Reports of sexual abuse of children triple during lockdown

Reports of online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC) increased threefold during the coronavirus lockdown, a development that the Department of Justice (DOJ) blamed on telecommunication companies' alleged failure to block the prohibited materials.

The DOJ Office of Cybercrime (OOC) said on Monday, May 25, it received 279,166 cyber tips from March to May 2020, compared to 76,561 cyber tips over the same period in 2019. That translates to an increase of 264.63%.

"The aforesaid increase is attributable to the fact that, during the enhanced community quarantine, strict home quarantine is observed in all households, and internet usage surges as people stay home," the DOJ said in a statement.

The DOJ said internet service providers (ISPs) or telecommunication companies had not proactively removed access to forms of OSECs in the internet. 

"It is unfortunate that eleven (11) years after the law that prohibits any form of child pornography was passed, the ISPs have continued to be remiss of [their] duty to install blocking or filtering technology that would have greatly reduced the amount of time necessary to identify perpetrators and victims," the DOJ said.

An exclusive two-part Rappler report revealed that leaked private sex videos of minors are being sold online for as low as P100. This is happening not anymore in deep parts of the internet, but over the very accessible Twitter and messaging apps like Telegram.

Justice Undersecretary Markk Perete said the DOJ was in "constant dialogue with social media companies, especially when we request retrieval/preservation of data for purposes of managing evidence for eventual prosecution."

But, he added, "our dialogue with ISP is towards preventive action" through the installation of filtering and blocking technology.

Perete said: "Technological solutions need to work alongside legal and policy in order for the Philippine government to effectively and efficiently combat OSEC. We are confident that ISPs will voluntarily comply with the law requiring them to install technology that will block or filter out materials that exploit children. They know that such a legal obligation is automatically read into their franchises and permits to operate."

Only 22 referrals

After assessing and finding cyber tips to be actionable, the DOJ cybercrime office refers cases to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Anti-Human Trafficking Division (AHTRAD) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) Women and Children Protection Center (WCPC).

The DOJ said that, from March to May, these two units received 22 referrals. They conducted operations on 10 of them.

The units were able to arrest 7 people and rescue 34 children.

There are 4 cases for inquest in the cities of Caloocan, Taguig, Angeles, and Butuan. Two other cases are already on trial in Lapu Lapu City in Cebu.

Asked why there were only 22 referrals out of the hundreds of thousands cyber tips, Perete said there were other referrals to the NBI Cybercrime Office, PNP Cybercrime Office, and and women's and children's desks. 

The 279,166 cyber tips may also be bloated, said the DOJ, due to misreportings.

The DOJ said there were identical materials reported by many people, as well as people reporting nude photos of children which were posted by relatives "in good faith."

There were also inaccurate reports forwarded by internet service providers. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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