Even 2-month-old babies can be cybersex victims – watchdog

Patty Pasion
Even 2-month-old babies can be cybersex victims – watchdog
International Justice Mission says abuse comes in many forms, with children's parents even sometimes involved in their own exploitation

MANILA, Philippines – Eight in 10 victims rescued from online sexual exploitation are minors, with some of them as young as two months old, said International Justice Mission (IJM).

IJM, a human rights group handling cases of online sexual exploitation of children in the Philippines, said most of the victims they have rescued are 12 years old or younger.

As of January, IJM has recorded a total of 57 cases of cybersex involving children. Three of these cases involved babies barely a year old.

IJM national director Sam Inocencio said the abuse comes in many forms, depending on what customers want. What’s worse is the acts are sometimes provoked by the children’s own parents.

“Some would be the parents showing the private parts. There are several platforms they could use – it could be over Skype [or] other platforms,” said Inocencio.

Abusive acts also happen between an adult and a child, between children, or between a child and a sex toy. There is even rape of a child being streamed live.

Given the children’s vulnerability, they are traumatized or conditioned to be receptive to sexual acts. The effects last for a lifetime.

“They have been violated at a very tender age and hence are unable to set healthy boundaries with members of the opposite sex. The impact of this abuse is immeasurable – it scars the mind of a child victim, distorts their view of adulthood, and destroys families,” Inocencio explained.

Efforts vs trafficking

Inocencio said parents or operators could earn as much as $80 to $100 (P4,000 to P5,000) per live show, depending on the abuse committed.

This sum makes it attractive to poor families, who are often the ones who become victims of cybersex trafficking.

In the US State Department’s 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report, the Philippines has maintained its Tier 1 status, which means it continues to “fully meet” the minimum standards “for the elimination of human trafficking” under the US Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000.

The report, however, recommended that Philippine authorities increase efforts in investigating and prosecuting officials involved in trafficking.

The Philippines, according to Inocencio, has the most stringent law against trafficking in the world. Republic Act 9208 or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 imposes life imprisonment for those convicted for trafficking of a minor.

But the implementation of the law is another matter, especially since the specialized police unit to combat trafficking was only established in 2014. The unit is under the Philippine National Police’s Women and Children Protection Center.

“We have to scale up the effort through the provision of more resources and staffing for these national and anti-trafficking units,” said Inocencio.

Communities’ help needed

According to IJM, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates that there are some 750,000 cybersex predators at any given moment. The Philippine Department of Justice also received 1,000 cyber tips per month from the US just in 2014. This has since risen to 5,000 tips per month.

Blas F. Ople Policy Center and Training Institute president Susan Ople said cracking down on cybersex dens has been difficult for authorities because the exploitation usually happens inside inconspicuous homes.

What the government needs to boost is the awareness of the community to help identify suspicious activities in their area.

“We are also appealing to the Department of Information and Communications Technology, Department of the Interior and Local Government, the National Bureau of Investigation, and the police to join forces and embark on an awareness-raising campaign so that communities, wherever they are, would take note of the serious problem,” said Ople. – Rappler.com 

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Patty Pasion

Patty leads the Rappler+ membership program. She used to be a Rappler multimedia reporter who covered politics, labor, and development issues of vulnerable sectors.