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Local tip led to arrest of 2 online sex traffickers; rescue of 7 minor victims and children-at-risk

PRESS RELEASE May 27 2020: Local tip led to arrest of 2 online sex traffickers; rescue of 7 minor victims and children-at-risk

TAGUIG CITY, PHILIPPINES – May 27, 2020 – Handcuffed beside a swinging baby’s hammock, a 28-year-old mother was arrested in her house in Taguig City for crimes related to the online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC).

This is another successful operation amidst COVID-19 lockdowns conducted by members of the PNP-Women and Children Protection Center – Anti-Trafficking in Persons Division (PNP-WCPC-ATIPD) in cooperation with the Taguig City Police Station and the Department of Social Welfare and Development National Capital Region (DSWD-NCR).

International Justice Mission (IJM) forwarded a referral to the Philippines Internet Crimes Against Children Center (PICACC), which was based on a confidential local tip. WCPC-ATIPD subsequently investigated the matter that led to the operation. The main suspect, who will be unnamed to protect the identity of the victims, offered four of her own children (2 boys and 2 girls) to conduct sexual acts in front of a camera which she would livestream in exchange for money. The other female suspect, a neighbor, was involved in collecting the money through a nearby remittance center.

The PICACC, a model for an enhanced global response against OSEC, is a cooperation among local and international law enforcement, namely the PNP-WCPC, the National Bureau of Investigation-Anti Human Trafficking Division (NBI-AHTRAD), the Australian Federal Police, and the United Kingdom National Crime Agency (NCA); in partnership with non-government organization, IJM.

“As I held the baby in my arms, I could not comprehend the audacity of the facilitators of OSEC on how they can do such crimes to innocent children. I assure the public that we at the WCPC will do everything we can to shut OSEC down,” shared PCOL Sheila Portento, Chief of the WCPC-ATIPD.

All the children are the main suspect’s offspring from two different fathers -- three boys (ages 3, 10 and 13 years) and four girls (ages 3 months, 1, 9, and 12 years). As of today, only four of the children are confirmed victims while the others were considered at-risk and were therefore removed from the location.

“We want to encourage the public to remain vigilant and keep reporting suspicions of OSEC in your community. This operation is a good example on how we can work together to protect and rescue the most vulnerable in our society,” said PNP-WCPC Chief, PBGEN Alessandro Abella.

Atty. Janet Francisco, Chief of NBI-AHTRAD said that she and her team are grateful for this outcome and that seven children are now safe from abuse. She said, “Since PICACC’s establishment in 2019, the PNP and NBI have jointly led an international effort to combat OSEC as we enhance our experience and tenacity in the fight against this horrific crime. To the traffickers selling our children – we will find you, arrest you, and you will answer for your crimes. And to the children who are the victims – we will find you and bring you to safety.”

The victims have been taken to aftercare shelters and are now receiving trauma-informed interventions, including 14-days in isolation as a Covid-19 precaution for them and the children in the shelters.

Australian Federal Police Acting Senior Officer in the Philippines, Detective Sergeant Graeme Marshall said, “The Australian Federal Police congratulates the PICACC and the Philippine National Police on another successful operation that saved seven children from abhorrent sexual abuse. The Australian Federal Police and our international partners continue to work tirelessly to target those who exploit children and we are not distracted by the demands of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

“Despite the challenges of the Covid-19 environment, we see our Philippines and international partners continue to be successful in operations like this to rescue children and arrest child abusers - A great result by the team! NCA will continue to support these efforts through the PICACC to ensure a coordinated approach achieves the best possible outcomes in protecting children from online abuse,” remarked David Cater, NCA Asia Pacific Regional Manager.

“The reason why we have so much hope is because of these efforts by our law enforcement partners. Their relentless pursuit of justice despite the challenges caused by the pandemic is why we can say that the Philippines is leading the world in the fight to end OSEC,” remarked Atty. Reynaldo Bicol, IJM Manila Field Office Director, who also noted that the recently released IJM OSEC Study found that the Philippines is the largest known source of OSEC cases in the world.

The Study also recommended that technology platforms should identify and implement means for proactive detection of livestreaming OSEC and that the reporting of suspected child sexual exploitation materials (CSEM) on ESP platforms should be expanded and strengthened through mandatory reporting legislation; and the provision of higher quality information in reports. “This, in addition to vigilant community reporting, would strengthen law enforcement’s ability to rescue and protect OSEC victims,” Bicol added.

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