Attorney Samson Inocencio Jr. is the Vice President of the Global Program against OSEC and the National Director of IJM Philippines.
Tell us about the work of IJM in the Philippines
Atty. Sam shared how IJM Philippines has been around for 20 years, and their primary focus was tackling the crime of sex trafficking of minors.
In 2016 they transitioned their focus to the Online Sexual Exploitation of Children (OSEC). Atty. Sam explained that “we have focused our efforts on law enforcement, prosecution, aftercare, partnering with local law enforcement and conducting training like Advanced Investigative Workshops, which have led to the successful rescue of children and arrest of offenders. In addition, we have worked with partners like the Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Center, or PICACC, to help protect children.”
Is online sexual exploitation of children a crime of poverty?
What IJM Philippines found out after years of work, more than 300 cases and more than 1000 victims rescued is that poverty is a risk factor, but it is not the primary driver. This crime is financially motivated, and criminals engage in it because they believe the risks are low.
This is why IJM Philippines works closely with the criminal justice system in the Philippines to address this.
Is there a way of measuring the extent of online sexual exploitation of children?
Atty. Sam shared IJM’s recent groundbreaking achievement with the release of a study called Scale of Harm, which is the first of its kind.
After 2 years of collaboration with the University of Nottingham Rights Lab and an External Advisory Council of 24 experts from diverse sectors they were able to develop a robust mixed-method research approach to measure the prevalence of trafficking to create new child sexual exploitation materials or CSEM.
It incorporated in-country context and input from survivors through their participation in survey design, articulation of questions, and focus group discussions.
Atty. Sam went on to share some heartbreaking key findings: “In 2022, nearly half a million Filipino children, or 1 in 100 Filipino children, were sexually abused by traffickers to create new CSEM for sale to offenders around the world. The study also found that approximately nearly a quarter of a million adult Filipinos, or roughly 3 in every 1,000, were involved in financially motivated CSEM production.”
Who is on the demand side of online sexual exploitation of children?
OSEC is a global crime because it is primarily fueled by demand from foreign developed countries like the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, and dozens of other countries. The Anti-Money Laundering Council study on OSEC using suspicious transaction reports, shows that Canada has consistently been in the top four countries since 2015. (AMLC Study of April 2023).
The perpetrators are primarily men - who pay to direct and watch children abused live on free public websites such as Messenger or Skype.
They then easily wire payments to local traffickers and pay as low as $20, $50 or $100 to direct the abuse of a child.
Atty. Sam shared about the importance of the role that the Philippines plays as well as demand-side countries like Canada. “With IJM’s Theory of Change, we know that strengthening justice systems to hold offenders accountable reduces the prevalence of crimes and protects vulnerable people everywhere. But we also know that this problem is quite large and requires a multi-faceted approach, with everyone doing their part to protect children in need.”
What are some challenges you have faced being a front-line worker at IJM?
Atty. Sam shared some key challenges they face:
(1) From the investigation, which involves identifying victims, to the actual rescue it takes on average 2-3 months and as this happens across the Philippines, going to these crime locations requires a lot of coordination and resources.
(2) This crime is under-reported. A significant challenge is engaging tech companies to actively participate in detecting and reporting these crimes, which includes designing and supporting effective reporting mechanisms.
(3) It is a tech-enabled crime so we must invest in training police on proper skills development to effectively investigate.
(4) The majority of the survivors are 12 years and younger, some of them are even siblings, which presents unique challenges in terms of caring for them. Most of the perpetrators are also parents or family members of the victim, hence reintegration to family is not possible, so we must develop appropriate aftercare interventions like foster or kinship care.
(5) The global economic downturn, which resulted in reduced funding. This forced IJM to cut back on some activities and postpone certain plans to prioritize their support for law enforcement and survivors, ensuring that their needs were met to the best of their abilities.
Despite these hurdles, Atty Sam affirmed that “our team remained unwavering in our commitment to protecting children and aiding survivors of online exploitation.”
What is IJM Philippines’ role in achieving IJM’s vision to protect half a billion by 2030?
Atty. Sam shared about IJM Philippines' crucial role of protecting millions of Filipino children from OSEC and the importance of using survivor voices.
“I believe we cannot achieve this vision without survivor voice and leadership. They have a critical voice in the solution to ending this crime knowing their lived experiences. That is why IJM has placed survivor voices, specifically through the Philippine Survivor Network, on top of our key strategies to ensure survivor insights and recommendations are heard and incorporated in developing our programs and interventions.”
Your support can enable so much work in helping IJM tackle OSEC.
For just $25 you can send an Aftercare Kit to a Child Survivor of Online Trafficking. For $60 you can comfort a Survivor of Online Trafficking with Trauma-Focused Therapy. And for $400 you can fund an entire Investigations Package which is crucial in finding and restoring children.
At the end of the event, participants had the chance to share words describing their experiences. Every word was an encouragement for the difficult, yet crucial work IJM Philippines does in fighting against OSEC.
Thank you for showing interest in this IJM "Resilience event" and for bringing justice and protection to people who are most vulnerable, especially to children affected by OSEC in the Philippines.