CEBU, PHILIPPINES , November 15, 2017
One little girl was hidden behind a door. Another was riding her bike in the neighbourhood. Another was at a Girl Scouts meeting. But IJM and Philippine authorities found them all, bringing nine children total to safety. Ranging from two to nine years old, the girls and boys had been victims of cybersex trafficking.
The children are led out into freedom.
The investigation began with a tip from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. They had uncovered a case of cybersex trafficking, involving a Canadian man who would apparently pay a woman in the Philippines to direct and view “live-streamed” sexual abuse of young children.
Thanks to a new grant from the U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Office that expands IJM’s project area to include remote cybersex trafficking hotspots, the team was able to support the Visayas Unit of the Philippine Women and Children Protection Centre (WCPC). They built a case using online techniques, then traveled by car and ferry a couple hundred miles to rescue the children.
On Friday, November 10, police caught the suspect in a sting operation as she offered to exploit her 8-year-old daughter. She had also described other forms of sexual abuse that foreign customers could pay to watch, saying she could get children of “any age.”
Scenes from inside the house where the woman was apparently offering young children for online sexual exploitation. Numbered cards mark evidence.
“This was a family business. The suspect deserves to go to jail for what she did,” said Colonel Romeo Perigo, of the WCPC Visayas Field Unit.
“This operation is the clear message that WCPC wants to send to every facilitator/perpetrator of this crime. We mean business…that is, put you behind bars and make you accountable for every act of exploitation you commit and every dream of children you destroyed,” added Police Superintendent Maria Sheila T. Portento, of the WCPC Operations Management Division.
IJM and government social workers were on site to escort the children safely to vans, offering them brightly-colored scarves to shield them from neighbors and onlookers. Survivors of cybersex trafficking need targeted therapy and a safe place to recover and rebuild trust, particularly in cases like this one where the criminal was mother or aunt to most of the victims.
“Law enforcement is actively tracking down victims of cybersex trafficking wherever they are, so that these vulnerable children can live a childhood free from perverse sexual exploitation and abuse at the hands of their own parents, relatives and neighbours,” said IJM Cebu Field Office Director John Tanagho.