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Police arrest online sex trafficker in Butuan City, rescue 13 victims and children at risk

BUTUAN CITY, MINDANAO – May 21 2020 JOINT PRESS RELEASE:

7 children rescued, and six children at risk brought to safety, one suspect arrested.

Philippine law enforcers arrested a 28-year-old woman after she was caught offering to livestream the sexual abuse of several minors and one adult for a paying online sex offender in a case of OSEC or online sexual exploitation of children.

Operatives from the Philippine National Police’s Women and Children Protection Center – Mindanao Field Unit (WCPC-MFU) arrested the trafficking suspect in Butuan City yesterday, May 21.

They brought to safety seven confirmed victims and six children at risk – seven males and six females with ages ranging from one to 19 years old.

The suspect had offered four minors and one adult for livestreamed online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC) during yesterday’s police operation. Police rescued two more victims who had earlier been identified by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) during their separate investigation of an Australian sex offender in Australia.

Six other minors were brought to safety because they were found in the company of the suspect and the victims offered for livestreamed OSEC. They will undergo assessment to determine if they, too, were victims. The victims and at-risk children are family members, relatives and neighbors of the suspected trafficker.

The police operation stemmed from a case referral made by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) to the Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Center (PICACC). Investigation by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) revealed that the Australian suspect was in contact with a female trafficker in the Philippines who would produce and send him new child sexual exploitation materials (CSEM) – new videos, photos and livestreams of children sexually violated — in exchange for money.

During their investigation, WCPC-MFU confirmed that the suspect, residing in Butuan City, transmitted CSEM online and offered to further sexually abuse minors and live-stream it in exchange for more money. At around 9 a.m. yesterday, operatives arrested the suspect and also implemented a Warrant to Search, Seize, Examine Computer Data (WSSECD) issued by Judge Isah J. Echem-Tangonan of the Butuan City Regional Trial Court Branch 33. The suspect was arrested in her neighbor’s residence, where 10 minors and one adult victim were rescued. Two other victims were found in adjacent locations. The operatives searched the suspect’s residence and seized electronic devices and money transfer receipts, among other evidence. Incidentally, firearms were also found in the house. The suspect’s male live-in partner was arrested for illegal possession of firearms.

PICACC (Philippines Internet Crimes Against Children) Collaboration

A model for an enhanced global response against online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC), the PICACC 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 (AFP), and the United Kingdom National Crime Agency (UK NCA); in partnership with nongovernment organization, International Justice Mission (IJM). “I congratulate my colleagues in WCPC-MFU for putting another online sex trafficker in prison and bringing more children to safety,” said PNP WCPC Chief Alessandro Abella. “We will not waver in our commitment to bring rescue and justice for the victims of this horrendous crime. With this latest arrest, I hope abusers and traffickers will realize that this crime does not pay.”

WCPC-MFU Chief Christine Tan said: “Some people in lockdown maybe enjoying while they spend more time with their families in the comfort of their homes. But for others, especially victims of OSEC, this pandemic has become their worst nightmare. That is why the PNP WCPC-MFU will always find a way to save these children despite this pandemic and during the ‘new normal.’ We will never get tired of this mission. This pandemic, as well as poverty, should never be an excuse to abuse and use children as a source of living.”

Inter-agency collaboration

“This investigation in the Philippines emanated from information provided by the Australian Federal Police which further demonstrates the close cooperation between the Australian Federal Police, Philippine National Police and the National Bureau of Investigation, and all our international partners to target anyone who seeks to exploit children, irrespective of their location. The outcome today further highlights the effectiveness of the Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Centre and continued international partnerships in place to combat child exploitation and protect children,” said Federal Agent Paul Onken, Australian Federal Police Philippines.

“This operation is another great example of the close collaboration between the Philippines and International partners, all contributing to this specific result and beyond as the enforcement teams continue to develop their capabilities. Once again this case has demonstrated that the current COVID-19 movement restrictions will not deter action against those who exploit and abuse children,” said David Cater, NCA Regional Manager – Asia/Pacific.

“We celebrate with our PICACC partners, particularly PNP and Australian Federal Police, for another successful operation. Indeed, this crime of OSEC knows no borders. Whether you are an OSEC trafficker from Pampanga or Butuan – or any location in between – we will not rest until you are caught,” said NBI AHTRAD Chief Janet Francisco.

IJM Cebu Field Office Director John Tanagho said: “IJM is confident that continued law enforcement operations will protect thousands of Filipino children from being sexually abused for foreign sex offenders online. When laws are consistently enforced, traffickers are deterred for fear of being arrested. As demand-side governments likewise deter or disrupt offenders on their shores with increased arrests, convictions and strong sentences, we will see a global justice movement to protect children from OSEC like never before.”

“We saved children’s lives today. I’m thankful,”

“We saved children’s lives today. I’m thankful,” said Assistant Regional Prosecutor Clementino Rabor of the Department of Justice (DOJ) – Caraga Region, also the head of the DOJ Regional AntiTrafficking Task Force (DOJ RATTF) 13. The WCPC-MFU operation was supported by the Australian Federal Police, the Department of Justice – Regional Anti-Trafficking Task Force – Region 13 (DOJ-RATTF - Caraga), Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) 13, Butuan City Police Office, the Department of Social Welfare and Development – Region 13 (Caraga), Police Regional Office 13, Regional Anti-Cybercrime Group 13, Regional Intelligence Division 13, IJM, and the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation-Integrated Development Center, Inc (JPIC-IDC). The suspect is detained at one of the stations of the Butuan City Police Office, while the victims are now receiving trauma-informed crisis intervention from DSWD – Caraga.

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