Written by Ashley Koh

What happened?

The International Justice Mission (IJM) reported that the number of cybersex trade-related rescue and arrest operations in the Philippines went up from 17 in 2015 to 51 in the first nine months of 2018. What’s worse is that the age of the victims is going down, with most of them being 12 years old or younger, one in ten being boys. The youngest victim the IJM rescued was a three-month-old baby. Being labelled the ‘number one global source of child pornography’ by UNICEF, the Philippines has a horrifying problem to deal with.

Child cybersex live streaming crimes are usually operated as a family business, although there have been incidents where it has transformed into an organized syndicate. The IJM estimates that 70% of the abuse cases are carried out by adults who the victim knows. Half of the cases involve their parents. Due to the pervasiveness of poverty in Philippines, more people have resorted to child cybersex streaming as a lucrative illegal business. Child cybersex streaming usually costs 5,000 pesos (US$92 USD) to 15,000 pesos (US$ 276) per ‘show’. Some even charge for viewers to direct the abuse on stream.


What is being done?

The increased accessibility to the Deep web and the rapid adoption of peer-to-peer technology has allowed users to exchange illegal pornographic content with each other without a central server, making detection difficult. With the increased difficulty in catching sex predators, law enforcement officers rely on chatbots to bait out paedophiles. New technologies are also being developed to identify criminals and their victims using sophisticated image analysis. The Philippine officials also rely on cyber tips, liaising with banks and internet service providers to track down perpetrators and sources of child pornography.

Regardless, officers themselves have been emotionally drained by the horrors online. Victor Lorenzo from the Philippine cyber investigation unit mentioned, “No matter how hard you try to shield yourself from emotions, you just can’t. It’s very painful on our part as a human being whenever we see children performing live in front of a camera”.

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