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Ending Online Sexual Exploitation of Children

March 14, 2018

LOREN LEGARDA: Privilege Speech – Ending Online Sexual Exploitation of Children from Senator Loren Legarda

 

Privilege Speech of Senator Legarda

Ending Online Sexual Exploitation of Children

14 March 2018 | Senate Session Hall

 

Mr. President, distinguished colleagues,

 

This is not the first time that I spoke in the halls of this august chamber about this issue that I wish to bring to everyone’s attention once again.

 

Today, on women’s month, I rise as a woman and as a mother, to speak on behalf of not only my own children, but of all Filipino children. There is no doubt that most of us here today are affected by what we see in the news. But the everyday violence that is hidden from the headlines is a crime that turns homes into places of indescribable suffering that kills the soul.

 

What does this suffering look like? A 2-year-old toddler was offered by her very own mother to be sexually abused in livestream videos for paying “customers” overseas last September 14, 2017, somewhere in the Visayas region. For all my colleagues and fellow parents, especially the women, in this august body, can you even imagine your own children enduring this ordeal at your own hands? I dare say it is unimaginable and the very thought makes even the strongest stomachs turn.

 

But for a two-year-old toddler and another 12-year-old girl, whom we shall call, “Cassie”, it is not merely a figment of imagination. This was an everyday reality.

 

Allow me to tell you the story of Cassie. She grew up in an indigenous community in the South, eking out a hand-to-mouth existence. With no education, she felt like she had no future. When a “family friend”, let’s call him, “Jerrie”, lured her parents with promises of free schooling and a nice job in Manila for Cassie, they readily agreed.

 

That was the beginning of Cassie’s living nightmare. For five years, Jerrie “adopted” Cassie, only to enslave her. Jerrie raped 12-year-old Cassie in front of a web camera. He raped her for profit so foreigners all over the world can live out their sickest, darkest fantasies through livestreaming. Later on, Jerrie arranged for foreign customers to rape Cassie in the flesh. Worse, her family in the indigenous community in the province, not knowing the truth of Cassie’s brutal ordeal, sent her sister to Manila where she joined Cassie and 3 other children living in the house. The youngest was only six years old.

 

When Cassie was living out the horror of this livestreamed abuse, she was thinking, “I want to die, I want to die because of this pain, but I can’t. I want to stop my breath. But, it’s always—Oh, I’m still breathing. Why can’t I die?

 

Mr. President, no child should ever have to wish for death.

 

But Cassie’s story did not end in death. Cassie and the other children were rescued by the PNP, DSWD, and International Justice Mission or IJM, a non-profit organization that partners with our Philippine law enforcement agencies in rescuing victims, restoring them, and securing justice for these sexually exploited children.

                                                 

On May 26, 2017, Cassie’s abuser,  the person you now see on the screen, was convicted of life imprisonment under the very law that I sponsored in 2012, the Expanded Anti-Trafficking Law.

 

Today, Cassie is alive. She is now safe in a shelter. While Cassie wanted to die before, she now wants to live so she can bring hope and comfort to other child victims.

 

Mr. President, Cassie is just one of thousands of Filipino children who are being abused and traumatized within the confines of their very own homes, even by their own family. Instead of safety and love, the pain and horror of online sexual exploitation is their everyday reality.

Simply put, online sexual exploitation of children or OSEC, is the heinous act of livestreaming or broadcasting the sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children via the internet through a webcam, or any other device, for the satisfaction of another, usually a pedophile from abroad, who directs and purchases the livestreamed online sexual abuse of children. Children who come from developing countries like the Philippines where Internet connection is readily accessible and its people speak English well.

 

According to IJM-supported PNP and NBI operations, more than 273 victims have been rescued in 77 operations with over 87% of those rescued victims under the age of 18. The average age of the rescued victim is 12 years old, just like Cassie, and victims below 12 years of age make up more than half, or 52%, of all victims rescued in OSEC.

 

Mr. President, the youngest that IJM has ever rescued was a newborn baby, only 2 months old.

 

This is not a gender-specific crime either; 16% of survivors are boys. But perhaps the most alarming fact is that 81% of IJM-supported cases involve parents and relatives who exploit their own children, which explains why 59% of the cases involve sibling groups.

 

Last February, in three separate rescue operations around the Philippines, IJM together with our law enforcers rescued ten children, the oldest—a girl 17 years of age—and the youngest—a three-year-old boy—who was being sexually abused by his own mother.

Last week, joint elements of the PNP Women and Children Protection Center (WCPC) and NBI Anti Human Trafficking Division, DSWD, the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT), and IJM, in coordination with foreign law enforcement agencies, rescued five children – the youngest a two-year old girl – from being sexually exploited by a neighbor.

While it is unthinkable enough to think that Filipinos do this to their own children, it does not make it any less unthinkable when foreigners profit from the online rape of our nation’s children.

                               

Last year, David Timothy Deakin, an American child webcam cybersex den operator living in Pampanga, was caught streaming illicit sex abuse content through a network that disguised his identity and location. The NBI made the largest seizure of technological evidence of its kind to date; they confiscated sex toys, children’s underwear, bondage cuffs, drug paraphernalia, and 30 hard drives containing thousands of illicit photos and over 4,000 contact names. They also rescued two girls, ages 9 and 11, who were placed in the care of DSWD. The other victims revealed that Deakin refused to feed them if they did not perform during the livestreamed sex shows. Like Cassie, the girls said, they wanted to die.      

 

Mr. President, we have the power to ensure that these cases shall not end in the slow death of traumatic abuse. Studies have shown that when violent offenders are held accountable for their crimes through effective and sustained law enforcement, this will dramatically reduce the abuse of vulnerable victims.

 

Trafficking of children for sexual exploitation, whether done online or on the street or in bars, is a business, an economic activity, if you will, even if it is against the law. However, if criminals know that laws are routinely enforced and that they will go to jail, they will get out of the business of selling children because it will not be worth it anymore.

 

My colleagues in the Senate, this is not just an observation either, but this was proven by prevalence studies conducted in Metro Cebu, in Metro Manila and Angeles City, where IJM documented a decrease of 79% in 2010 in Cebu City, a 75% decrease in Metro Manila, and 86% decrease in Angeles City, both in 2016, of the availability of minors being sold for sex in bars and on the streets after law enforcement authorities relentlessly enforced anti-trafficking laws in those cities.  

Mr. President, we have enough laws. Online sexual exploitation of children is already illegal under the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act and the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, which I both authored, the Cybercrime Prevention Act, the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act, and the Anti-Child Pornography Act.  The question therefore is not if we have enough laws, BUT are we enforcing these laws?

 

We already have national anti-trafficking units in place that are mandated to specifically combat trafficking and OSEC: namely, the PNP Women and Children Protection Center and the NBI Anti Human Trafficking Division. We also have the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking or IACAT that coordinates all the efforts to enforce our trafficking laws.

 

Allow me to share at this point that the Philippines is taking the lead in combatting trafficking in Southeast Asia being the only Southeast Asian country to achieve Tier 1 ranking in the Trafficking in Persons Report of the US Department of State. But, we must not, and cannot, allow this to lull us into complacency. We must all rise to the challenge of ensuring that this deplorable crime will finally be eradicated.

 

As lawmakers, with our power of the purse, we can ensure that our laws are enforced by making sure that the agencies mandated to enforce these laws have enough resources to do their jobs.  Which is why in the national budget for 2018, I ensured that the PNP Women and Children’s Protection Center (WCPC) get an increase in its budget for additional training and purchase of equipment which will lead to more children being rescued, more criminals being arrested, and stopping this horrific crime in its track.

 

However, being a transnational crime, ending OSEC requires a concerted effort from all nations. While the Philippines can do all it can to address this, a holistic solution requires that developed countries, from which the demand for this type of exploitation usually originates, must also do their part. This calls for amending the lenient sentences that their laws mete upon those who prey on Filipino children.

 

In Queensland, Australia, for example, a man was only fined $500 AUD and placed on a three-year good behavior bond after being convicted of receiving explicit images of two girls from a Filipino mother, the youngest of whom was aged 10. Imagine the absurdity — the Filipino mother gets life imprisonment but the Australian directing the abuse walks free?

 

How then can we hope to stop our children from being sexually exploited online when the foreign customers get merely a slap on the wrist?

 

Today, I am issuing a call and a challenge to our fellow legislators from other countries: raise the penalties to lower the demand and reflect the true nature of the crime in your  respective countries. Truly, this one of the worst forms of violence against women and children, with incalculable harm that traumatizes children, even to the point of death.

 

To end, Mr. President, the fight against online sexual exploitation of children should not end with us.  While we are sending a strong message to the rest of the world that we refuse to allow our children to be exploited for anyone’s gain, the rest of the world must also stand with us. 

 

No child victim should ever have to wish for death, at the hands of Filipinos or foreigners alike. Together, we must give children a chance to wake up from the nightmare of abuse and live free.

 

Thank you, Mr. President.