A Filipino man who preyed on children and women for his own sexual pleasure and profited from a twisted network of cybersex trafficking has been convicted in a precedent-setting case. In a strongly worded ruling, the judge found AJ* guilty of rape, sex trafficking and cyber crimes, under three different laws.
“One of the survivors in this case had nightmares that [AJ] got away with his crimes. I can finally tell her that justice is on her side and she no longer needs to be afraid,” said IJM attorney Ralph Catedral, who supported the public prosecutor on this case.
AJ was sentenced on May 26, and he faces life in prison without parole. The Philippines has a strong anti-trafficking law, but cybersex trafficking (also called online sexual exploitation) is covered by several provisions in multiple laws. The conviction under the Cybercrime Act is the first for IJM Philippines, as well as for the regional trial court.
The case started in 2014, when 19-year-old Jamie* courageously went to local police to report what was happening inside AJ’s home. IJM then helped the authorities investigate AJ and plan rescue operations that would ultimately free five other victims.
IJM’s head of legal in Manila and a legal fellow flank Attorney Ralph Catedral, who has worked with the public prosecutor on this case for three years. This is one of the first convictions in the Philippines for cybersex, a violation of the 2012 Anti-Cybercrime Statute.
Lured By A False Promise
AJ had preyed upon impoverished families, offering to send their children to school and provide them with a better future. This was how he had lured Cassie,* Jamie’s younger sister, when she was 12 years old. Jamie had followed a few years later.
AJ sent the children to a private school and posted photos online of seemingly happy “family” vacations; but the children were suffering unspeakable abuse behind this veneer of normalcy. AJ posed as a tour guide to the Philippines, but in fact he offered Cassie, Jamie and others for online sexual exploitation.
In her 39-page ruling, the judge recounted how AJ would exploit the girls, sometimes making them pose naked in front of a webcam, and other times raping them while filming or live-streaming the abuse for foreign customers. Customers could also pay AJ to exploit the girls in person; Jamie shared heartbreaking details of various times she was exploited by two men at once. The judge referred to the victims’ five-year nightmare as a “harrowing experience” and “her Calvary.”
No Longer Afraid
AJ denied all of the charges, but the judge pronounced him guilty based on the “overwhelming positive evidence”, not the least of which were brave testimonies from Cassie and Jamie.
“It is without a doubt that the purpose of accused is for sexual exploitation. Private complainant [Jamie] narrated with specifics how accused manipulated, if not forced and coerced her to undress and posed, and has sexual contacts with him while the web camera been on. He both took photos of the same lascivious poses and activities for him to post later in the internet for the consumption and enjoyment of his clients whom he shared the same perverse passion, if not twisted interest; and gave a live feed to this foreigner clients watching at the other end of the line...”
Cassie, pictured on the swings with another one of the victims, a 7-year-old boy, is now safe at an aftercare home. They were rescued from AJ’s home during an operation conducted by Philippine authorities and IJM.
AJ is being charged in two more cases related to the IJM-supported operations that set Cassie and the other children free.
“I am no longer afraid because even if [her case does not result in a conviction], I know that AJ is doing life in jail in this case,” exclaimed one of the survivors after she learned that this first case had ended with a conviction. Jamie, who is living back home in her rural province and is now married, said she was thankful for the IJM attorney and social worker who helped her persevere in the trial.
“I am happy about this conviction. We have waited a long time for this to happen,” Cassie said.
“I am thankful for the support [of those who heard my story]. I draw strength from them. I also want to let them know not to lose hope. The experiences that I went through have taught me to stand up and to dream again. "
Cybersex trafficking has flourished in the Philippines due to increased internet connectivity and English language skills—making it easy for criminals like AJ to attract paedophiles from around the world. The judge’s strong and comprehensive ruling sends a clear message that the Philippines has laws against this insidious crime, and that these laws will be enforced.