22 years a slave: AP takes readers on emotional journey home

The Associated Press today published a gripping tale of the life of Myint Naing, one of hundreds of former slaves rescued and returned home after a yearlong AP investigation exposed extreme labor abuses in Southeast Asia’s seafood industry.

In this May 16, 2015 photo, former slave fisherman Myint Naing, center, hugs his niece Kyi Wai Hnin, right, and nephew Kyaw Min Tun following his return to his village in Mon State, Myanmar. Myint, 40, is among hundreds of former slave fishermen who returned to Myanmar following an Associated Press investigation into the use of forced labor in Southeast Asia's seafood industry. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

In this May 16, 2015 photo, former slave fisherman Myint Naing, center, hugs his niece Kyi Wai Hnin, right, and nephew Kyaw Min Tun following his return to his village in Mon State, Myanmar. Myint, 40, is among hundreds of former slave fishermen who returned to Myanmar following an Associated Press investigation into the use of forced labor in Southeast Asia’s seafood industry. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

AP documented how slave-caught fish was shipped from Indonesia to Thailand. It can then be exported to the United States and find its way to the supply chains of supermarkets and distributors, including Wal-Mart, Sysco and Kroger, and pet food brands, such as Fancy Feast, Meow Mix and Iams. The companies have all said they strongly condemn labor abuse and are taking steps to prevent it.

To highlight the human side of the story, Indonesia-based reporter Margie Mason, who has worked as an AP correspondent in Asia for the past 12 years, sought the assistance of her colleagues and interviewed more than 340 former slaves.

“We had a unique opportunity because the Indonesian government was providing shelter to hundreds of newly rescued Burmese, Cambodian and Laotian former slaves. We knew that once they went home they would scatter and it would be very hard to follow up,” Mason said. “We typed up questionnaires in three languages, asking everything from what boats they were on to whether they were beaten or witnessed anyone being killed. I, along with my colleagues Robin McDowell and Esther Htusan, have interviewed more than 70 men face-to-face.”

AP reporter Margie Mason (AP Photo).

AP reporter Margie Mason (AP Photo).

Choosing a single story to tell, among many heartbreaking ones, was the biggest challenge.

“Most of these men had not been in touch with their families for years and had no idea what they would find when they got home. The story had to be strong enough to stand on its own regardless of the ending,” Mason said. “Myint’s story is like a movie. The Thai seafood industry stole 22 years of his life. He thought he was never going home. He had no idea if his family was still in his old village or if his mother was even alive. So, to have such an amazing reunion just a day after he got back, was really incredible.”

International Enterprise Editor Mary Rajkumar, who was the editor on the investigation, added: “These stories really show why in-depth international journalism matters, and why it’s so important to keep doing it. In this day and age, it’s remarkable that journalism helped to free hundreds of slaves. But it’s  also a humbling reminder of how much more we need to do.”

AP’s initial report generated significant interest around the world and AP reporters described what they found to numerous media outlets, including HuffingtonPostLive’s “World Brief,PRI’s “The World,” NPR’s “Morning Edition,” the PBS NewsHour podcast “Shortwave,” and WNYC’s “The Leonard Lopate Show.”

Read the AP story and explore the interactive report, which features video of Myint’s emotional reunion.

The story of a prolific pedophile: How AP’s investigation came together

The discovery of a teacher whom the FBI regards as one of the most prolific pedophiles in memory has set off a crisis in the close-knit community of international schools and prompted hundreds of people to contact the bureau, greatly expanding the potential number of suspected victims.

There were decades of missed opportunities to bring William Vahey out of the shadows, The Associated Press revealed this week.

This combination of photos provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation shows William James Vahey in 1986, 1995, 2004 and 2013. Vahey, 64, killed himself in Luverne, Minn. on March 21, 2014. (AP Photo/FBI, File)

This combination of photos provided by the FBI shows William James Vahey in 1986, 1995, 2004 and 2013. (AP Photo/FBI, File)

The AP report and follow-up drew on AP’s global resources, as explained here by Mexico City-based Michael Weissenstein, a lead reporter in the investigation:

When did the scale of this story become evident to you?
The potential scale of William Vahey’s crimes was clear starting last month, when the FBI announced that they had photographic evidence that 90 boys had been drugged and molested, and they were seeking information from students and others who knew Vahey throughout his 40-year career. The FBI quoted Vahey himself as saying to his boss, after he was caught but before he killed himself last March, that he had been doing this all his life. What wasn’t clear was the scale of the missed opportunities to stop Vahey far sooner. This became evident as AP reporters around the world dug into Vahey’s past, digging up records and finding and interviewing people who had known him over the last four decades.

What were the obstacles and challenges in reporting it out?
This was a story about one of the most sensitive and upsetting possible topics _ child sexual molestation _ that sprawled over four decades and 10 countries on four continents. Many of Vahey’s students from years ago now lived in other countries and never knew they had been molested. The parents of students who are still minors understandably were deeply concerned about their children’s privacy. And schools and law-enforcement agencies were reluctant to talk due to concerns about privacy.

How did the global resources of AP factor into the reporting process?
We had a reporter with local sources and knowledge in every region where Vahey had worked. Tami Abdollah in Los Angeles dug deeply into the records of Vahey’s 1969 arrest for child-sex abuse, finding detailed court files and interviewing retired law-enforcement officials who knew how the system worked at the time. Bureau Chief Josh Goodman in Caracas, spoke at length to parents and staff there, unearthing details and anecdotes that allowed us to draw a detailed picture of Vahey’s time in Venezuela. Reporters in London, Minnesota, Jakarta, Dubai and Nicaragua all contributed further essential facts and color. A story like this would have been impossible without the ability to instantly activate the AP’s network of experienced reporters across the world.