Online sexual abuse of kids increasing
Unbeknownst to many of us while the COVID-19 pandemic was raging and is still in our midst is a plague of another nature that has been victimizing the young. Right now somewhere, in some hidden physical place and in cyberspace, a young school kid is being pimped and prostituted by adults for material gain and for the prurient delectation of paying sex addicts and maniacs.
This is not something new. What is new is the spike in documented cases that could be considered pandemic-driven either because the government and institutional attention has been directed mainly at curbing the pandemic or because the incidence of poverty and joblessness has risen, or both. It is therefore open season for sexploiters of minors from needy families and for those who want to earn more money than they already have. At the expense of the innocents.
International organization WeProtect Global Alliance recently presented its 2021 Global Threat Assessment report and showed a recorded 265 percent increase in online child sexual abuse between March and May 2020. Remember, the Philippines was on extreme lockdown around that time. It was a time for the so-called perfect storm. The Philippines surely figures in the statistics because the United Nations Children’s Fund had identified our part of the world as the “global epicenter of the livestream sexual abuse trade.”
A news report by Inquirer reporter Jane Bautista (“Pandemic worsens online child sexual abuse in PH, says global report,” News, 10/19/21) cited the case of a 16-year-old Filipino teenager who was offered a job through a private message and thought she had been hired. Instead she found herself held prisoner and made to perform sexual acts before a camera day and night. It was a US government agency and the NGO International Justice Mission’s Center to End Online Sexual Exploitation of Children that alerted the Philippine authorities to rescue the teenager from her harrowing ordeal.
Other cases may not seem as harrowing because there is no abduction and illegal detention involved. But it is even worse especially when parents do the pimping themselves and sell their own flesh and blood, their reason being that the kids’ performances have parental presence and there is no physical contact. There is only the camera and, out there in cyberspace, the paying customers who salivate in their own darkened rooms.
I dug into the WeProtect 2021 report and here are some key findings:
The Economist Impact global study involved more than 5,000 young adults across 54 countries. 1 in 3 (34 percent) of respondents said that during their childhood they had been asked to do something sexually explicit online they were uncomfortable with.
LGBTQ+ children are among those more likely to experience sexual harm online.
The Internet Watch Foundation saw a 77 percent rise in child “self-generated” sexual materials from 2019 to 2020.
Twenty-nine percent of the global survey of 18 to 20 years old reported their experiencing a sexually explicit image of themselves being shared by a peer without consent.
COVID-19 has had a huge impact on children and their online exposure.
The survey of tech companies in partnership with the Technology Coalition revealed that while most companies use tools to detect sexual abuse materials, only 37 percent currently use tools to detect the online grooming of children.
Iain Drennan, executive director of WeProtect says: “The internet has become central to children’s lives across the world, even more so as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the past two years, we have observed an increase in the scale and complexity of child sexual abuse online. This report should act as a wake-up call to us all; together we must step up the global response and create a safer digital world for all children.”
Some key recommendations: Sufficient funding to tackle the threat; policy and legislation (i.e., internet regulation); government investment in deterrence and rehabilitation; building international policing capabilities; consistent approaches for the investigation of cross-border crimes; support services for victims.
Foremost in my mind are our schoolchildren who, like it or not, have been using gadgets and hooking up to the internet in order to enter their virtual classrooms during the pandemic. Has the Department of Education made any moves to safeguard the children from those gainful sexual enticements? What have their parents and teachers told them about it?
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