Montreal has been identified as a "high-risk hub" for child sex tourism in an international study on the sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism.

The two-year study published by ECPAT International on Thursday suggested no country is immune from child sex tourism, and highlighted Montreal, Atlanta, Las Vegas and Washington, D.C. as hotspots in North America. The study concluded that sexual tourism has become "endemic" in the last 20 years, during which time the number of tourists arriving in other countries has more than doubled, from 527 million to 1.135 billion annually. ECPAT International said the internet is also partially to blame, as it has opened up new avenues for potential offenders to arrange meetups anonymously.

The study of 15 different countries in nine different regions of the world said it is "likely" that more children are being sexually exploited now than ever before. It also suggested that most individuals who engage in child sex tourism are "situational offenders" who abuse children because they are given the opportunity and assured that they can get away with it.

"These are business travellers, these are migrant transient workers, these are volunteers," said Ernie Allen, leader of ECPAT's task force on sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism.

Allen said Montreal is a “magnet community” for organized criminals who exploit children, because of its sporting events, entertainment, trade shows and conventions.

Boys and girls of all ages, especially those from marginalized backgrounds, are the most frequently abused, according to the study. It also found that while most offenders are men, "some offenders are women or children."

Carol Bellamy, chair of ECPAT International's board of trustees, said her organization does not have a concrete set of data on the issue, but it does have the "largest bank of information ever gathered on the issue."

"Any child could be a victim, but the risks are profound for those who are already vulnerable," Bellamy said at a briefing in Washington, D.C. on Thursday. She added that in most cases of child sex tourism, there is "social distance" between the powerful offender and the vulnerable victim – "a sense that, somehow, the child doesn't matter."

Sex tourism and Canada

The ECPAT International study identified Canada and the United States as "source countries for offenders" who travel elsewhere to sexually exploit children. However, the two nations are also "destination countries" for child sex tourism, particularly for business travellers, conference/major event attendees, oil workers and individuals passing through major transportation hubs.

The study noted that offences are often concentrated along major trucking routes and among temporary oilfield workers. In Canada, it identified indigenous women and children as particularly vulnerable in oilpatch regions and near mining sites, where they are frequently exploited.

"The only way not to find this problem in any community is simply not to look," Allen said. "The good news is we've begun to look. The bad news is you have to look, then you have to act. And you have to put the kinds of systems in place to minimize the risk that this will happen."

How to stop it

The report says despite 20 years of efforts on the part of ECPAT International, child sex tourism has only grown. As a result, the Thailand-based organization is calling for greater collaboration between governments, law enforcement agencies and the travel industry to fight sex tourism.

"Tourism is soaring, while protection lags," U.S. Congressman Chris Smith said at the briefing on Thursday.

Bellamy added that many individuals in the tourism industry need to change their attitudes, as they have been known to overlook the best interests of children in order to keep making money.

She also called for greater inter-agency co-operation on child sex tourism, so more offenders can be identified and punished.

"The chances of being caught or punished remain slight," she said.

The study includes a number of recommendations for fighting child sex tourism in the world, including setting up anonymous tip lines, working with internet service providers to slow the sale of children online, and establishing or developing rehabilitation services for victims.