Today, our co-founders, HRH Princess Eugenie of York and Julia de Boinville, are joined by Samson Inocencio, IJM’s Philippines’ National Director.
Sam leads IJM’s programme that confronts the urgent issue of online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC) in the Philippines. Over the past decade, the Philippines has become a hotspot for this shocking crime in which the victims are young children and the traffickers are often trusted family members. In a recent study into the nature and scale of OSEC in the Philippines, IJM found that the median age of identified victims was 11 years old. IJM also found that 41% of these children were trafficked by their biological parents and 42% by other relatives.
This is extremely alarming in the context of COVID-19. Lockdowns have trapped vulnerable victims at home with their traffickers, making them more isolated than before. Lockdowns have also resulted in a higher demand for child sex abuse material from predators around the world spending more time at home and online. As Sam says, lockdowns have created a perfect storm for OSEC to thrive.
Sam clearly emphasises that, despite the barriers and restrictions presented by the pandemic, “there is a functioning criminal justice system that protects children from this exploitation and abuse.” IJM continues their incredible work of supporting law enforcement to rescue victims, restoring survivors, bringing perpetrators to justice, and strengthening justice systems. When we speak to Sam, he is inspired and encouraged by the recent conviction of a prolific trafficker and by the restoration and courage of those who survived his abuse. The hopeful outcome of this case has affirmed his belief that OSEC can be eradicated in our lifetime.
What is OSEC?
Online Sexual Exploitation of Children (OSEC) is defined in IJM’s report as,
“the production, for the purpose of online publication or transmission, of visual depictions (e.g., photos, videos, live streaming) of the sexual abuse or exploitation of a minor for a third party who is not in the physical presence of the victim, in exchange for compensation.”
IJM and the Philippines
Since 2001, IJM has been supporting the Government of the Philippines in responding to child sex trafficking. As Sam tells us, the IJM model of rescuing victims, bringing perpetrators to justice, restoring survivors, and strengthening justice systems has proven success in confronting modern slavery in the Philippines. Between 2006 and 2016, IJM identified between 79% and 86% reductions in the prevalence of minors in street-based sex trafficking in target cities with the largest commercial sex markets.
The Philippines: a hotspot for OSEC
The IJM team is now focusing on fighting OSEC, also referred to as cybersex trafficking. IJM’s report, Online Sexual Exploitation of Children in the Philippines: Analysis and Recommendations for Governments, Industry and Civil Society, brought together global and local experts to better understand the nature and scale of OSEC in the Philippines.
This study confirmed what Sam says they already knew: the Philippines has become a global hotspot for OSEC. Between 2014 and 2017, the estimated prevalence rate of internet-based child sexual exploitation, of which OSEC is a subset, more than tripled.
According to the report, Philippine and international law enforcement agencies identified 381 victims in 90 OSEC cases investigated between 2011 and 2017. Shockingly, they found that the median age of these victims was just 11 years old, with the youngest less than one year old. Equally concerning, they found that this was a family-based crime with 41% being trafficked by their biological parents and 42% by other relatives.
To find out more, read IJM’s report.
OSEC during COVID-19
Sam expects that it is likely that OSEC will have increased during COVID-19. As people all over the world spend more time at home, there has been an increased demand for child sex abuse material. The lockdown is the perfect opportunity for traffickers to meet this demand. As the IJM study found, OSEC is a family-based crime in the vast majority of cases. Therefore, during this time, perpetrators have more access to their victims. There are also more barriers to detection, as families are isolated and children do not go to school.
Nevertheless, Sam makes clear that the pandemic has not stopped IJM’s pursuit of justice. From the start of the lockdown to the point of recording in late May, IJM had assisted in 8 operations that rescued 29 victims and arrested 5 suspects. Since recording, we are thrilled to hear that, as of today, IJM have assisted in 8 more operations, leading to 27 more victims rescued and at-risk children removed. These successful and crucial operations were also safe; IJM equipped their partners at the Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Center (PICACC) with personal protective equipment (PPE).
The day before we spoke to Sam, a prolific trafficker was successfully convicted through online proceedings. In 2017, David Timothy Deakin, an American citizen, was arrested by the Philippine National Bureau of Investigation Anti-Human Trafficking Division (NBI-AHTRAD), after a referral from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation. Last month, over a video conference due to lockdown measures, a judge declared Deakin guilty of large-scale trafficking in persons. He will spend his life in prison, much to the relief of those who survived his abuse and those who have fought tirelessly to secure justice. This case illustrates both the necessity of global cooperation in law enforcement and also the relentlessness of the fight against OSEC. For more information, read IJM’s press release.
To find out how you can support IJM in protecting those who are unsafe in lockdown, go to their website. All donations up until £50,000 will be doubled to send double the rescue to children unsafe in lockdown. Go here to donate.
What can we do?
Sam emphasises that this is a global problem that requires a global response. Although the Philippines is a major source country for OSEC, the customers tended to be older men from Western countries, such as the United States, Sweden, Australia and the UK. These customers drive demand for new exploitation by instructing and paying traffickers to exploit children. As Sam mentions, the National Crime Agency estimates that at least 300,000 individuals in the UK alone are posing a sexual threat to children, either through physical contact abuse or online.
Sam tells us that, shockingly, most of the exchanges between traffickers and customers take place on the surface web, not on the dark web, meaning that it is extremely accessible to those seeking it. In fact, the UK National Crime Agency recently reported that investigators were able to find child sexual abuse content on the open web in just three clicks. It is, therefore, imperative that technology companies prioritise the detection and prevention of all child sexual exploitation materials.
Sam urges listeners in the Philippines to report suspicious activity to the local authorities. He urges listeners around the world to speak up and raise awareness.
International Justice Mission (IJM) is a global organisation that partners with local justice systems to end violence against people living in poverty. It is the world’s largest anti-slavery organisation. IJM’s work to end slavery in our lifetime involves rescuing and restoring victims, bringing criminals to justice, and strengthening justice systems. Find out more at their website.