return to Canada, he will be legally obliged to inform the RCMP of his conviction within 7 days. Then, the attorney general of the relevant jurisdiction may decide to add his name to the National Sex Offender Registry. Evidence presented in this investigation could potentially inform Canadian police enquiries.
“I can’t say what our government position or police position would be on it, but if it was me on the immigration line, I’d tell you his laptop would be gone as soon as he arrives, that would be seized instantly and gone through,” said McConaghy. “I think there is enough evidence, there are enough patterns of activity here. He has admitted enough already.”
Even without charges being laid, a Canadian judge could impose a peace bond on Scott, subjecting him to certain conditions such as restrictions on his movement.
“That would be exactly what I would do,” said McConaghy. “As soon as he would arrive home, based on the conviction in Vietnam, based on the patterns of activities that the Canadian embassies have been informed of and are aware of, I would have him immediately arrested and before a judge for a peace bond.”
It’s not certain, however, that Scott will actually end up in Canada. The Hanoi court signalled that he would be deported at the end of his sentence, though it did not specify to where. Deporting him home would not be without its difficulties. With no direct flights between Canada and Vietnam, and no Canadian charges to justify an escort by the RCMP, there is no guarantee that Scott wouldn’t simply book flights to a new Asian country en route and relocate there.
“Obviously I would want him deported to Canada,” McConaghy said. “The easiest way to do that would be to stick him on a plane to Montreal or Toronto, but if there are no direct flights, you lose control. So you can’t actually enforce that.”
Wherever Scott ends up, Canada’s seriousness about preventing child sex abuse abroad would appear due for serious scrutiny.
“Comments like ‘no Interest’ or ‘inability to act’ are sad indicators of the lack of concern,” said Rosenthal, the lawyer. “The law was passed to protect children abroad whose own countries will not protect them. On behalf of Beyond Borders for years I have said the government needs to do more to ensure that Canadian sexual predators abroad ought to be monitored and prosecuted more often.”
John Power is a Melbourne-based journalist whose work has appeared in outlets including The Age, The Guardian, The Christian Science Monitor, Crikey, NK News, The New Daily, The Irish Times, The South China Morning Post, and Vice. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.