PH’s online child sex exploitation: Hiding in plain sight?

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Dolly Rubia director of International Justice Mission Manila's Aftercare, raises some questions to the research team. (Photo: Mike Quilala)

MANILA, June 14, 2016 – You’d think online child sex abuse and exploitation belonged to the dark underbelly of the digital continent when in fact it can be readily seen by anyone with eagle eyes for the all too obvious.

A group of researchers recently talked about how the regular netizen can help report channels of CSEC (commercial sexual exploitation of children) during a stakeholders’ meeting yesterday, June 3 at the Sequioa Hotel, Quezon City.

“It has to be a holistic approach; everybody has to be involved. Everybody has to be aware that there is a problem to start with,” said Sucelle Czarina Deacosta, one of the Psychosocial Support and Children’s Rights Resource Center (PSCRRC) researchers who presented the group’s study on “Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents in Metro Manila.”

Every netizen’s role

According to Deacosta, while it is true that there are secret networks for CSEC where regular, daily transactions take place, many of avenues where CSEC is facilitated happen on publicly accessible networks and websites, a fact that calls for the regular Joe’s vigilance.

“As of now, we really see a problem… ,” she said in Filipino.

Talking to CBCPNews, she said the culture of openness to CSEC has so permeated online avenues that even online female networks, classified ads pages carry tabs on “strippers”, threesomes, S&M, “massage therapists”, PSPs (private sex providers), a tour of the city of Manila with “a happy ending”, and more.

According to Deacosta, any person online who sees such ads should flag the ad and contact the web administrator about it.

“We should have grounds [to be more watchful]… We should screen what we have online.”

“This are the things that should’ve been managed by the administrator or the moderator of the website for example… So it’s not even just a single person,” stressed Deacosta, noting that the entire online community that should be aware that such things exist.

‘Retirement age’

While Deacosta admits these online portals will never identify the girls’ ages to be below the age of consent, “industry standards” point to the reality that most probably the girls involved in such ads are minors.

“Like what Doc Tess said, if you’re 19 and above, that’s already retirement age because the average age for [CSEC] is 14 to 16… Of course, we don’t have the statistics because they lie about the stats, but for the most part, based on the experience of those in the community, that’s what they see,” she added, saying this reality is also backed by their interviews with 32 children, teens involved in the sex industry in the metro, a pimp, a poseur customer, and service providers, who were involved in the study.

“At 18 and onwards that’s already the progression if you’re on to retirement or if you’ll get out [of the business], or it’s when your rate goes down. As one of our participants said, there are a lot of young girls, so the competition is stiff… So of course, the fresher, the younger, the better,” explained Deacosta in Filipino during an exclusive interview with CBCPNews.

For the researcher even the online dating site Tinder is suspect.

“There are profiles [that say], ‘I’m not really 18, I’m actually 15… Because that’s where the young ones get introduced to stuff like this,” explained Deacosta.

Commissioned by Plan International Philippines, the PSTCRRC paper aimed to update the facts and figures about CSEC in the Philippines. (Nirva’ana Ella Delacruz / CBCPNews)

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