The scandal of online sexual abuse of Filipino children

Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) [Hong Kong]

May 4, 2022

By Father Shay Cullen

Many are victims of family members seeking to satisfy their own sexual urges and make money on the side

Eleven-year-old Evangeline is one of several children rescued from child sex abusers who abused them over the internet for money from rich foreign pedophiles. The demand is huge. The other victims are boys and girls of six, eight and 10 years old.

They were repeatedly sexually abused in front of an internet-connected cellphone using Philippine internet service providers (ISPs) while foreign pedophiles around the world paid and watched the horrific shows.

A study conducted in 2021 by Unicef, Interpol and Ecpat International, all great advocates of child rights, discovered that among Filipino children between the ages of 12 and 17, one in every five had suffered sexual abuse over the internet, especially during coronavirus lockdowns. That is an estimated 2 million abused Filipino children in total.

The live sex shows were streamed over the internet. Other acts were recorded on video and uploaded and sent to pedophiles through ISPs likely operated by either PLDT, Globe and Dito. While Philippine law demands that the mega-rich telecommunication corporations install blocking software to detect, block and report child sex abuse images, they have chosen not to obey it and arrange privately with the National Telecommunications Commission to pay a small fine. Please correct me if this is incorrect. They also facilitate Facebook and Messenger where child sex abuse is rampant.

Evangeline and the rescued children of online sexual abuse were eventually referred to the Preda Foundation’s therapeutic homes for abused children. The children soon felt safe, protected and trusted and soon disclosed to social workers the horrific acts done to them. They are healing and recovering, joining in games, dancing, singing, story-telling and therapy sessions. They will soon study again.

The greatest injustice to the child victims is when the parent or authority who knows of the abuse does nothing to help and report abuse.

There is injustice when the police don’t investigate, when the prosecutor takes bribes to dismiss a child rape case, when a judge allows delays, postponements and sides with the abusers while failing to protect the rights of the child victim.

Children never forget the injustice and abuse done to them. Such injustice is the evil that authorities have brought upon themselves and they will be held accountable at the final judgment.

A child suffers also from the lack of successful counseling, therapy, healing and recovery centers in the Philippines. This exasperates the suffering and mental health of the estimated 2 million child victims/survivors.

There are just a few well-managed non-government organizations (NGOs) that have excellent therapeutic and healing centers that take legal action for victims. There ought to be support for many more of them. They are essential to help in the overall approach to solve the problem,

The help process is awareness, reporting, victim protection and therapy and healing, empowerment, legal action and justice and reintegration. That is the process needed to give life back to an abused child.

Even some judges send suffering children to a relative without therapy, care or emotional healing or postpone legal action against the abusers so the victims do not testify due to witness fatigue.

The abusers are allowed to go free to abuse them again or other children. This malpractice buries the pain inside the child that hurts for a lifetime, shaping the personality and character of the individual victim/survivor.

Together with preventive education and awareness-building, it is essential to have a strong therapeutic home where the child victims are safe, affirmed, protected and healed and empowered to testify strongly in their court case against their abusers.

In general, child sexual abuse online and in society spreads because it remains unreported. Church and educational institutions cover up the crimes, thus becoming an accessory to them.

Pope Francis has consistently condemned clerical abuse of children. “There is, unfortunately, a considerable number. I would like to express to the victims my sadness and pain for the trauma that they suffered. It is also my shame, our shame, for the incapacity of the Church for too long to put them at the center of its concerns.”

Child victims are scared to report abuse. Crimes spread because of a lack of awareness that child abuse is a heinous crime.

Many people are in denial and cover up crimes in a family, in church, in schools and in colleges. Also, ignorance, inaction by government officials, non-reporting of abuse, apathy and indifference, impunity, and government approval of the sex industry are the causes spreading online child sexual abuse and child rape.

Although there are strong laws, a lack of effective and successful enforcement is also a major problem.

The root causes are well known. Local and national authorities promoted the sex industry around US military bases in the cities of Olongapo and Angeles for 50 years to their eternal shame.

They in effect sold women and children for sex abuse to US servicemen. This was opposed by the Preda Foundation and this writer was harassed and almost deported for exposing the child abuse until the bases were closed down by the Philippine Senate after the 10-year, Preda-led anti-base/pro-conversion campaign. Now, the Hanjin shipyard will become the new US military repair base in Subic Bay. More sex tourism and child abuse can be expected. We need a loving, caring, compassionate female president to protect women and children.

Philippine authorities do not see child abuse or human trafficking as a serious problem, but for many it is a revenue-generating business, illegal as it is, where young minors are the star attraction. That historical policy is what devastated Philippine morality, and the silence and inaction of the institutional Church allowed it to happen.

The victims of online sexual abuse are just a few of the estimated 2 million children in the Philippines sexually abused and exploited by parents and relatives in the online child abuse business. It grew during the pandemic lockdown when parents turned to sexually abusing their children to satisfy their sexual urges, videotaped it and made money from selling the images to foreign pedophiles.

The Preda children’s homes have almost 50 children in care and therapy, and the children are recovering and being empowered and educated.

With the help of Preda social workers and a paralegal officer, they are filing their legal cases against their abusers. Many are winning, with an average score of 16 convictions every year, with most abusers getting life sentences.

Saving more than 100 victims/survivors every year and helping them return to a near-normal successful life free from the trauma of abuse is something positive that we can all be glad of.

*  The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

Father Shay Cullen is an Irish Columban missionary who has worked in the Philippines since 1969. In 1974, he founded the Preda Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to protecting the rights of women and children and campaigning for freedom from sex slavery and human trafficking.