Listen: International Justice Mission spokesperson Bianca Bryson talks about how to spot a child at risk of cybersex trafficking
For all the benefits the online world has provided during the COVID-19 crisis, it’s also been the epicentre of an alarming increase in rates of child cybersex trafficking.
With children in lockdown around the world, International Justice Mission (IJM) say in 62% of cases, opportunistic family members live stream acts of abuse for international audiences to view and purchase.
“It’s a digital crime,” said IJM spokesperson Bianca Bryson, “and often we’re finding in many of the cases that we have deal with in rescue, that [the abusers] are parents or close relatives – and Westerners are purchasing and commissioning the abuse for their own sexual gratification.”
According to IJM, Australia is the third-highest consumer of this material globally, and with many of us now in lockdown ourselves, online activity is skyrocketing.
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To help curb the trend, IJM have launched the Unsafe in Lockdown Campaign, asking Australians to help fund rescue operations, and spread awareness of the practice during this time.
“There are two types of concerns that are going on at the moment and that is cybersex trafficking: and that involves the exchange of money for this type of abuse,” Ms Bryson said.
“There’s also a concern that’s been raised for Australian children who are online themselves. And in that situation, we just encourage parents to be aware of what their children are doing. Lots of children are homeschooling online at the moment – so make sure that you’re co-viewing, setting time limits and things like that.”
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Poverty is Not the Primary Driver; It’s Criminal Mindedness
Working specifically with cases in the Philippines, Ms Bryson said many assume economic factors are the driving force for families to engage in the trade, but that’s not really the case.
“Because [the Philippines is] where we do this work, people often want to put it down to economic reasons – and we can’t definitively say that’s not a part of it, but it’s certainly not the driving factor,” she said.
“What we have found is that [the abusers] are criminally minded people. Poverty is not the primary driver – it’s not the poorest of the poor that are doing this. It’s people a few levels up.”
To help prevent the practice and secure justice for victims, we do need to be alert to suspicious online activity, but Ms Bryson stresses the best course of action is to notify the authorities and let them do the investigating.
“The best thing to do is not to try and work out [whether a site is questionable] yourself, but to report it,” she said. “There are organisations there to do just that, including the Australia Centre to Counter Child Exploitation who you can report to directly.”
Visit IJM.org.au to support their work.