CEBU, THE PHILIPPINES – Just as the sun was rising, a caravan of police cars and vans crossed one of the thousands of bridges connecting tiny islands throughout the Philippines. In the quiet hours of the early morning, the convoy of police and social workers would rescue 13 children—from 8 to 17 years old—who they believe were being regularly sexually abused in live videos broadcasted online, recorded in their rural neighborhood just outside Cebu City.
The complex rescue operation resulted from months of carefully coordinated investigations. Children were reportedly being sexually exploited online in homes throughout the same community where IJM and U.S. Homeland Security Investigations helped the Philippine National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) rescue two girls earlier this year. Since that rescue, law enforcement\ officers from the NBI had been working with IJM to plan this follow-up operation.
On September 6, IJM met with more than 50 police officers and 26 government social workers just before sunrise. Everyone deployed with a specific mission, and by 11:00 a.m., a dozen girls and one boy were safely back at the government shelter for sex trafficking survivors. Most of the children were found in their schools, while some of the girls were rescued by teams of police and social workers in local residences.
Social workers spoke with the survivors—all between 8 and 17 years old. It will take time for them to open up and fully share about the extent of abuse they endured.
The survivors will stay at HerSpace, the temporary shelter, until their needs are assessed and it's clear whether their homes are safe to return to. Three suspects were taken in for questioning on the day of the operation, and an investigation continues. IJM will support the case as it develops so that the men and women creating and profiting from child pornography will be restrained.