A Voice for the Voiceless
By Ali Hull
Shay Cullen is a fighter. He is also a Catholic priest. And he is currently helping a woman, sexually abused by Gary Glitter while she was still a child, to sue the former pop star for compensation.
As the president of the Preda Foundation, Shay Cullen has spent 46 years tracking down sex offenders, getting children away from them, and campaigning to change the law. In the UK, he works with Jubilee Campaign, but he is based in the Philippines, a country which has provided a paradise for paedophiles for many, many years. Having been involved in a successful case to sue another convicted paedophile, Douglas Slade, for his abuse of Filipino victims, Shay has now got involved in the case against Glitter, who abused children in Vietnam. But what makes a man take on a lifetime battle?
How did you get involved in this work in the first place?
When I graduated from secondary school in Ireland, I wanted to see and understand the world beyond Ireland. I was inspired by the virtuous life of my parents, and their help for the poor – although we were not well off. I, too, wanted to help people overcome their problems and for them to have a chance, like I had, of a secure home, love and an education. Becoming a missionary priest was the only way one could do that in those days, before Oxfam hired staff to go abroad. Materialism, greed, selfishness, and violence cause poverty and oppression. This leads to abuse of women and children, the most vulnerable people. I was aware of the poverty and suffering, the needs and the hunger of people in the developing countries, and I read as much as I could about it. I joined the Missionary Society of St Columban in Ireland, and was ordained to the missionary priesthood in 1969. That same year, the Columban Missionary society sent me to the Philippines to serve the people.
Before you went, however, you spent some time in Kolkata, working with Mother Teresa – what did that mean to you?
It was inspiring and moving and I saw the human need to help the suffering people and the dying, but I also wanted to do more to prevent such human suffering in the world.
How did you get involve in rescuing children from the Filipino sex trade?
When I came to the Philippines, I was assigned to Olangapo City on Subic Bay, where the US Navy had a huge navy base, and where the ships and the marines would come ashore for ‘rest and recreation’. In other words, to sexually abuse women and children, with impunity, approved and supported by the local government. The sex bars and clubs paid taxes, and got operating permits and licences. And I saw the devastating effect of this on the youth, the women and children, and I opposed it and spoke against it. I began the Preda Foundation in 1974, to help the young people who were affected by the broken homes, the debauchery on the streets, and who saw no future for themselves other than in the sex industry. HIV-AIDS was rife, as was drug abuse, family break-up, human trafficking and child prostitution. Thousands of women were caught in debt bondage and commercially sexually exploited.
The Preda Foundation works to rescue the children from the trauma of sexual exploitation, rape, abuse… we have been protecting children for 46 years, healing them in therapeutic homes. We have earned many human rights awards, including four nominations for the Nobel peace prize, all of which has strengthened our reputation.
You have also been involved in campaigning to change the laws in various countries, so that sex tourists who commit offences against children in countries such as the Philippines can be prosecuted in their countries of origin, on their return home. Where has that been successful?
I campaigned in Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Germany. In Ireland, I proposed and campaigned for the anti-child porno law. It was passed.
You have been doing this work for a long time – apart from those individual paedophiles you have helped to put behind bars, has the situation got worse or better, over that time?
The situation in Olangapo City has greatly changed for the better. Hundreds of sex clubs have closed and been replaced by commercial businesses. However, sex tourism has grown in the Philippines, and many children and women are still exploited, trafficked and abused. The internet is a big part of this, and adult and child pornography causes many foreign sex tourists to travel to Asia to abuse. Many are caught and jailed for life, but there are many more still doing it, who one day, like Douglas Slade and Gary Glitter, will be caught. The Filipino government continues to give permits to the brothels and the bars, and allows the women and children to be exploited. Drug abuse is on the rise, incest is on the rise … and child rape is growing.
What can readers do to help?
We support a hundred children in care, and this costs £230 per month, per child. We always need funds, and money can be sent via Jubilee Campaign in the UK (jubileecampaign.com)