Girls and women acting out the sexual fantasies of online voyeurs around the world are part of a worrying offshoot to the Philippines’ booming outsourcing industry, authorities said.
Cybersex dens are a growing problem in the impoverished nation that has long struggled to curb child prostitution, law enforcers and social workers said.
They say cyber pimps are offering cheap services via the Internet in a seedy mutation of the country’s sunshine outsourcing industry in which call centers and other back-office operations are done for companies in richer countries.
In one recent police raid on a house in the city of Olongapo in the northern Philippines, five girls aged 14 to 18 and three women were found performing sex acts in front of Web cameras for clients sitting at computers overseas.
“It’s a lot like working for a call center. We do shifts and we chat. They can also make us do anything, as long as they pay,” said one of the girls picked up in the raid who used the working nickname of Rainbow.
The girl, 15, and her sister, 17, said they left their rural home on a northern Philippine mango orchard to work for their aunt in Olongapo, but that their planned employment as babysitters turned into cybersex work.
“It took us about a week to adjust, but after that, we became blase about it,” the elder sister said, adding that their aunt had stayed beside them during their work to ensure the online clients’ demands were met.
The aunt was arrested in the raid in October and has been charged with trafficking in children for prostitution, which carries a maximum penalty of life in jail.
A police report of the raid said of the younger girl: “One of them was naked while in the act of inserting a sex toy in her mouth in a scandalous position.”
The girls are now undergoing counseling and rehabilitation at a local children’s center run by an Irish Catholic priest. The center’s lawyer and counselor, a trained psychologist, gave this reporter permission to speak with the girls. The counselor was present when the interview took place.
Although police raids on cybersex dens across the nation are turning up women and children almost every week, they could be the tip of the iceberg, Migdonio Congzon of the National Bureau of Investigation said.
“It’s an economic issue. People are poor and they need the money,” said Congzon, the bureau’s computer crimes chief.
“There is no definite set up. It could be a house, it could be a condo unit, it could be anything else as long as you have computers with cameras and an Internet connection,” he said.
Authorities appear ill-prepared to deal with the growing industry.
The bureau, which is the investigative arm of the justice ministry, has just five experts on computer crime who also have to deal with Internet fraud and privacy cases. The Philippines’ national police also have just five cyber experts.
Congzon also said the country needed a law that directly addressed outsourced cybersex, because the current ones on child prostitution were not specific enough to deal with the Internet age.
Dolores Alforte, a member of a government committee on child welfare, said police only acted on a few of many tip-offs because most cybersex operations were ran out of private homes that could not be raided without a court order.
She said law enforcement efforts were further hampered by a wall of silence put up by neighborhoods where there is social acceptance of cybersex.