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Haiti missionary sentenced to 23 years for child abuse

BALTIMORE – A Baptist missionary from Virginia, who lived in Haiti for more than a decade has been sentenced to 23 years in prison for the sexual abuse of children in the poor Caribbean nation, officials said.

James Arbaugh, 40, of the small Virginia town of Stuarts Draft is the latest American missionary to receive a hefty penalty for taking advantage of Haiti’s enormous poverty and anemia rule of law to the sexual abuse of vulnerable young people.

Earlier this year he pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of traveling in foreign commerce from the U.S. to Haiti to engage in illicit sexual acts with a child. He was sentenced Monday.

Brian Benczkowski, who leads the Justice Department’s criminal division, described Arbaugh as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

“He posed as a selfless missionary when in reality, he was exploiting his position to prey on and sexually abuse vulnerable children in one of the most impoverished areas of the world,” Benczkowski, an assistant attorney general, said in a press release.

Arbaugh was arrested last year after telling a Virginia counselor that he had sexual contact with minors in Haiti. A federal affidavit submitted by a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations said he told the investigators that he cared or had sexual contact with at least 21 Haitian boys.

The condemnation of the Arbaugh comes months after Daniel Pye of Arkansas, a missionary who operated a well-known orphanage in the picturesque coastal city of Jacmel, received a 40-year sentence in the US for sexual abuse of vulnerable Haitian young people under his care.

Haitian child lawyer Gertrude Sejour said foreign church groups that fund the work of missionaries in Haiti have to do a much better job to ensure that they do not work with sexual predators or sending them abroad.

“There is too many children that are abused,” said Sejour, the Haitian advocacy group Maurice Sixto Foundation.

Brian Concannon, executive director of the Boston-based advocacy group, Institute for justice and Democracy in Haiti, said Arbaugh’s sentence sends a strong message, but would be more powerful if more people were prosecuted.

“I think it is clear that much more abuse occurs that is not being prosecuted,” Concannon said in a telephone interview.

Arbaugh worked as a missionary with a group for a walk Together for Christ, Haiti, and described herself on a personal blog as an evangelist and religious film producer. Attempts to reach his lawyer were not successful.

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