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“Everyone needs protection. Every person performing this abuse must be stopped.”

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“Everyone needs protection. Every person performing this abuse must be stopped.”

Meet Diana*, a 20-year-old survivor leader in the Philippines. Diana wrote these words to the UK government, calling on them to strengthen protection for children from online sexual exploitation.

Diana knows too well that demand for this horrific crime comes from countries like the UK and US. This Christmas, you can help stop child trafficking and abuse.

D

iana had a mixed childhood. Although her father was in prison and her mother was unable to look after her, an elderly couple raised her as their own. Diana went to school, laughed and played with her friends like any other child. 

Things began to change when her adopted father passed away. Her adopted mother was too elderly to raise Diana alone so she brought her back to her biological father, who’d been released from prison.

Diana had a difficult time living with her father and stepmother: “If I make just one small mistake, they’d blow it up and get really angry at me,” Diana recalled.

Diana started running away. Sometimes, she’d return to her adopted mother; sometimes, she’d spend the night on the streets. Eventually, she stopped going to school.

After everything she’d been through, 13-year-old Diana was longing for a mother’s love. When she met a woman called Zelda*, it seemed like Zelda might be the answer she was looking for.

Zelda was kind to Diana. She befriended her and invited her to stay over at her house. Zelda gave Diana new clothes – although not clothes she would normally wear.

One day, promising to take her to see her mother, Zelda and Diana travelled 200 kilometers away. Instead of seeing Diana’s mother, Zelda introduced Diana to her boyfriend Tony.

They stayed the night together and the next day, the couple took Diana to the beach – a treat for a young girl who’d never been to the beach before. Zelda and Tony also bought Diana a new phone.

Diana didn’t realise she was being groomed, until things started to take a dark turn.

Tony said that if Zelda could not make me like him, he would hurt Zelda. I was very afraid. I thought I could never go back home, Diana shared.

The real reason for the trip soon became shockingly apparent. That night, Tony and Zelda put drugs in Diana’s drink. When Diana woke up, she was being sexually abused.

After the ordeal finished, Diana managed to escape and return home. She told no one what had happened to her.

“I felt like no one would understand me."

"I thought my parents would be angry at me. That they would look at me and see me as a dirty woman. That no one would respect me because of what happened to me."

Diana tried to put the abuse in the past, moving to live with her aunt. But years later, Diana discovered that the abuse had been recorded. Videos of the sexual assault had been sold over the internet, perpetuating her pain.

“I never thought I’d be where I am today… involved in a case of online sexual exploitation,” shared Diana.

Unknown to Diana, the United States FBI had learned about Tony’s illegal activity and sent a tip to the Philippine National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).

In 2017, while investigations were ongoing, the NBI together with the Department of Social Welfare and Development traced the videos back to Diana.

In 2018, the FBI arrested Tony in the United States.  A local IJM social worker in the Philippines came alongside Diana to provide vital support.

Thanks to Diana’s statement, Tony who was sentenced to 84 years imprisonment. In 2021, Zelda was arrested and is awaiting trial for criminal charges related to trafficking and child abuse.

Today, Diana is a member of a newly launched survivor group in the Philippines – the Philippines Survivor Network. Alongside other survivors, she’s bravely sharing her story and expert advice to catalyse local and global action to stop this crime.

Diana hopes to finish school and pursue her childhood dream of becoming a teacher. She wants to help shape young lives and help protect children from the same abuse she experienced.

*Pseudonym. Consent gathered for all images.

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