CEBU, THE PHILIPPINES -- May 3, 2016
In a heartbreaking rescue operation that led IJM to the youngest victim we have ever encountered, four girls and one boy were rescued from cybersex trafficking last week in the Philippines. The five victims—the youngest a baby less than a year old—are now safe at shelters and will receive ongoing care from government and IJM social workers.
IJM received a tip from a community in the Visayas region of the Philippines. We took the information to the specialized regional unit of the Women and Children Protection Center (WCPC), a new Filipino anti-trafficking police force. The April 26 operation was the first case of cybersex trafficking for the Visayas unit.
A careful investigation confirmed that children were being offered for online sexual exploitation. The surrounding neighbourhood is dangerous due to drug-related crime, but the five children faced egregious abuse inside their own home.
"Battling the evils of cybersex crimes is a present-day challenge that is so difficult to combat, not only because they are preying on young children, but more because they are concealed right inside their homes leaving us all blinded on the evils plaguing the children’s innocence,” said Senior Police Inspector Shirley May Montalban after the operation.
"Alarmingly, like a virus, it quickly spreads like an epidemic from the infected home into the vulnerable neighbourhood. We cannot afford to leave our eyes closed to the present reality.”
Pink-flowered curtains and bright-green tile floors gave the home in this impoverished neighbourhood a happy feel. But as WCPC officers marked evidence and pointed out webcams, the home turned into a crime scene and the bright colours felt sickly.
"It was a face-to-face encounter with the harsh realities of perversion in the realm of cybersex trafficking,” said the IJM lawyer who will take up the case against the two suspects. She added that her heart broke when she saw a mother, one of the suspects, nursing her baby that she had also allegedly offered up for online sexual abuse. The woman and her sister have been arrested and will face criminal charges.
Cybersex trafficking is an emerging threat across the Philippines. The Department of Justice receives thousands of case referrals a month, and the WCPC police are now in place to tackle the crime. IJM trained the new WCPC officers last December and we continue to work closely with these officials to develop cases online and on the ground.