Young women and underage girls are increasingly falling victim to sex trafficking in the Philippines. A report last month, published by the U.S. Department of State, blamed rampant corruption at all levels of government, which is allegedly turning a blind eye to the flourishing domestic flesh trade.
“Officials in government units and agencies assigned to enforce laws against human trafficking reportedly permitted trafficking offenders to conduct illegal activities, allowed traffickers to escape during raids, extorted bribes, facilitated illegal departures for overseas workers, and accepted payments or sexual services from establishments known to traffic women and children,” said the study, as reported by Philstar.
According to a joint inquiry by Transparency International, the UN, and the U.S. Department of State, there are 300,000 to 400,000 Filipina women who have fallen victim to human trafficking. A staggering 80 percent are under 18 years old. Even worse, 60,000 to 100,000 of these human trafficking victims are young children.
In this digital age of super-bandwidth internet connections and increasingly powerful computers, cybersex trafficking is particularly on the rise. One 14-year-old girl told her harrowing story to CNN. A cousin in Negros Oriental, a city in the central Visayas region of the Philippines, lured the victim away from a small village in the countryside by promising her the chance to work as a babysitter. When she arrived, the teenage victim found herself locked in a two-story house – there was no babysitting job.
“The windows were covered so it was dark. There was a computer and a camera where naked girls would say words to seduce their mainly foreign customers,” the girl, using the name Andrea, told CNN. “I was told if I tried to escape, the police would put me in jail. I believed it. I was very innocent – I grew up without TV and had never left my village before.”
Andrea explained being forced to work day and night, often in front of customers who demanded that other girls join the live video chats to perform sexual acts on each other. The seven girls who were trapped in the home were 13 to 18 years old. Horrifyingly, Andrea’s “employer” was her own uncle.
“Andrea's story is only one of many playing out every day in a nation where the conditions – widespread poverty, an established sex trade, a predominantly English-speaking, technically-literate population and widespread Internet access – have made it easy for crimes like this to flourish,” said CNN.
One of the most shocking aspects of the rise in Philippine cybersex trafficking is that pornography is technically illegal there. Furthermore, cybersex dens aren’t necessarily restricted to the red light districts and big cities associated with traditional sex tourism.
Nondescript suburban homes are often used as cybersex dens, sometimes sitting beside busy roads or bustling shopping centers. Even landlords deny knowledge of their properties being used for such illicit purposes, claiming that they never see the young girls being forced to work.
Not only are cybersex dens difficult to locate, but Filipino police struggle to convict the criminal ringleaders.
“The laws are really behind,” said the head of the computer crimes unit at the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), in an interview with the BBC. “There have been cases filed before the prosecutors’ office, but the case goes to the prosecutors before it goes to court and as far as I know all those cases are still with the prosecutors’ office.”
Young girls aren’t the only ones being preyed upon by cybersex peddlers in the Philippines. Earlier this year, police broke up and all-male erotic webcam service that was forcing a dozen young men, some as young as 17, to perform sexual acts. Authorities were notified by a 16-year-old boy who had escaped.