[OPINION | Dash of SAS] Preventing child sexploitation during lockdown and beyond

More than a billion children around the world are now at home because of school closures meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Also at home and lurking online are predators and pedophiles looking for children they can exploit. 

The Child Rights Network, an alliance of organizations advocating for child rights and protection, have noted a growing number of reports of online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC) during the quarantine period. In a statement, the Child Rights Network said that some of these OSEC reports include Twitter users from the “alter community” sharing and selling child sexual abuse materials online. 

“With the ECQ (enhanced community quarantine) prompting children to spend more time online, sexual predators can find it easier to prey on children,” said the Child Rights Network statement.

“Because of the ECQ, kids are online more. The internet has become a defacto babysitter to keep kids entertained or to keep them learning. Predators are also at home and have more time on their hands,” said Ysrael Colorado Diloy, a Senior Advocacy Officer at Stairway Foundation, one of the organizations that is part of the Child Rights Network. 

Epicenter for Online Sexual Exploitation of Children (OSEC)

The Philippines is at the epicenter of OSEC. Last year, the Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Cybercrime received more than 600,000 tips of images and videos of naked, sexualized, and abused Filipino children. This marked a 1,300% increase from the almost 46,000 tips received in the previous year.

Access to low cost internet and a smartphone makes it easy to sell sexual images of children or livestream sexual content featuring children. The convenient but difficult-to-track payments wired through cash remittance services have contributed to the Philippines being labeled the “cybersex capital of the world.” A plus for predators is that they can communicate with those selling illegal sexual content in English.

There are several ways that a predator may initiate contact with a child online. They hang out in sites kids and teens frequent like gaming sites, chat rooms, dating apps, or photo-sharing apps like Instagram. They can send a friend request through social networking sites like Facebook. 

Once they establish contact, they can proceed to “groom” the child. Grooming is when someone builds a relationship of trust and emotional connection with a child for the purpose of sexually exploiting, manipulating, or abusing them. 

Grooming can be done by anyone – strangers you meet online and even people you already know – and can be done over an extended period of time to gain the victim’s trust and make it easy to get them to sexually exploit them.

What you can do to protect children from online sexual exploitation

For most parents, protecting their children from online sexual predators means banning certain sites. But you can also protect your kids through these ways. 

Know the internet shorthand that can flag a possible predator. In the “Ako Para sa Bata” conference last November, Ma. Sheila Estabillo, project manager for Cyber Safe Spaces said, “It is also through the use of internet slang that children are groomed and led to the dangerous world of sexual exploitation.”

Sabillo shared some internet slang used for online grooming:

Hduw2bb: Hello do you want to be buddies

While it sounds harmless in itself, it can mean that a much older stranger is trying to befriend your child. And that is a red flag.

Other internet slang that you should be aware of and should warn your kids about:

P911: Parents Alert – A parent is in the room or nearby 

NIFOC: Naked in front of camera

WTTP: Want to Trade Pics

TDTM: Talk Dirty to Me

GYPO: Get Your Pants Off

SWAK: Sealed with a Kiss

The Cyber Safe Asia website hosts a series of videos about how to be safe online called “The Dalir-Eskwela.” The animated videos are mainly for kids but parents can learn a lot from the way that delicate issues are discussed in a friendly but candid manner. 

The videos cover online gaming, online chatting, cyberbullying, and child pornography and are filled with practical tips about how to avoid internet stalkers and how to recognize risky internet behavior. 

There is a short question and answer portion about the end of the video that can be answered with either a thumbs up or a thumbs down. 

The CyberSafe Project Manuals developed by the Department of Education, Stairway Foundation, and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) contain lesson plans that teachers and parents can use as a guide to discuss risky internet behavior and how to report it by taking screenshots. The lesson plans are age-appropriate and made for kids in grade school and high school. The learning activities included in the lesson plan can be done offline so facilitators can get as creative as they want with colored markers or other materials at home.

The e-learning website of Stairway Foundation lists a series of in-depth courses on how to handle child sexual abuse, incest, child sex trafficking, and online pornography. These courses are free and are recommended for teachers, parents, social workers, students, and just about anyone interested in protecting children from all abuse and exploitation online and offline.

Reporting online sexual exploitation of children 

There are cases when parents and relatives are the perpetrators. In my Rappler column last November, I wrote about a couple who was detained in Camp Crame for live streaming and selling sexual images of their children to foreign nationals through their cellphone. Their neighborhood where they live is known as a cybersex zone. Other families have made cybersex and the sexual exploitation of children online their home-based business. (READ: Online sexual exploitation of children is a family business

Diloy of Stairway Foundation warned that the economic whiplash of the quarantine – millions now of out work because of the community quarantine and companies cutting jobs because of the economy’s current state in limbo – could trigger an uptick in online sexual exploitation of children.

“The financial loss could lead to increased victimization of children. Parents may resort to peddling their children online to make ends meet,” said Diloy. 

Diloy and the different organizations under the Child Rights Network are calling on the government and law enforcement to intensify monitoring and apprehension of OSEC activities especially during the lockdown. 

As concerned citizens, we can also do our part by reporting OSEC cases through the following hotlines:  

Advocate to keep the internet safe for children by sharing these #ShutDownOSEC campaign materials online.

They say it takes a village to raise a child – it also takes a village of concerned citizens and advocates to keep the internet safe for kids.
 – Rappler.com

Ana P. Santos writes about sexual health rights, sexuality, and gender for Rappler. She is the 2014 Pulitzer Center Miel Fellow and a 2018 Senior Atlantic Fellow for Health Equity in Southeast Asia. Follow her on Twitter at @iamAnaSantos and on Facebook at @SexandSensibilities.com.