A former soldier stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington received a 22-year prison sentence on Feb. 16 for sex trafficking children, producing images of child sexual abuse and traveling to sexually abuse children, according to press release from a U.S. district court in Washington.
Staff Sgt. Moeun Yoeun, 40, from Steilacoom, Washington, pleaded guilty in August 2022 to the crimes, admitting he threatened young girls in the Philippines with death if they refused his assaults, according to the release from the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. He was arrested in March 2019 and faced a maximum penalty of up to life in prison according to another release from the court.
“Mr. Yoeun weaponized his position of trust as a noncommissioned officer in the United States Army, to sexually exploit and cause irreversible trauma to impoverished girls in the Philippines,” prosecutor Nick Brown said in the statement. “He cruelly threatened their lives if they tried to flee from his violent sexual assaults. This lengthy sentence is necessary to deter Mr. Yoeun and others who prey on children.”
The sentencing comes as the United States and the Philippines look to tighten their military alliance, giving U.S. forces access to additional military camps and the ability to compete with neighboring China. American leaders have recently looked to renew a partnership with the Indo-Pacific nation, as the new Filipino president reportedly seems to favor Washington over Beijing.
They’ve also sought to repair ties strained over the U.S. military presence on the islands following, among other episodes, a series of incidents involving U.S. Marines killing and or raping Filipinos.
The soldier’s illicit actions took place between approximately October 2018 and February 2019, according to court documents. Following several inappropriate online conversations, in December 2018, Yoeun traveled to Manila, the capital of the Philippines, where he engaged in multiple acts of sexually explicit conduct with minors.
In his plea agreement, Yoeun admitted to getting adults and children in the Philippines to help him recruit more than a dozen minors to produce pornography, even several years prior to his December trip overseas. He also admitted to traveling to the Philippines and engaging in sexual acts with at least six children in exchange for money.
Judge Benjamin H. Settle called the crimes “vicious, heinous, and cruel,” according to the court release.
When Yoeun is eventually released from prison, he will be required to register as a sex offender and will be on federal supervision for 15 years, the court release added.
“Moeun Yoeun served as a [h]uman [r]esources [s]pecialist in the … Army from July 2003 to September 2019. He … deployed to Iraq from January 2004 to January 2005 and Afghanistan from April 2011 to January 2012. He held the rank of private at the end of service,” Sgt. Pablo Saez, an Army spokesperson, told Military Times via email.
If you or someone you know is being exploited or has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available at the DoD Safe Helpline at https://online.safehelpline.org/ or by calling 877-995-5247.
Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media