I’m so grateful for this latest piece by Nannette Ricaforte. The Philippines is one of the countries most affected by online sexual predators. Because of the prevalence of the English language, Filipinos are often sought out in the online market for sex. In fact, a number of the girls at My Refuge House were exposed to online predators before being rescued. Even more girls are being rescued daily from isolated dens which specifically cater to the varied and disgusting demands of (primarily) Western sexual predators who feel shielded by the distance between their home and the girls on the other side of the computer screen.
The headline read like a bad joke: “Police chief, rabbi, Boy Scout leader, one mother…” but there was nothing amusing about the horrifying story in the article. These individuals were among the 71 arrested for disseminating child porn on the internet, one of them a mother who used her own child to produce pornography. The five week operation in New York City uncovered evidence of internet activity teeming with sexual exploitation of children which has reached “epidemic proportions.”
Six months ago the Walk Free Foundation launched the Global Slavery Index (GSI), a revolutionary tool that provided “a quantitative ranking of 162 countries around the world according to the estimated prevalence of slavery, that is, the estimated percentage of enslaved people in the national population at a point in time.” To read about the variables used to provide the ranking of the GSI you can click on the article I wrote here.
While the GSI is the first of its kind to report the number of victims trafficked around the world it fails to capture the number of victims enslaved within the insidious web of the internet. In cyberspace, sex traffickers know no boundaries, which create the perfect breeding ground for exploiting children. Anonymity cloaks online predators from detection as they target unsuspecting children on various social media sites while the proliferation of child porn continues at an alarming rate.
Online predators are usually typecast as seedy & perverted pedophiles, but from the recent child pornography bust in New York City, well-respected and trustworthy individuals have been caught in the act, either by luring children into sexual acts or producing child porn.
Understanding the correlation between child pornography and human trafficking is of paramount importance. While pornography increases the demand for sex trafficking, trafficking victims are exploited in pornography. Viewing pornography becomes an intoxicating addiction that provides a sense of buying sex, which creates a deep yearning to “act out what is seen.” It’s a vicious cycle fraught with secrecy, psychological issues, and the unholy pursuit of instant gratification.
Last year, Dutch children’s rights organization, Terre de Homme, conducted a two and a half month sting operation that exposed more than 1,000 adults in 71 countries “willing to pay children in developing countries to perform sex acts in front of a Webcam.” The “Sweetie” sting, named after the virtual girl, snared online predators by creating a computer-generated child who looked so real they believed they were chatting with a 10-year-old from the Philippines.
This enabled Terre de Homme to track the perpetrators through personal information, phone numbers, or videos they willingly provided on social media sites such as Facebook and Skype. The majority of online predators entrapped by the Sweetie sting came from the Unites States, Britain, and India.
“Terre de Homme says Webcam sex with minors is a phenomenon that’s proliferating fast as access to cheap Internet in developing countries grows. The practice, it says, generally involves men from wealthy Western countries paying children from poor countries for online sex shows.”
The questions I often ask myself are: What compels people to view, produce, engage in, or share child pornography? Why children?
Earlier this year, the story of Jesse Ryan Loskarn, piqued my interest. As a result of a child pornography investigation, the chief of staff for Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) was arrested in December 2013 for attempting to “hide a computer hard drive that contained seriously horrid films of children being raped.”
Before committing suicide a month after his arrest, Jesse penned a letter that explained his actions and disclosed his dark secret. He felt a “connection” to the horrific images in the videos as it reflected his own abuse when he was five and nine years old. As an adult Jesse never sought counseling or therapy, believing “I was superior to other people because I had dealt with this thing on my own.” Instead, he hid his shame in secrecy and silence, which caused the effects of his childhood abuse to manifest in his addiction to child pornography.
If Jesse had the psychological therapy he needed to deal with his childhood abuse, would it have successfully severed his addictive connection to child porn?
Not all online predators or purveyors of child pornography are victims of abuse but if the exploitation of children on the internet has reached epidemic proportions, I wonder how many perpetrators are like Jesse Ryan Loskarn.
The Sweetie sting’s main goal was to encourage governments to place stringent policies for law enforcement agencies to legally scour popular internet destinations where child exploitation occurs, thus, decreasing the sense of lawlessness for internet abusers. While this is one way of attacking the crime of cyber-exploitation and abuse of children, it would also be advantageous to delve into the psyche of online predators.
Addressing and comprehending the psychological reasons behind child pornography addiction might provide additional insight for mental health professionals and law enforcement officials to work together in dismantling the cybersex epidemic.
Nannette Ricaforte has been a volunteer for My Refuge House since it’s conception in 2007. Her talents in photography, writing and even running have been generously utilized to push our anti-trafficking work forward. Be sure to check out more of her incredible work by clicking here.