Five victims rescued from online sexual exploitation

Operation of Australian Federal Police and International Justice Mission sees arrest of trafficking suspects

Five trafficking suspects will face court in the Philippines following a series of operations earlier this month that led to the rescue of five under-age girls from sexual exploitation.

The suspects were caught offering under-age girls for sexual exploitation online in exchange for money from an online predator. The five victims rescued were aged from 14 to 17 years old.

In addition to five rescued victims, four other children were removed as “at-risk” for assessment to determine if they too were victimised, according to a statement from Australian Federal Police. They include a 10-month-old, an 11-month-old and two two-year-olds.

The operations were the result of referrals from the Australian Federal Police to the Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Centre and supported by International Justice Mission.

“It’s happening because there is demand from our side … as consumers.” – Caroly Houmes

International Justice Mission is the largest anti-trafficking organisation in the world. In an episode for Eternity’s podcast Undeceptions, Caroly Houmes, head of IJM in Australia, told John Dickson that cybersex trafficking is rife in places such as the Philippines and Cambodia – and Australians sitting at home behind their screens are among the perpetrators.

“It’s happening because there is demand from our side … as consumers,” said Houmes.

“Philippines is a country where vulnerability is high. But almost every household has access to the internet and they speak English really well. Those are two things that make it actually quite easy to commit this crime.”

Houmes told Dickson that, in the past, children in the Philippines were at risk of exploitation in brothels. Sex tourism from the West has historically created real problems in the country.

But now, there is rapid growth in a whole new crime – known as Online Sexual Exploitation of Children (OSEC). According to IJM, officials in the Philippines received 60,000 reports of OSEC in 2018 – almost 20,000 more than the previous year.

Australian Federal Police are working with IJM as part of the Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Centre – a collective effort of law enforcement representatives from Philippines, Australia and the UK to try to prevent online exploitation of children.

“This type of abuse can be even worse than being in a brothel … because home is not safe.” – Caroly Houmes

Houmes says there is a damaging misconception that online sexual exploitation is a “victimless crime” or in some way less damaging than children working in brothels.

“There’s this idea that, well, at least these children forced to pose naked in front of the camera might still be allowed to go to school.

“But to me, this type of abuse can be even worse than being in a brothel … because home is not safe. It’s their own parents or neighbours – people close to them – making them do these things. They have to do things that their minds and their bodies can’t even comprehend yet. It’s real abuse.”

IJM says it has supported Philippines law enforcement agencies in the arrest of 232 OSEC suspects and in the rescue of 549 victims around the country since 2011.

Erica Merrin, Acting Commander of the Australian Federal Police in South East Asia, said the recent operation that led to the rescue of five child victims and the arrest of five alleged facilitators showed the effectiveness of the collaborative approach of law enforcement with International Justice Mission.

“No child should have to experience sexual exploitation and suffer the lifelong impacts of this abhorrent crime. [This] outcome shows the commitment of the AFP and our partners to combat transnational child sexual exploitation, whether the offenders and victims are in Australia or abroad.”

Listen to the full episode eight of Undeceptions here: Cybersex Trafficking. Undeceptions is hosted by author and historian John Dickson and seeks to tackle common myths and misconceptions about the Christian faith.