September 7, 2023, MANILA, PHILIPPINES – In 2022 alone, nearly half a million Filipino children, or roughly 1 in 100 children, were trafficked to produce child sexual exploitation material (CSEM) for profit according to estimates from the pioneering Scale of Harm prevalence study by International Justice Mission (IJM) and the University of Nottingham Rights Lab that was co-designed with survivors of this crime. With abuse largely driven by demand from the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and Europe, survivors and IJM are calling on leaders across governments, tech companies and financial institutions to protect children and prevent this growing problem from escalating further.
The Scale of Harm study – the first of its kind — measured the prevalence of the trafficking of children in the Philippines to produce CSEM for profit, especially livestreamed child sexual abuse. In this crime, a local trafficker sexually abuses a child in person while an offender, typically from a Western country, watches the abuse happen in real-time via video call. The sex offenders pay Philippine-based traffickers as little as $25 (USD) to participate in online sexual abuse of children. Although it is a small amount for the offender, it is sufficient within the Philippines to drive an ongoing demand for CSEM. The Philippines has become a global hot spot for financially motivated development of livestreamed child sexual exploitation.
A 2023 report by the Philippine Anti-Money Laundering Council found that U.S.-originating payments triggered the largest number of suspicious financial transaction reports related to online child sexual abuse and exploitation in the Philippines.
The report states: Since 2015, the top source of Online Sexual Abuse and Exploited Children (OSAEC) related remittances in terms of volume and Philippine Peso (PhP) value is the United States. Trailing behind a significant margin are the countries of United Kingdom, Australia, Canada. Notably, Australia and Canada have consistently ranked third and fourth since 2015.
“As a survivor who knows the pain of online sexual exploitation, the [Scale of Harm] study’s findings underscore the urgency for stronger collective action to protect innocent children. Co-designed by survivors, this study is informed by lived experiences. With recommendations involving government, tech and financial companies, civil society organizations and individuals in our communities, this study marks a crucial step forward,” said Ruby (not her real name), a survivor leader and one of the survivor consultants who shaped the study.
John Tanagho, Executive Director of IJM’s Center to End Online Sexual Exploitation of Children said, “It is crystal clear that digital spaces and internet-connected, camera-enabled devices pose growing opportunities for offenders to sexually abuse children with ease, anonymity and impunity. What we’ve seen through Scale of Harm is the sickening scale of abuse. Child protection urgently demands increased tech sector detection, reporting, a duty of care, safety by design, transparency and accountability, along with improved law enforcement responses – in both demand and supply-side countries.
Passage of online safety legislation in the EU, U.K., U.S. and Canada is truly urgent, because this growing societal cancer has – for many years now – been outstripping our global capacity to respond and is constantly evolving as technology changes.
To stem the growth of these violations of children’s rights, it will take coordinated global action among legislators, criminal justice systems, tech and financial sectors, civil society and survivor leaders. The challenges are complex, but child protection solutions – in the justice, tech and financial sectors – already exist. It is time for key stakeholders to prioritize their broad deployment.”
IJM undertook the Scale of Harm study over the course of two years, in partnership with the University of Nottingham’s Rights Lab in the U.K, survivor consultants and 24 world-class experts, researchers and field practitioners from organizations across the technology, financial, government and child protection sectors.
Survivor focus groups helped identify gaps in awareness and understanding of trafficking for the production of CSEM as well as gaps in public knowledge on how to identify exploitative online behavior. They also shared tactics employed by traffickers to conceal illegal activities and cited socio-cultural factors contributing to underreporting, particularly in cases with ongoing victim-trafficker relationships.
“The study marks a significant leap forward in understanding the scale of selling livestreamed and new images and videos of child sexual abuse in the Philippines. Building on the previous 2020 OSEC study led by IJM, Scale of Harm employed rigorous methodologies, including national household surveys and data analysis, to provide a comprehensive assessment of the crime’s prevalence. It also incorporated valuable inputs from survivors through their involvement in survey design and focus group discussions.” said Professor Zoe Trodd, Nottingham Rights Lab Director.
According to previous studies by IJM, over half the children abused in identified cases were 12 years-old or younger, with the youngest being just a few months old. Children experienced both mental and physical trauma from this abuse. In the Philippines, victims were abused on average for two years prior to safeguarding.
Members from the Philippines Survivor Network advocacy group, who helped inform this study, are urging global action to prevent children from experiencing this trauma. Survivors are urging researchers to look into how trafficking to produce CSEM is becoming normalized within societies, particularly concerning foreign offenders engaging in relationships with minors and the local traffickers seeking financial gain.
The results of the Scale of Harm study, based on groundbreaking new research, are a global wake-up call that we cannot ignore. Visit ijm.org.ph to access the summary report on Sept. 7. The full report will be available on Sept. 14, 2023, after an online global launch of the study results.
Notes to Editors:
- The Scale of Harm study exclusively focused on one specific form of online child sexual exploitation: the trafficking of children to produce new child sexual exploitation material (CSEM) in livestreamed videos, images and recorded videos. It is distinct from other forms of online sexual exploitation of children, such as sextortion, grooming, sharing of known CSEM or self-produced sexual imagery.
- The Terminology Guidelines for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, also known as the Luxembourg Guidelines, prescribes the use of the term “child sexual abuse material (CSAM)” or “child sexual exploitation material (CSEM)” instead of “child pornography.” Sexualized material that depicts or otherwise represents children is a representation and a form, of child sexual abuse and should not be described as “pornography.”
- For information on countries that are driving demand for online sexual abuse and exploitation of children in the Philippines, please see the following research article: Anti-Money Laundering Council. (2023). Online Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children in the Philippines: An Evaluation Using STR Data (July 2020 – December 2022), http://www.amlc.gov.ph/16-news-and-announcements/454-online-sexual-abuse-and-exploitation-of-children-in-the-philippines-an-evaluation-using-str-data.
- As of August 2023, data from IJM-supported operations reveals that Philippine authorities have brought 1,181 victims and at-risk individuals to safety and apprehended 359 suspected perpetrators, with at least 202 of them already convicted.
What leaders are saying about Scale of Harm Study:
- "Alarming findings from the new IJM Scale of Harm survey reveal that nearly half a million children in the Philippines have been trafficked to produce child sexual exploitation material, often by relatives or people they know. However, this issue transcends borders: where we look for these crimes, we uncover them, and once these abusive images and videos are online, they can be accessed and shared by perpetrators all over the world. Responses to this threat must therefore be global, coordinated, and guided by both evidence and the voices of survivors, just as this study’s recommendations have been." - Iain Drennan, Executive Director, WeProtect Global Alliance
- “IJM’s Scale of Harm provides alarming insights into the magnitude of child sexual exploitation in the Philippines, especially the prevalence of livestreaming, on demand child sexual exploitation and child sex traffickers exploiting victims to produce child sexual abuse imagery. Every day, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children provides thousands of CyberTipline reports to the Philippine National Police regarding child sexual exploitation. We strongly support IJM’s Scale of Harm key recommendations to better protect children.” - John Shehan, Senior Vice President, Exploited Children Division & International Engagement - The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children
- “The Australian Institute of Criminology has been pleased to support International Justice Mission’s Scale of Harm project as a member of the initiative’s External Advisory Council. Through our own work, we have recognized the harm caused to children in the Philippines by perpetrators who purchase livestreamed child sexual abuse. This project has helped to clarify the extent of that harm, using robust scientific methods to generate an understanding of the problem that has not previously been possible. We believe this study will help to drive further action to protect future generations of children from experiencing online sexual exploitation.” - Dr. Rick Brown, Deputy Director, Australian Institute of Criminology
For inquiries, contact:
International Justice Mission is a global organization that protects people in poverty from violence. IJM partners with local authorities in 31 program offices in 16 countries to rescue and restore survivors, hold perpetrators accountable, and help strengthen public justice systems so they can better protect people from violence.
Our work in the Philippines led to a dramatic decrease in the prevalence of sex trafficking of children in bars and brothels—reductions ranging from 72%-86% in the cities where we partnered with local authorities. In 2016, IJM fully transitioned our program in the Philippines to combat online sexual exploitation of children, in particular the trafficking of children to produce new child sexual abuse materials, including via livestreaming.
Learn more: IJM.org
About the University of Nottingham:
Ranked in the Top 100 globally and 17th in the U.K. by the QS World University Rankings 2024, the University of Nottingham is a founding member of Russell Group of research-intensive universities. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience, and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our students. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement. The University is among the best universities in the U.K. for the strength of our research, positioned seventh for research power in the U.K. according to REF 2021. The birthplace of discoveries such as MRI and ibuprofen, our innovations transform lives and tackle global problems such as sustainable food supplies, ending modern slavery, developing greener transport, and reducing reliance on fossil fuels. The University is a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally - and our graduates are the second most targeted by the U.K.'s top employers, according to The Graduate Market in 2022 report by High Fliers Research. We lead the Universities for Nottingham initiative, in partnership with Nottingham Trent University, a pioneering collaboration between the city’s two world-class institutions to improve levels of prosperity, opportunity, sustainability, health and well-being for residents in the city and region we are proud to call home.
About Nottingham Rights Lab:
We are the world’s largest group of modern slavery researchers, and home to many leading modern slavery experts. Through our four research programmes, we deliver new and cutting-edge research that provides rigorous data, evidence and discoveries for the global antislavery effort.