Australia’s ABC News on Wednesday published a disturbing report that found “online sexual abuse and exploitation of children in the Philippines” more than doubled during the coronavirus lockdowns — and “many of the predators are Australians.”
If the reader is wondering how Australians managed to sexually abuse Filipino children while both counties were under heavy coronavirus travel restrictions, the answer is that Australian clients used social media platforms and dating apps to hire “facilitators” in the Philippines who arranged to have children abused on-camera for the customer’s amusement.
This made-to-order sexual abuse was conducted so quickly that authorities in both countries were hard-pressed to detect or intercept it. In many cases, the children were abused by the adults they were living with, trapped in their homes during the lockdowns and desperately in need of cash. Even the “facilitators” were so desperate that they pleaded with clients to pay them a pittance for any act of depravity they could arrange.
“It is absolutely brutal. She will end up begging because she wants him just to send some money without having to have a show because she needs to buy food for her children and medicines,” an Australian detective posted to the Philippines said of communications she witnessed between a facilitator and a client.
The client in question, 68-year-old retired public servant Ian Schapel of Adelaide, was caught with over 50,000 images and videos in his possession, including “horrific footage of sexual acts involving children,” the youngest of which was three years old.
Schapel was eventually arrested and jailed for 15 years. The joint Australia-Philippines task force working on child sexual predators was able to bring down five of Schapel’s facilitators, and one of them had another elderly Australian client who paid almost half a million dollars to abuse children over the Internet.
The effectiveness of the task force has produced a tidal wave of children seized from their abusive families who will probably spend the rest of their childhoods in care facilities and foster homes. Some of the abusive parents were unrepentant, telling the police they had no other way to make money during the pandemic.
“I just ate my pride rather than see my kid sleep with an empty stomach,” a mother who sold pornographic videos of her children told the police. Her house was littered with both children’s toys and sex toys when the police busted her in a sting operation.
Task force officers said online exploitation business in the Philippines is still thriving even after the pandemic wound down, and the perpetrators seem to have learned a few lessons about how to avoid police detection.
A 2022 study funded by the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children found that roughly one in five Filipino children aged 12-17 had been subjected to online sexual abuse during the first year of the pandemic.
Researchers noted that Filipino children were subjected to “some of the harshest Covid restrictions in the world,” which greatly exacerbated an already dire problem with abuse.
According to the study’s authors, some Filipino children said they sold intimate images of themselves just so they could purchase the devices they needed to participate in online learning during the lockdowns.
Observers have noted the high degree of English fluency among Filipinos, high poverty rates, and even time zone differences were factors in making the Philippines a leading source of online child pornography during the pandemic. Some fear it will take a long time for the pandemic boom to fade because abuse has been normalized in too many communities, and child sexual exploitation is now a billion-dollar industry with a generational workforce — today’s young victims are abused by parents and other relatives who were themselves trafficked for “sex tourism” years ago.
In August 2022, the administration of Philippine President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. declared war on OSAEC, the “online sexual abuse and exploitation of children.”
“Unfortunately, the focus was on the pandemic for the past two years. We focused on the war on drugs, we focused on graft and corruption … This administration is keen and very serious on stopping this,” said Social Welfare and Development Secretary Erwin Tulfo.