After nearly a decade-long delay, seven young men from Vietnam, who as young teenagers were subjected to sexual abuse by a French doctor, finally had their case heard in November 2022. The highest criminal court in Paris imposed a maximum sentence of 20 years on Olivier Larroque, but he fled before the trial and remains at large. Despite him having absconded before, a judge decided that Larroque no longer had to wear an electronic tracking bracelet, allowing his final escape.
The Delay and Larroque’s Escape Are Shocking
On a closer look, the delay in the case’s outcome is nothing short of baffling. Larroque was arrested in 2013 in Vietnam after a sting operation by French law enforcement found him distributing horrific photos of children being sexually abused on the dark web. The evidence shows that he frequented a lake in Hanoi, where street boys hung around, poor, hungry and desperate. He enticed these boys back to his home and ordered them to perform oral sex on him before raping them.
Larroque photographed and videoed himself sexually abusing the children, saving the files on his laptop. These disturbing graphic images showed him violently abusing the victims against their will. Seven boys could be identified, but there were faces of another 33 boys found amongst the images who could not be discerned. Forensic analysts also discovered that Larroque had downloaded software that enabled him to erase 3,000 files from his laptop irretrievably, so the scale of his abuse is undoubtedly much higher. They also found that he regularly used P2P sharing networks known to be used by paedophiles, and his internet search terms included ‘teen boys’ and sites known to be used for sharing child sex abuse materials.
Despite this damning evidence, after his deportation to France in 2013, Larroque was allowed to roam free on bail and escape before his trial date – not once, but twice. Moreover, it took the judicial system nine long years to bring this seemingly clear case to trial. Why? Because successive magistrates were “investigating” it behind closed doors before determining the case was ready for trial.
Would this have been the case had the survivors in question been French children? The facts are hard to ignore and make one question the police and the judicial system. Is this incompetence, corruption, or did they think the crime was not serious? While the media has covered the case, it has so far failed to question why and how the system has allowed a dangerous serial child sex offender to remain free in society.
Ensuring Transnational Justice – How Three Organisations Came Together
Foreign victims of paedophiles are not routinely added as parties to French criminal cases, and it took the combined efforts of three NGOs – a local organisation in Vietnam; Child Redress International; and iProbono – to ensure that it happened in the Larroque case. The organisations worked relentlessly for over eight years to seek justice for the victims.
Child Redress International (CRI) is a British charity that tackles the justice gap for child survivors of sexual abuse where the perpetrator is a foreigner who targets children living in poverty. In 2014, CRI met with the Vietnamese NGO, which supports street children in Hanoi and helps them to get back into education or training and to find shelter and food. The organisation was looking after Larroque’s victims at the time. CRI reached out to iProbono to ensure that the children were added to the case in France and their voices were heard.
“We have walked a very long and rocky road with the victims in the past nine years, attempting to access some form of justice. While it is undeniably significant for the victims that Larroque was condemned by the highest court in France, it still remains only symbolic justice as long as Larroque is not found. I trust that the French authorities are doing everything within their power to track Larroque down for the sake of his known victims, and for the sake of children everywhere who remain at risk until he is caught,” says Emma Day, Chair of Trustees at Child Redress International.
iProbono Founder and Trustee Shireen Irani adds, “After years of waiting, the French court’s decision is welcome but for the victims, ‘justice’ is hollow while their abuser remains in society.”
The court awarded modest compensation of €12,000 to five of the victims and €8,000 to two others, a sum that seems very low considering that French victims of child sex abuse in the Catholic Church have this year been awarded up to €60,000 each. Moreover, Larroque has had nine years to dissipate his funds, so it remains to be seen whether the victims will receive any compensation at all.
‘I Don’t Want Any Child to Experience What I Experienced’
Words cannot express the impact of the abuse and the delay in justice on the victims, now young men. Over the years they have faced ongoing trauma, depression, addiction and stigma. This has impacted their ability to work and to live normally in society. One of the victims told iProbono, “The reason I’m here today is not to take revenge on Larroque, but to make sure that he doesn’t get to do what he did to me ever again. I don’t want any child to experience what I experienced.”
Not only do they feel shame regarding the abuse, the men also live in fear of people finding out about what happened. Being violated in their formative years has affected their relationships with their families and prevented them from having close relationships.
While Larroque’s conviction was important for them as an affirmation by a powerful institution that what happened to them was criminal, it is hard for them to come to terms with the fact that their perpetrator is still a free man, out of the law’s reach.
The Role of the French Police and the Court in Larroque’s escape
When interviewed by the police, Larroque clearly showed no repentance for his actions. He said that the boys were prostitutes, and he was helping them with food and money, and that this is the way things worked in Vietnam. After his arrest in France, he had a duty to report to the police and wore an electronic tracking bracelet. His trial was eventually scheduled for May 2022, but he had applied to the court to have his tag removed, and a judge made the extraordinary decision to grant the application. Predictably, he went missing, and his trial was postponed in his absence.
Larroque was subsequently found in the south of France, but he was neither imprisoned nor was it deemed necessary to reinstate his electronic bracelet, despite being a proven flight risk. His trial was rescheduled for November 2022, but once again, Larroque took his opportunity to escape for a second time and he has not been seen since.
It is not known whether he is still in France or has perhaps made it further afield to some of the countries he has travelled to before in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. In the past, he favoured countries where the children are the most poor and vulnerable so he could take advantage of his status as a rich white man. One of the reasons Larroque chose to go to these countries is likely because he believed he could get away with his crimes over there. Shamefully, it turns out that he was right.