Thursday, January 16, 2014

Cyber Abuse - Men Pay to Watch Philippine Children Being Abused Online

"It can do things to your core. It can take things from you, your dignity and your purity."
       Lani, 15, Victim

Philippine based charities are looking for thousands of children who are victims of a growing crime: live online “shows” featuring the sexual abuse of children.

The enormous, poverty stricken slum of Ibabao, near Cebu City in the south of the country is the “epicenter” of the global trade. Philippine Police Officer Denis Comunay, who regularly patrols the slum, said: "You can get easy money from the cybersex."

He describes a typical “cybersex den” in the city, a small house, with a corrugated iron roof. “It was almost empty inside apart from a dirty mattress on the floor and electric sockets hanging from the ceiling. Fathers and mothers bring their children here to show, and would get paid by the owner of the house."

Comunay explains that the property owner forced her own children to "perform" for foreigners using a webcam. Then other people in the city who heard there was money to be made then brought their children too.

Finally, it was raided by police. Several children were taken into care. All the neighbors said they were shocked to hear about the cases but denied they knew what was going on. One said: "How can I know when the house is closed and I did not get inside and see what they are doing?"

But investigations by police show that at least 80 houses in the area were involved in the trade. Noemi Truya-Abarientos, who works for the Children's Legal Bureau, which provides judicial help for abuse victims, said: "It has become a cottage industry."

She blames poverty and a breakdown in public morality for the rise in the trade, explaining that local businessmen rented out laptops and USB internet connections, so it was easy for families to start. Parents use internet chatrooms to find "clients" and receive payment through international money transfers.
They justify what they do by claiming that the men watching the abuse online do not actually touch the children.
Noemi said this was a myth. "The client gives the instruction to touch this and touch that. "They even send sex toys to these children."

In Angeles City in the north of the country there were two houses in a slum area raided in 2012 by police from the United States, Great Britain, the Philippines, and Australia, demonstrating that law enforcement around the world is finally starting to address the problem with at least some form of cooperation. One neighbor said, "They arrest this person and put them in a van and they take the children away." Twelve children aged between five and 15 were rescued and several of their relatives were arrested.

This operation followed the arrest of British man Timothy Ford. He is now serving an eight-and-a-half year prison sentence. When detectives analyzed his laptop, they found obscene images and records of money transfers to the parents - he had paid to watch the abuse of five of the children.

He paid as little as $20 to watch what he called "a show".

Father Shay Cullen, who runs the Preda Foundation - a charity that rescues victims in the nearby city of Olongapo - said: "More and more parents are pushing their children to get involved in this, to make big money. There's a huge growing demand and there's a growing supply."

The Philippine government estimates that between 60,000 and 100,000 children are victims of sexual exploitation, many of them in cybersex. While some children are forced to take part by their own family, others are made to work in cybersex dens by pimps.

This is what happened to Lani when she was 15. "The cybersex den is an evil kind of profession," she recalls. Her aunt promised her a job as a nanny, but when she got to the house she was told she had to "chat" to foreigners. The "chat" soon turned into demands for her to take off her clothes and "perform" for the men watching on the webcam.

"Perhaps when people hear about cybersex they think it doesn't have any physical effect," Lani said. "But it can do things to your core. It can take things from you, your dignity and your purity."

Father Cullen warns that men around the world who pay to watch abuse in poor countries may go on to commit other offences. "It's the warm-up for a sexual assault on a child," he said.

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