Our flying crew was delighted to welcome all our passengers to our exclusive virtual trip to the Philippines. Steering our virtual voyage were our Pilot, David Pollendine, who also serves as IJM Canada's National Director of Development Growth during his day job, and his co-pilot, Anisha Nitin, IJM Canada's Senior Coordinator of Development Growth. The journey took us over the breathtaking views of the South China Sea, the Banaue Rice Terraces as finally landed in the bustling metropolis of Manila. Salamat Po, Thank you!
As soon as we landed, we were warmly greeted by Atty. Samson Inocencio Jr. (Atty. Sam), the Vice President of the Global Program against Online Sexual Exploitation of Children (OSEC) and our travel host, Ana Bungcaras, the administrative manager for the Cebu Field Office. Ana shared that she had dedicated 16 years of her career to working with IJM Philippines. She introduced us to the delectable delights of Filipino cuisine, including lechon, mangoes, and balut – a unique dish consisting of a fertilized developing egg embryo boiled and eaten from the shell. Our journey also took us to the stunning white sands and turquoise waters of Boracay and Palawan.
The rich and beautiful cultural heritage of the Philippines was captivating, but Atty. Liza also explained that there was a darker reality, the problem of online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC). We gathered with several IJM Philippines lawyers and investigators who shared their experiences and explained their strategies to combat this complex crime.
We were introduced to Atty. Reynaldo Bicol, Jr. (Atty. Rey), IJM Philippines Director of the Manila Office, who gave us a brief history of IJM Philippines. He shared that they had been working on protecting women and children from modern slavery and violence for over 20 years. Initially, their efforts were focused on commercial sex trafficking, and in partnership with the government, they successfully reduced the prevalence of minors by 72-86% in their project areas. In recent years, their focus has shifted towards addressing (OSEC).
How big is the problem of OSEC globally?
Atty. Rey explained that OSEC is the abuse of children, both directed and viewed, live over the internet. It is one of the most challenging types of casework IJM faces today.
The Philippines is one of the hotspots for OSEC for three reasons:
- Everyone speaks English, even in poor communities, so there is no language barrier
- The widespread availability of internet access and Wi-Fi
- Money transfer businesses are rampant and money conversion rates are favourable
Atty. Sam also shared some of the challenges of tackling this crime:
- Internet cafes and wi-fi – these are accessible even in the poorest of areas
- IP addresses are not detectable – due to poor internet infrastructure, finding the source of the abuse is extremely difficult
- Pre-paid SIM cards – these can be used and thrown out, so tracking the identity of users is difficult
- Families or trusted adults usually facilitate this abuse – a child may be separated from their parents for their own safety, for much, if not all of their childhood (The length of their parent's prison sentence can be anything from 15 years up to 40 years)
- Global nature of the crime – The facilitator and the victim of the abuse are in the Philippines, whereas the predators and child sex offenders live in countries like Canada, the US, the UK and Australia and all over the world.
How can we measure the prevalence of Online Sexual Exploitation of Children?
Atty. Sam shared about IJM Philippines’ newest groundbreaking study, called the Scale of Harm. Up until recently, there was no clear way to measure the prevalence of this crime.
To initiate this study, IJM collaborated with the world-leading University of Nottingham Rights Lab, and formed an External Advisory Council made up of 24 experts to develop and implement a methodology to measure the trafficking of children to create new sexual exploitation materials (TCSEM) through livestreamed videos, images, and recorded videos in 2022. Atty. Sam explained how this study’s findings “will provide crucial insights for policymakers, law enforcement agencies, and organizations involved in combatting this crime, reinforcing the urgent need for decisive action to protect vulnerable children.”
Atty. Sam shared some of the key findings from this study:
- Nearly half a million Filipino children were trafficked to produce livestreamed sexual abuse materials. That means about 1 in every 100 children have been subjected to this crime.
- Roughly a quarter of a million Filippino adults trafficked children to create these materials. Roughly 3 in every 1,000 adult Filipinos participated in this crime.
- Every trafficker has on average 3.5 victims.
- Traffickers are able to hide their behaviors by using discreet locations and falsifying their information online.
- As we found in our 2020 study, traffickers are often very close to the victims—their guardians or close family members. These relationships and actions on the part of traffickers make it hard for the public to report trafficking within the community.
Jorge Salang, an Internet Crimes Against Children Specialist with IJM Philippines shared about the nature of OSEC, some of the challenges it presents and how IJM Philippines has taken a leading role in strengthening the global response to combat this crime. The Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Centre which was established in 2019 is a model of law enforcement collaboration. The PICACC has allowed Philippine law enforcement to accelerate casework, information sharing, and rescues within the Philippines.
Additionally, it has resulted in faster, more efficient information sharing from, and to, international law enforcement so that both traffickers and the sexually motivated offenders who purchase the content are held accountable. To effectively tackle this crime partnerships and international collaboration like this are essential to combat OSEC.
Jorge shared a case involving a Canadian perpetrator, Philip Chicoine who was arrested in 2017 for abusing children online. RCMP Corporal Jared Clarke flew to the Philippines to testify against Chicoine, and Chicoine was subsequently sentenced to 12 years of in prison, but in 2019 after an appeal this was increased to 15 years. Jorge shared how Corporal Clarke was contacted just a few months ago to testify against the trafficker in the Chicoine case, and she was sentenced to two life sentences. This really brought home to us all that this is global crime which Canada is not exempt from.
Are there any solutions to end online sexual exploitation of children?
While the online sexual exploitation of children is a complex crime, IJM is committed to our ‘Theory of Change’ as a tried and tested solution to tackle this online phenomenon. IJM has a proven track record across the globe of ending modern slavery by partnering with governments to strengthen their justice systems. Time and time again, IJM has seen that when perpetrators are arrested and sent to prison for their crimes, the prevalence of modern slavery is reduced. It is quite simple, “when you enforce the law, the violence stops.” This is true for IJM’s work in tackling OSEC in the Philippines. As Jorge comments, “Effective criminal justice systems protect not only the children rescued but also thousands of others who will never be abused.” So, bringing traffickers and perpetrators to justice both in the source country (Philippines) and the demand side country (western countries) is an essential strategy for ending this crime. As Jorge states, this is a global crime which requires a global response. This also means detecting and reporting the abuse carried out globally on internet platforms and flagging questionable financial transactions which pay for this crime.
How can we work with internet providers and financial institutions to tackle OSEC?
Atty. Sam addressed this question by outlining the need to involve all the community actors, “our role in IJM is to create that environment where a wide array of partners and stakeholders are working together.” This means creating a supportive environment in which there is public demand, political will, and local mobilization for action. Sam emphasized the importance of partnering with a variety of sectors, including the government, churches, law enforcement, finance companies, social media platforms and influencers. IJM Philippines worked closely with the Department of Justice to develop and implement Video-In-Depth Disclosure Interviews (VIDI) which have helped protect victims from being subjected to the trauma of testifying in court.
IJM has successful partnerships with companies in tech and financial sectors such as WestPac, Meta, TikTok, and social media ambassadors like Filipina influencer Amanda Griffin-Jacob. This is really important, because if we want to disrupt the demand and supply of OSEC, partnering with these companies to find effective solutions is crucial.
What is the strategy for IJM’s Success?
Atty. Sam shared how the success of IJM’s work starts with a passion for protecting vulnerable people. We employ investigators with extensive expertise in law enforcement and renowned attorneys who collaborate with prosecutors to bring justice to traffickers who harm these children. Our aftercare workers are invaluable and provide high level trauma-informed care that brings freedom and hope for survivors beyond their abuse. The glue that holds all this together is IJM’s belief in the accompaniment model. By collaboratively working together we are able to see where the gaps are and fill them when necessary. This model is incredibly successful because by not working independently but rather in partnership with Philippine law enforcement teams, government agencies, and civil society organizations, we can ensure maximum impact through goodwill and government ownership of issues like OSEC.
A look behind the scenes of a rescue operation
Dolores “Dolly” Rubia is a dedicated social worker with more than 20 years of experience who enlightened us all on the process of aftercare for child survivors. The aftercare team are the first responders, and Dolly shared the importance of carrying a simple shawl to rescue.
This piece of material plays a crucial role in protecting the child’s identity as it is placed over their head. The aftercare workers bring comfort and security in a trauma-informed way at the point of rescue, and this continues throughout the long journey to restoration. There are many survivors of OSEC who are living proof of this as they speak out as advocates to end OSEC.
The voice that makes a difference.
The most powerful voices in this fight are of the survivors themselves. Recently, a group of Filipino survivors formed the Philippine Survivor Network as part of their effort to make their voices heard in national and global decision-making.
It was fun to use the illusion of flying to the Philippines and to imagine we were on a real airplane. We also enjoyed celebrating the work IJM Philippines is doing through the Karaoke song and to see some enthusiastic lip syncing.
However, the highlight of the evening was hearing from our Survivor leader, who despite the abuse and trauma she experienced was able to eloquently share her story and give us hope, but more importantly other survivors hope for the future.
"I am proud to be a survivor leader. It is an honour to use my story to help others and to make a difference in the world, to empower victims of online sexual abuse to speak out. Victims of online sexual abuse often feel ashamed and afraid to speak out. It is important to create a safe and supportive environment for victims to speak out and report abuse. By working together, we can end online sexual abuse and create a safer online environment for everyone. By supporting organizations that fight against OSEC and others that are working to end online sexual abuse, donors like you can make a real difference and help create a safer online environment for everyone.”
- Zoey*, Survivor Leader.
We all have a voice and a part to play in the fight to end OSEC. One effective way is to support the amazing work that happens through our IJM Philippines team. For as little as $50 a month you can provide the equivalent of two aftercare kits for child survivor’s of online sexual exploitation at the point of rescue. If you are interested in supporting this extremely vital work, please donate today. Not ready to give but want to be a part of the IJM community? Sign up to receive our newsletter and other opportunities to dive deeper into our work. Thank you for playing your part to bring protection to these children through your support.