Barnett, our rescue agent in the Philippines, says 90% of our child sex trafficking cases in the Philippines last year were started after his team found kids being sold for sexual services on social media.
“I mean through Facebook groups, Viber groups, WhatsApp groups, WeChat … we even found them on Facebook marketplace,” he says.
Barnett said a large part of the sex industry in the country has migrated from red-light districts to online in the past seven years.
This change saves his team “time and money” when searching for sexually-exploited children given the team can now browse social media rather than sex establishments – “searching every rock”. He said social media has “localised our target areas”.
On the downside, Barnett said it’s “difficult” to catch evidence of human traffickers offering to sell children for sex on online chatrooms. This is because it’s illegal to initiate a conversation about the purchase of minors in the Philippines.
“If they’re not reading between the lines of what we’re saying and they don’t instigate things, they’re the ones who get frustrated and cut the conversation,” he says.
While it’s a fine line to walk, Barnett’s team continues to unearth evidence against child traffickers. This success is expected to go into overdrive when our organization launches an online task force in the country later this year.