Andrea was 14 years old the first time a voice over the Internet told her to take off her clothes. Andrea, which is not her real name, said she had been lured away from her rural, mountain village in the Philippines by a cousin who said he would give her a well-paid job as a babysitter in the city. She thought she was leaving her impoverished life for an opportunity to earn money to finish high school. Instead, she became another victim caught up in the newest but no less sinister world of sexual exploitation — cyber-sex trafficking.
Andrea found that her new home would become both workplace and prison. She was shocked by what she saw. “The windows were covered so it was dark. There was a computer and a camera where naked girls would say words to seduce their mainly foreign customers.” She said customers would ask the girls to perform sexually with each other. For the next few months, Andrea said she was one of seven girls, between age 13 and 18, who spent day and night satisfying the sexual fantasies of men around the world. Paying $56 per minute, male customers typed their instructions onto a computer and then watched via a live camera as the girls performed sexual acts. She said the girls were often forced to watch the men they served on screens.
Andrea’s story is only one of many playing out every day in a nation where the conditions — widespread poverty, an established sex trade, a predominantly English-speaking, technically-literate population and widespread Internet access — have made it easy for crimes like this to flourish.
According to Andrey Sawchenko, National Director at the International Justice Mission Philippines, the private nature of the technology allows the crime to take place in a venue that law enforcement can’t easily access — and that makes it harder to gather evidence against perpetrators. Although no official statistics exist, Ruby Ramores, a former Executive at the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT), believes tens of thousands of women are involved in the industry and that most of the girls are recruited by friends, family — sometimes even by their parents. Poverty can often drive parents to sell the services of their children, she said.
There are signs that the Philippines government is focusing more on the issue. In 2011, the Philippines successfully prosecuted its first case of cyber-sex trafficking against two Swedish nationals and three Filipinos. The government has initiated a nationwide advocacy and media campaign that focuses on awareness of this new face of commercial sexual exploitation. This includes training seminars held to teach those on the front lines — law enforcement, prosecutors, government agencies, and NGOs — to combat these crimes. The Philippines Congress has also passed the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, which increases funding to government agencies, provides greater protection to victims and is designed to strengthen the prosecution of those engaged in human trafficking.
Andrea was rescued after being held for three months, when one of the other girls escaped and told the authorities. She is now a star witness in a case against her abusers, but she said she has received death threats and that has prevented the case from progressing. Now 20 and in college, she hopes to become a social worker so she can help victims. She offered advice from her own experience: “If you want to find a job, know everything about the recruiter, the kind of job and the payment. Don’t be blinded by the money. You can find a decent job, just don’t give up. And do not trust people so easily — just because someone is your family it does not mean they are good.”
Learn more at Sunshine de Leon’s CNN Freedom Project article: Cyber-sex trafficking: A 21st century scourge.
Source: Cable News Network, Turner Broadcasting System, Inc.