|Olivier Larroque at the police office. Photo: An ninh thu do Newspaper.|
This story contains accounts of physical and sexual abuse, including rape.
PARIS—Life as a 14-year-old street child in Vietnam for Long was already bleak.
Long, a pseudonym used for his protection became an orphan at the age of eight. His father died when he was four, then his mother passed away four years later. He had left his village in the mountains of northern Vietnam to travel to the capital Hanoi where he could escape the wrath of his abusive caretaker aunt.
Often, his only meal of the day came from discarded fresh coconuts that he would dig from the garbage so he could eat the flesh. At other times, he would lift a few coins from temple donations to buy himself bread or play video games at an internet cafe—his one and only pleasure.
But after meeting Olivier Larroque in 2013, his life took an even darker turn. Now 24, Long was one of many impoverished, underage Vietnamese street boys whom Larroque lured with the promise of food and money before raping them.
As a young boy, he was stupefied by the rape.
“I never knew that something like this can happen in the world, where men make love with men, that this even existed,” Long told VICE World News of his thinking at the time.
Using his position of power as a doctor at a local hospital, Larroque raped dozens of boys between the ages of 13 and 15 in Hanoi from 2011 to 2013, a Paris court ruled in November. The doctor also filmed the abuse and authorities found he shared the images on the dark web.
Larroque was arrested in Hanoi in 2013 after one of the survivors managed to steal a memory card that held proof of the abuse. The survivor handed it over to local street children and anti-human trafficking charity Blue Dragon. The group sent the memory card to the French embassy in Vietnam, triggering an international investigation.
According to French court documents viewed by VICE World News, police found 69 videos and 546 photos showing child sexual abuse on the memory card involving more than 33 boys. Only nine could be identified, and seven of the survivors were minors under the age of 15.
Forensic experts also found a folder on the card titled “Confessions of a Pedophile,” which contained information on how the online world of child abuse imagery operates. There was also evidence that he had erased thousands of images and videos from his laptop and that he regularly visited child sexual abuse sites on the dark web.
Larroque was extradited back to France in 2013 in an agreement between the French and Vietnamese governments following his arrest, as child protection laws in Vietnam at the time covered girls but failed to recognize boys as victims of sexual abuse. It was believed he’d face harsher penalties in France.
In November, nine years after he was first extradited back to France, Larroque, now 60, was found guilty of raping minors under the age of 15 in a Paris courtroom and was sentenced to 20 years behind bars.
But he wasn’t in the courtroom to hear the verdict.
For a second time, Larroque had managed to slip through the French justice system by simply not showing up. The first time was in March 2022 when he failed to appear for questioning ahead of his trial on charges of sexual assault and rape of a minor. Though he was arrested in 2013, it took nine years for the case to reach the French courts, which has drawn criticism from NGOs and those involved in the case. An arrest warrant was issued, and he was eventually arrested in the south of France two weeks later.
What happened next, however, is what several NGOs and lawyers involved in the case have blasted as “baffling.” Despite being an apparent flight risk, a liberty and custody judge released him on judicial supervision. And then he vanished.
The last time anyone has heard from the sex offender was on Oct. 5, 2022, when Larroque checked in with the police as part of the conditions of his release under judicial supervision. Now on the run, Larroque’s fugitive status is a source of anxiety for many of the survivors, and unsettling for those wishing to bring him to justice. The escape also raises questions about the competence and judgment of the French judiciary system. A zoom-out on France’s justice system reveals bigger, broader structural problems that have been criticized by both those caught within the system, and observers looking in.
“It’s a real miscarriage of justice,” Emma Day, co-founder of Child Redress International, which works with survivors of transnational sexual exploitation, told VICE World News. “It’s terrible that a high-income country would not prioritize a case like this. He also clearly posed a risk to children in France while he was out on bail,” Day said.
Larroque was held in pre-trial detention between August 2013 and February 2015, then released on a €10,000 ($10,800) bail under judicial supervision, with orders to remain in France and undergo psychological treatment. He was also suspended from working and ordered to stay away from minors. The National Order of Physicians told VICE World News that Larroque removed himself from the list of registered doctors in 2016.
November’s hearing was supposed to mark the end of a long, drawn-out, transnational saga for the survivors, who had been waiting nine years for Larroque to answer to his crimes—and to seek reparations.
During that time, the boys grew into adulthood, battling addiction, depression, loneliness, cutting and self-harm along the way.
News of Larroque’s fugitive status has done little to assuage the survivors anxieties and suffering: They express fear he could be back in Vietnam, tracking down survivors to seek revenge, or out looking for new ones.
Long was by himself at Hoàn Kiếm Lake, in the historical center of Hanoi, at night when the white foreigner, who had been circling the perimeter of the water’s edge on his bicycle, approached him and asked for a massage in exchange for money.
Larroque led him back to a small apartment and made him a bowl of instant noodles. After the boy massaged him, the doctor placed a laptop in front of him to distract him with video games, before proceeding to rape him. Long, then 14, who had come from the Vietnamese countryside and knew little of the world, said he was terrified and stunned
“I was really frightened,” Long said.
It’s an eerily similar story for Sen, a pseudonym used for his privacy and safety, who in 2012 was also abused by Larroque. Sen’s first encounter with the doctor was violent.
After also being fed a bowl of instant noodles, Larroque began touching the 14-year-old, who didn’t understand what was happening. He panicked and tried to run away. But like Long, Sen was small for his age. Larroque pinned him down and prevented him from leaving. And though he couldn’t understand what he was saying, Sen knew that Larroque was angry and swearing in his native language.
“He was quite violent and I was worried he would kill me,” Sen, now 25, told VICE World News.
After raping him, Larroque gave the boy 100,000 VND ($4), as he did with most of his survivors, and sent him on his way.
Do Duy Vi, a co-CEO of Blue Dragon who was once a street child himself, remembers meeting some of the survivors a decade ago during his outreach walks along the lake. He would chat to them—under city bridges, in the parks, and in the streets.
It was a nightly routine: distributing meals, connecting with kids, and offering them emergency shelter. One by one, some of the survivors began to confide in Do independently, and the stories were all the same: A white man would approach them around the lake, often promising money and food, and lead them back to a hotel or his home where he would record and photograph sexual acts that ranged from forced fellatio to rape.
“When I met them, they couldn’t function well. A lot of them used drugs and did self-harm, cutting their arms,” Do tell VICE World News. “They were constantly harming themselves, and wouldn’t sleep for days until they were really exhausted and tired. They were crying all the time and talking about what happened to them.”
In a statement given following his arrest in 2013, Larroque claimed that the sex acts were consensual and that the boys were sex workers. The survivors say they went back to Larroque a few more times as they were desperate for food and money.
But in his decision, the presiding judge said that contrary to Larroque’s allegations, there was no evidence that the survivors sold sex on a regular basis, and pointed out that his modus operandi was to deliberately seek out poor, desperate-looking children.
“The fact that these minors, driven by hunger, the difficulty of their existence and the need to wash, have visited Olivier Larroque several times, cannot similarly be interpreted as a deliberate desire to consent, a priori, to sexual acts, as Olivier Larroque said during the investigation,” the judge wrote in 2022.
The judge added that Larroque wielded his power and privilege as a doctor, 35 years older than the survivors, to abuse the “lost, isolated, defenseless teenagers” and use them as simply sexual objects. Furthermore, the judge said that Larroque never expressed remorse for his actions and, on the contrary, exhibited contempt and scorn for the survivors.
Larroque was extradited back to France in 2013 in an agreement between the French and Vietnamese governments following his arrest, as child protection laws in Vietnam at the time covered girls but failed to recognize boys as victims of sexual abuse. Photo: Thomas
Race, privilege, and power play a major role in this and other cases involving foreigners, according to Day, the co-founder of Child Redress International, who attended the closed-door court hearing in Paris. She recalls the argument made by the prosecutor, who characterized the practice of traveling sex offenders seeking out children in poorer countries as a form of neo-colonialism.
“Nationality plays a big role in this situation,” Day said. “He traveled to these countries where children are most poor and vulnerable to take advantage of his status as a rich white man.”
While the NGOs involved in the case applaud November’s ruling handing Larroque the maximum sentence of 20 years in absentia, they, along with the survivors, question why it took nine years for the case to be brought to the courts.