The Advanced Investigative Workshop, held March 25-April 5 in Cebu, brought global collaboration from nations like Australia, the U.K. and the U.S. to the fight against cybersex trafficking of children—leading to breakthrough in real cases in the Philippines, and the rescue of 14 victims.
Aiming to strengthen Philippine law enforcement’s efforts to combat the exploitation of children online, the workshop included practical components that allowed officers to work on actual investigative leads and referrals. And it led to tangible results: To date, through five anti-trafficking operations, authorities have rescued 14 trafficking victims, brought two at-risk children to safety and arrested four Filipino suspects.
10-Day Workshop Moves Anti-Trafficking Cases Forward
Participants of last month’s highly contextualized, 10-day workshop included officers from the Philippine National Police, with representatives from its Women and Children Protection Center (PNP-WCPC), Women and Children Protection Desks and the Regional Anti-Cybercrime Unit. Participants conducted casework activities, with coaching and guidance from subject matter experts, on actual investigative leads and referrals regarding the sexual exploitation of children online. The immediate goal was to equip participants to conduct investigations on these cases, leading to arrests of perpetrators and rescues of victimized children.
The workshop represented an unprecedented level of support from Filipino and foreign law enforcement, as well as local and international organizations. Presented by IJM, with funding from the U.S. Department of State, it was conducted in partnership with Australian Federal Police, National Police of the Netherlands, UK National Crime Agency, US Federal Bureau of Investigation, INTERPOL, Queensland Police Service, and the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation.
Western Union, a money transfer agency used widely in the Philippines, as well as the Philippine Long-Distance Telephone Company, a nation-wide internet service provider and telecommunications company, provided additional support.
“The PNP-WCPC is very proud to have actively participated in the Advanced Investigative Workshop. From strength to strength and through proactive collaboration with our international counterparts, we will tirelessly pursue the criminals who exploit our children online,” said PBGEN William S. Macavinta, Chief of the PNP-WCPC.
Aaron Steps, Legal Attache for the U.S. FBI in Manila, added: “The FBI was proud to participate in the Advanced Investigation Workshop alongside our Philippine law enforcement partners. We look forward to our continued partnership with the Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Center in combating the online sexual exploitation of children and bringing to justice those who seek to exploit them.”
Police Bring Rescue to Victims, Including Five Children Under 7
On April 10 and 16, officers from the Visayas unit of the Women and Children Protection Center carried out successful operations in which six victims, ranging in age from 6 to 21, were rescued, and three suspects arrested. Among the arrested traffickers was a 45-year-old woman who offered her two youngest daughters—only 6 and 7 years old—for abuse. Police also learned that she had previously offered her 15-year-old daughter. In addition to the three girls, authorities also removed the suspect’s two other teenage children for assessment as they are considered “at risk” of exploitation.
On May 2, officers from their Mindanao unit arrested a woman who they believed to be exploiting her three children—two daughters, ages 1 and 3, and her 5-year-old son—as well as an 11-year-old daughter of a family friend.
All of the rescued victims are now in the care of Philippine social services, where they are receiving trauma-informed care.
Global Collaboration Brings a Coordinated Response to the Crime
These outcomes were supported by the newly-formed Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Center, which serves as a hub for domestic and foreign law enforcement’s collaborative efforts to combat the crime. This center is a joint initiative between the National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine National Police, supported by the Australian Federal Police, U.K. National Crime Agency and IJM.
Because of the global nature of cybersex trafficking, local and international law enforcement agencies are in close coordination—the approach that IJM believes will effectively deter the crime. And support from groups like INTERPOL are critical in tackling the crime:
“INTERPOL is dedicated to helping its 194 member countries work across borders and sectors to ensure criminals don’t exploit children or distribute child sexual abuse material. Our Crimes Against Children unit provides operational support to national police, and organizes a range of training courses for specialized officers, covering the entire scope of child sexual abuse cases including investigations in the online environment,” shared Matthew Dompier, Criminal Intelligence Officer, Vulnerable Communities, Crimes Against Children, INTERPOL.