Sex tourism has long been a scourge in the Philippines. But now there's a disturbing new trend in the trafficking of mostly young women and children: vulnerable victims are being lured online and tricked into the trade.
Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports. Next: a disturbing new trend in the trafficking of mostly young women and children into the sex trade.
Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro reports from the Philippines on what police call cyber-trafficking. Sex tourism has long been a scourge in the Philippines, an industry that thrives on trafficked human beings and deep poverty in this nation of million. Recent studies have shown that anywhere from to more than thousand Filipinos are trafficked each year; 80 percent, four out of five, are under the age of The government, under international pressure, has stepped up enforcement.
Stings like this one to rescue young women are more common, as are arrests and convictions. But the sex trafficking industry, as always, seems a step ahead in the game.
At the police cyber-crime center, officer Ivy Castillo explained one of the many ways that vulnerable young women are tricked into the trade. It has all the trappings of a glamorous fashion model agency, especially to a young rural Filipina girl. They're asked to submit pictures that seem innocuous, facial shots, ostensibly part of the selection process.
The next steps call for more revealing images, just the torso, not the face, they're assured, giving the false impression that it's unidentifiable. The young woman won't make the connection that computer software will, until it's too late.
They have got her face from her previous, more innocent images, and have Photoshopped them with the nude ones. In no time, they are shamed and blackmailed into working for the opaque criminal networks behind the trade. Cyber-pornography is easily one of our biggest problems. It's proliferated very quickly. But it's an industry fueled by First World demand, from pedophiles mostly in Europe, North America, and Australia, says officer Castillo. These foreign perpetrators, they have contacts here in the Philippines, wherein these contacts are looking for children.
And perhaps the most frustrating challenge with this cyber-sex industry is a social one. Cecilia Oebanda, who founded the Philippines' largest anti-trafficking group, says many people don't believe or don't want to believe it's that harmful. Because they think that they're — the girls are just actually performing in the computer, and there's no contact, there is no touch. For them, it's OK. There's no harm actually put to the child.
At a shelter her agency runs is living proof that it's not just emotionally abusive, but also frequently escalates. The children are invariably inducted into traditional prostitution and its daily physical abuse. These two year-olds were rescued in a police sting from a cyber-porn racket. Their alleged pimp, a man named Jerrie Arraz began as a good samaritan neighbor.
There was a time when my mother need money because my stepfather was in jail. So she asked Jerrie for help. He was really kind. When we didn't have food, he gave us food. Jerrie offered to send Gina to school. This young woman is the 11th of 12 children in a family from one of the many rural Philippine islands beset by poverty and often natural disasters. Opportunities are scarce, so, at 12, the offer of a scholarship from a kindly stranger, a man visiting to her village, was hard to resist.
He said that he's from Manila. So, I would say my dream is to study in Manila and to know the people, to — like, to wear nice clothes. She accompanied the man to Manila, and was placed with Arraz, with whom he was apparently associated.
She was in fact placed in school, but, gradually, there were demands, and they escalated, to display herself before strangers online, then to perform sexually and with Arraz in front of the camera. He would wake me up to say there was a customer online and he wanted us to perform while the customer was watching. Each time, it happened, I just cried. In a month, about four to five times, we met with foreign customers in a hotel, plus daily online.
It was when both girls were in a hotel one day that Arraz was nabbed as he negotiated with two undercover detectives posing as customers. And the phone call rung that signaled that money exchanged hands. And we opened the door and announced. There was bewilderment. There was: What is happening here? We always felt like Jerrie was our father, so that's what we told rescuers. He is our father. We were really scared. It's been called the Stockholm syndrome, Lledo says, one more complication in rescuing hostages who become sympathetic to their captor, and any change to what has become normal in their lives is unsettling.
The trafficker is providing them with food, clothing, shelter and a place to stay, and law enforcement will disrupt all this. As it turns out, six children were removed from the home of Jerrie Arraz and placed with Oebanda's agency, including a 1-year-old infant abandoned by its mother.
The more immediate task is to try to restore childhoods through counseling and eventually adoption into homes, education and skills training for those older. Philippine police officials say most of the enforcement comes from the consumer end. Tracking down providers is fraught with difficulty. They can be anywhere, evidence against them, if it exists, hidden in the cloud instead of a hard drive.
Another big challenge is that police must rely on tips from the public, says task force member Shahani. Our conviction rate has more than double. So, for me, that progress is indications of the political will. Attention is now on Jerrie Arraz's trial, now under way in Manila. These images are from his Facebook page. It's the first so-called cyber-trafficking case to be brought, in hopes that it will mark a turning point. Thomas in Minnesota. Support Provided By: Learn more. Read Nov 16 Have Americans forgotten the history of this deadly flu?
Read Feb 28 U. Nation Mar Economy Mar Politics Mar World Mar Health Mar Sunday, Mar 1. The Latest. World Agents for Change. Health Long-Term Care. For Teachers. About Feedback Funders Support Jobs. Close Menu. Email Address Subscribe. What do you think? Leave a respectful comment. Close Comment Window. Yes Not now. Leave a comment. Share on Facebook Share on Twitter. Transcript Audio. It's part of his ongoing series Agents for Change. It has expanded online. So, they're pretending that this is a real modeling agency to entrap the young girls?
Lila Shahani is on a government task force on human trafficking. GIRL through interpreter : There was a time when my mother need money because my stepfather was in jail. GIRL through interpreter : He would wake me up to say there was a customer online and he wanted us to perform while the customer was watching. GIRL through interpreter : In a month, about four to five times, we met with foreign customers in a hotel, plus daily online.
GIRL through interpreter : We always felt like Jerrie was our father, so that's what we told rescuers. A lot of bad guys are not being caught, right? Listen to this Segment.