Detective Bob Shilling, a 32-year veteran of the Seattle Police Department, is the first American to be offered a three-year assignment to lead Interpol's crimes-against-children unit in Lyon, France. While the city has agreed to cover Shilling's salary and benefits while he's overseas, the 61-year-old grandfather of three needs to come up with $200,000 to...
To Seattle police Detective Bob Shilling, photos that depict children being raped or molested should never be referred to as “child pornography.” Instead, they should be called “child-abuse images.”
Likewise, men who travel to poor, developing countries to have sex with kids aren’t engaging in “sex tourism.” The foreigners, usually from the U.S., Canada and Europe, are really “traveling sex offenders.”
“Let’s call it what it is,” said Shilling, who thinks terms like “child porn” and “sex tourism” diminish sex crimes against children.
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A survivor of child-sex abuse himself, Shilling has spent the bulk of his 32-year career in the Seattle Police Department’s Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Unit. For the past dozen years, his expertise has been tapped time and again by Interpol, the International Criminal Police Organization headquartered in Lyon, France, that provides investigative help and training to police agencies in its 190 member countries.
“My passport is very full,” the 61-year-old grandfather of three said of his travels to France, Germany, Switzerland, the U.K., Italy, Sri Lanka, Thailand and the island of Mallorca, all on Interpol business.
If things go Shilling’s way, he’ll have a lot more stamps in his passport by the end of 2016. In September, he became the first American to be offered a three-year “secondment”to lead Interpol’s Crimes Against Children Unit.
But there’s a catch: Shilling has to come up with $200,000 by Christmas Eve or the job offer will likely be rescinded.
It’s rare for a top Interpol post to go to a municipal law-enforcement officer like Shilling. It’s more common for federal law-enforcement officers from the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement or the U.S. Postal Service to be offered executive positions with the international police agency.
On Oct. 29, Shilling learned that Interpol Washington, the agency’s Central National Bureau in Washington, D.C., that falls under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Justice, would not be funding his three-year assignment.
“They said part of it had to do with the fact I was not a federal officer, so that made it more difficult,” Shilling said in an interview at Seattle police headquarters. The money to cover his position hadn’t been budgeted for, Shilling said he was told by officials with Interpol Washington.
But LaTonya Miller, a spokeswoman for Interpol Washington, said her agency does not fund secondments, or temporary assignments, for American personnel who take positions with Interpol in France.
“It is the responsibility of the candidate’s parent agency, whether federal, state, local, or tribal, to secure all necessary funding for these positions,” Miller wrote in an email responding to questions about Shilling’s job offer. “Interpol Washington is required to verify that all requirements for a secondment, to include funding, are met for each candidate by their parent agency.”
Seattle Police Chief John Diaz took the issue to Mayor Mike McGinn, who agreed the city would cover Shilling’s salary, benefits and insurance during his time overseas. Shilling isn’t sure of the exact amount, but he grossed $100,800 in 2011, according to a Seattle Times database of city employees.
Though the city is covering his salary and benefits, that still leaves a $200,000 shortfall to pay for Shilling’s living expenses as required by Interpol.
The Seattle Police Foundation, a nonprofit that supports the Police Department, is now trying to raise the money to send Shilling to France.
Though he was initially given a Dec. 1 deadline to have all his paperwork and proof of funding in to Interpol, Shilling learned a week ago that the deadline was extended to Jan. 1, which means everything has to be in the hands of Interpol Washington officials by Dec. 24 so that paperwork can be reviewed and sent to France in time.
“It’s quite an honor,” Diaz said of Shilling’s job offer. The Police Department, mayor and City Council all take issues involving child abuse and child-sex trafficking seriously, and their pledge to pay Shilling’s salary and benefits “shows just how important we think this is,” he said.
Shilling remains hopeful that he’ll still be able to take the job.
“This seems like the next natural step to do it on a global level,” Shilling said of his life’s work seeking justice for sexually abused and exploited children. “… There’s a lot of work to be done around the world for children.”
Shilling grew up in Los Angeles. He was 12 when his grandfather started sexually abusing him. The abuse, which was never reported to police, went on for four years, until Shilling threatened to kill his grandfather if he touched him again.
But it wasn’t until Shilling made detective and was assigned to the Seattle department’s sexual-assault unit in 1990 that he started to publicly tell his story — and learned that his grandfather had also abused Shilling’s three younger sisters.
“Sex offenders are able to do what they do because they operate under this veil of secrecy and my family was a prime example of that,” he said.
He knows the shame, embarrassment and trauma that child victims experience.
“It wasn’t a job to me, it was a passion,” Shilling said of his work in the Police Department’s sexual-assault unit. “Having been there, knowing what victims go through, I wanted to make sure we were getting justice and giving a voice to victims who otherwise would not be able to speak.”
Shilling was first invited to address members of Interpol in 1999, and soon after, the agency asked him to become a member of its specialist group on crimes against children.
“Interpol handles cases that cross international borders,” including investigations into child sex-trafficking and the production and distribution of child-abuse images, said Shilling.
“It’s not porn,” he said of the images. “You’re watching evidence of a crime.”
He said sex offenders from Commonwealth countries (former components of the British Empire) who travel to places like Thailand to have sex with children can be prosecuted in those countries, but also a second time their home countries.
“It’s not considered ‘double jeopardy,’ ” he said of prosecuting someone twice for the same crime. “They’ll get far more time here [in the U.S.] than they get in the foreign country.”
Part of his role with Interpol will be helping those poorer countries develop better evidence-gathering techniques — DNA collection and witness and victim interviews, for instance — so foreign governments have the evidence they need to prosecute sex offenders once they return to their home countries, Shilling said.
Poverty is one of the forces that enables sex offenders to exploit children in other countries, he said, citing Sri Lanka as an example. The average family there lives off the equivalent of $2 U.S. a day, he said.
“If you have somebody coming from Canada, the U.K., or the U.S. offering $500 for a night with your 10-year-old virgin child, that’s going to feed that family for a long time,” Shilling said.
Shilling has already secured a visa from the French consulate, undergone a medical exam and completed a stack of paperwork. All he needs now is $200,000 to cover his living expenses.
“It’s exciting and a bit surreal,” he said of the Interpol job. “The way I look at it … if it’s meant to be, it’ll happen.”
Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or firstname.lastname@example.org