After a 14-month investigation, eight children are finally free from cybersex trafficking. In a joint operation involving Philippine authorities, U.S. Homeland Security and IJM, two sisters unwittingly offered the children—ranging from a 2-month-old to an 18-year-old—to an undercover agent for sexual exploitation.
Moment of rescue: A government social worker, in red, walks behind an IJM staff member and government authorities escorting children to a car that would take them to safety.
The seven girls and an 8-year-old boy were rescued on March 16, 2017, but the operation began much earlier than that.
This case was a spinoff from a 2015 arrest of an American man who was charged in the U.S. for involvement with online sexual exploitation of children. The man thought he was purchasing live sex shows involving children anonymously. But authorities found him and then set out to find the children trapped behind the screen—located somewhere in the Philippines.
U.S. Homeland Security referred the case to the Philippine National Bureau of Investigation in January 2016, and these authorities recently contacted IJM for assistance with the final investigations. Together, the rescue team staged an operation where an undercover agent arranged for an in-person meeting to purchase minors for sexual exploitation.
The 18-year-old girl shared that this was the second time she had been sold for in-person abuse. She was 15 years old the first time. She also shared how she had been asked to pose nude for a picture.
The two women arrested during the operation are sisters, a mother and aunt to many of the victims.
“The arrested persons were related to the victims because this illegal activity is being done inside their homes, and of course you have to gain the trust of the children, but who are these [victims]? They are your children, your neighbors’ children, and friends of your children,” said Janet Francisco, Chief of the National Bureau of Investigations Anti Human Trafficking Division.
The children are now safe at shelters, and they will join IJM’s aftercare program. This means an IJM social worker will be assigned to each child to make a unique treatment plan to assess and address their physical, psychosocial and emotional needs. The IJM team is working with government and private partners to develop new models of care that can support children just like these boys and girls as they grow up.
“Cybersex trafficking is a crime without borders. Predators in the U.S. can find a child half way across the world in the Philippines to sexually exploit, searching on the open internet and using basic video chat services to purchase abusive images and even direct a live ‘show’,” explained IJM Philippines National Director Sam Inocencio, adding,
“This case demonstrates how this complex crime demands a coordinated international response, and we commend the NBI for the tenacity and endurance it took to locate these children and restrain the Filipinos setting up the exploitation.”