Australia’s government is set to ban as many as 20,000 convicted paedophiles from travelling overseas in a bid to protect children in Southeast Asia and other parts of the world from abuse. The new legislation, which is thought to be the first of its kind in the world, is designed to stop Australian child abusers from taking advantage of cheap travel and lax child protection laws in Southeast Asian countries, which paedophiles routinely exploit to facilitate sex tourism trips.
The move comes at a time when law enforcement agencies around the globe are becoming increasingly concerned about the spread of child cyber sex dens in the region. Australian national Peter Scully is currently awaiting trial in the Philippines on numerous child sex charges, including allegations that he ran a pay-per-view service that allowed paedophiles all over the world to livestream the abuse and torture of minors. Last month, an American man was held by Filipino police on suspicion of livestreaming the abuse of children to paedophiles in the US and Australia. David Timothy Deakin was charged with child pornography, child abuse, child trafficking and cyber crime offences.
Speaking with nine.com.au last week, a paedophile hunter revealed the growing extent of the problem, calling the Philippines the “ground zero” of a global multi-million dollar webcam child abuse network. Former police officer Glen Hulley, who founded Project Karma in a bid to track down and expose child sex tourists, said organised criminals are taking advantage of the fact that Southeast Asian countries such as the Philippines have good internet infrastructure, but high levels of poverty and poor child protection laws. He described a police raid on a child cyber sex den on the island of Mindanao, where investigators discovered underage girls and boys who had spent the previous two years working in shifts in front of webcams obeying the instructions of online predators.
In its most recent assessment of the overall crime threat landscape, Europol notes that the livestreaming of child sex abuse has emerged as part of a growing trend of organised criminals seeking to monetise the distribution of indecent images and videos of minors. While paedophiles used to distribute and share this type of material to satisfy their own sexual appetites, many are now using encrypted or hidden online services to stream live child sex shows, which are often paid for with virtual currencies such as Bitcoin to avoid detection. Europol has previously warned that these shows may encourage paedophiles to travel to the countries they are broadcast from in the hope of physically abusing children, and that abusers who have already been on sex tourism trips pay to view them when they are back at home.
Earlier this year, Sky News spoke with a prosecutor in the Philippines who said poor families and their neighbours are a big part of the problem, encouraging young children to participate in cyber sex shows for money. Janet Morecho-Francisco, from the Philippines National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), said children as young as one are groomed into taking part in livestreamed abuse, conditioning them to believe that what they are doing is normal. One girl told Sky News how she would be forced to perform in front of a webcam from the moment she woke up when she was just 12 years of age.
Poverty is a major driver of the webcam child abuse industry, and one of the primary reasons that countries in Southeast Asia are such a big pull for the organised criminals behind it. Cyber sex den operators are able to charge western paedophiles relatively large sums of money, and then pay their local victims the equivalent of just a few dollars. A recent BBC Three documentary saw reporter Stacey Dooley meet two mothers from the Philippines who willingly abused their own children in front of webcams in exchange for money. As well subjecting their own children to sexual exploitation online, the women were also said to have made them available for travelling paedophiles from countries including the UK and the US to abuse physically.
Unicef warned almost exactly a year ago that the Philippines had become “the global epicentre” of the webcam child abuse industry, and highlighted the efforts it was making alongside local campaigners and NGOs to eradicate the problem. Unfortunately, things seem to be getting worse rather than better. Tens of thousands of children are now thought to be victims of the webcam abuse industry, but the true number of minors affected by this emerging form of online sexual exploitation is likely to be much higher.
As paedophiles become more tech savvy and increasingly turn to encrypted messaging platforms and virtual currencies to satisfy their desires without detection, criminals in countries that have a poor record on child protection will have few qualms about providing the services they want, regardless of the effect this has on the children involved. Raising awareness of the problem in the countries affected is all well and good, but the webcam child abuse industry will continue to thrive all the while organised criminals in Southeast Asia and beyond are able to get away with broadcasting abuse online with such ease.