CEBU, PHILIPPINES –Twelve girls just wanted to help their impoverished families. The girls were promised fake jobs. They didn’t know it would mean they would be sexually abused for money. Thanks to IJM and local authorities, today the two traffickers responsible for this abuse are behind bars—the first ever conviction for IJM in a new area of casework targeting online sexual exploitation of children.
Offered Fake Jobs at an Internet Café
Eleven of the victims were minors, 13-17 years old. They were poor and no longer in school. Most of them had never used a computer. Two women approached them with the promise of jobs. The girls were eager for employment that offered good pay and independence.
In fact, the girls were being sold into online sexual abuse—sometimes called cybersex trafficking—in which a paying customer online pays n to watch sexual abuse live on a webcam. The large group traveled by public ferry. The traffickers told the girls that they must do whatever the foreign customers online directed them to do, including undressing and erotic nude dancing.
At the port in Cebu, a security guard became suspicious of the two women who did not seem to be related to the young girls in their company. The guard called police to intervene and ask questions. It didn’t take long to see that the children were being trafficked.
Authorities asked IJM to meet the children at HerSpace, a safe center for human trafficking victims. Many spent time in longer-term aftercare homes, and most are now living back with their families.
That weekend in 2011 marked a new chapter for these twelve children as well as for IJM.
IJM’s First-Ever Conviction in Case of Online Sexual Exploitation of Children
The conviction is IJM’s first case of online sexual exploitation of children. Today’s verdict demonstrates that the Philippines is not a place where trafficking can flourish. The strong conviction sends a message to others who are earning money by abusing children in images and video broadcast online.
"Thankfully, due to the quick action of the Maritime Police in this case, all the children were rescued before being sexually exploited online,” explains IJM Cebu Deputy Director John Tanagho.
Two of the survivors were in the courtroom when the verdict was read. Aiyana* was 17 when rescued. Now 21, she is in a job training program so that she can become a cook. After the conviction Aiyana said, "I am so happy that the accused were convicted. I was so nervous when the court decision was being read. I was afraid it would be an acquittal. I felt relieved when they said ‘guilty’ because I knew we won. Now the accused will no longer recruit girls in my barangay (neighborhood).”
Jenna* was 15 when rescued. She echoed Aiyana’s reflection and said she was happy with the conviction. She added that she felt pity for the traffickers’ own children. Jenna still lives at an aftercare home for survivors of trafficking. She had only studied through grade three, but in less than five years at the home she is now in her fourth year of high school. She dreams of becoming an elementary school teacher. IJM staff took Aiyana and Jenna out to lunch after the hearing. Jenna led everyone in prayer, showing her faith and confidence.
Deputy Director Tanagho shared that today’s conviction ends a very painful chapter for Aiyana, Jenna and the other survivors: "After four and a half years of seeking justice, the survivors finally found it. Please pray that they can succeed in their life goals.”
*A pseudonym. Posted on November 16, 2015