THE rapid rise of cybersex trafficking – the live streaming of sexual exploitation of children – has galvanised international action by police, lawyers and politicians to act quickly to shut down the insidious crime.
In Australia, the Federal Government wants tough new penalties including mandatory imprisonment for perpetrators, and at short notice agreed to amend its sex crimes reforms to keep up with digital technology.
“The victims are often located in the Philippines and the perpetrators are sitting behind a computer, often in the developed, western world,” Kimberly Randle, director of corporate and Legal, International Justice Mission Australia, said.
The IJM said technological advances, including the spread of high-speed internet, had fueled a surge in the Philippines of the sexual abuse of children as young as one year old in front of a live webcam.
The abuse includes grooming people to procure children and paying to instruct sexual abuse which is live streamed using services like Skype.
In June, the IJM briefed South Australian Senator Skye Kakoschke-Moore, a member of the Nick Xenophon Team, about the extent of the crime and the urgent need to amend the Commonwealth criminal code to crackdown on Australians involved in cybersex trafficking.
Senator Kakoschke-Moore’s amendments, introduced into Parliament on September 12, aimed to better capture and penalise the live-streaming of child abuse where a person in Australia ordered and directed the abuse of a child in the Philippines or any other country.
The amendments would make it a crime to set up electronic systems to share child abuse material on the dark web.
It would also be a crime to groom third parties to make it easier to engage in sexual activity with a child.
“I moved amendments to clamp down on cybersex trafficking which was expected to increase as an unintended consequence of removing the passports of registered sex offenders,” Senator Kakoshchke-Moore said, referring to amendments to the governments Overseas Travel by Child Sex Offenders Bill which proposed stripping child sex offenders of their passports in a bid to crackdown on “child sex tourism”.
“The amendments were drafted with International Justice Mission Australia, which tells horrific stories of sexual abuse of very young children, including babies, in countries such as the Philippines by perpetrators in Australia paying a few measly dollars to satisfy their sick desires online,” Senator Kakoschke said.
The Philippines national police receive about 8000 referrals of online exploitation of children a month.
Under the strict new Australian legislation expected to pass through parliament with strong bipartisan support next month, Australians convicted of cybersex trafficking would face mandatory imprisonment. The average sentencing is about six months.
In the Philippines, IMJ works closely with authorities, including the Catholic Church, to rescue victims, provide places of refuge and support, and push their cases through the criminal justice system.
“You are often talking about very, very young children and babies, who have separated from their primary carer,” Ms Randle said.
“I know that the youngest child we have been involved in rescuing is three months old.”