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Understanding the Harm beyond the Screen: #Bagets Carry Unseen Wounds from Online Sexual Abuse
“No touch, no harm, no damage done.”
Parents may not see the physical impact of online sexual abuse and exploitation of children (OSAEC), but these unseen wounds may linger and affect the lives of young victims.
This was pointed out by Emelita Bolivar, Department of Social Welfare and Development Region 3 Center Head, who joined the panel discussion at the #MakeITSafePH OSAEC webinar organized by Globe.
Bolivar said children are not often aware of the abuse they encounter if it does not involve overtly sexual acts–especially if the parents themselves encourage such lascivious activities. She mentioned that rescued children would even get mad or upset over the economic disruption they may cause if they stop, which affects the family’s income.
“It’s a long process. Unlearning is very difficult since the parents are powerful and very authoritative figures in their lives,” Bolivar said, noting that local government units must also have interventions for affected families to improve their well-being.
Philippines among Top Sources of OSAEC Content
The Philippines is among the world’s highest producers of content rooted in online child sexual abuse and exploitation, according to a study led by the US-based National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). UNICEF’s SaferKidsPH Advocacy Officer Ramil Anton Villafranca, meanwhile, said that one of the primary reasons why OSAEC thrives in the Philippines is due to the high incidence of poverty, where parents sometimes force their children to perform sexual acts online to earn money.
Many parents mistakenly believe that the lack of physical contact does not cause harm to their children, and that other people should not meddle with family affairs.
“OSAEC is composed of any act of exploitative nature carried out against any child and has at some stage, connected to the online environment. It doesn’t necessarily need physical contact. For instance, undressing in front of a camera for a live stream can already be considered OSAEC,” he explained.
One unfortunate trend online is #bagets, a hashtag used by those with sexual interest in children to find their prey. One search of the hashtag on Twitter, where it thrives, yields posts of those either looking for illicit encounters with minors, or else those offering such a service.
Caring for Victims and Survivors of OSAEC
Villafranca said social and behavior change campaigns are necessary to push for OSAEC prevention and response, especially in communities where sexual abuse occurs behind closed doors.
Victims are usually oblivious to the sexual relationships they are coerced into, Bolivar shared. But once they realize that the situation is not normal, they tend to look down on themselves.
“We help these children have better self-esteem because doubts happen when they learn the impact of what they did. We make them understand that they are important, that they can still be somebody someday,” said Bolivar.
She added that social workers conduct psycho-social interventions to prepare children to re-enter normal life. There are therapeutic activities for them to unlearn distorted views on sex that they were exposed to and learn new values through psychologists.
Creating a Safer Space Online for Children
Maria Amparo Ventura, a teacher from Moonwalk Elementary School in Las Piñas City, echoed Globe’s call, saying OSAEC is a problem that needs the effort of all stakeholders.
Ventura said they regularly conduct webinars and orientation programs for parents and children to educate them about the problem.
“We help each other. We don’t just teach the kids, but also the parents,” she said.
Meanwhile, Grace Fajardo, a mother and parent representative from Las Piñas City Technical Vocational High School, said parents must still keep a close watch over their children to ensure that they are not inadvertently accessing inappropriate and dangerous content online. She mentioned that apps made for kids could also help parents monitor their children’s online activities.
“Tinututukan ko talaga sila dahil may ginagamit ako or may specific websites ako na naka-on, I try to stop it and ask for help from other IT [professionals] I know to block that site,” said Fajardo, who works in the cyber security space.
Since the launch of its #MakeITSafePH campaign in 2017, Globe has been actively educating consumers on stopping OSAEC and protecting children from further risks.
Globe has invested over $2.7 million in content filtering systems that block websites and online imagery that promote child pornography and online piracy. It partnered with the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) to find, remove, disrupt and prevent child sexual abuse imagery on the internet, and with the Canadian Centre for Child Protection to identify illegal websites and block them out of the network.
Likewise, Globe supports SaferKidsPH in pushing for responsible online behavior and promoting the rights and well-being of every child. It also carries the Globe Digital Thumbprint Program, an educational program that teaches responsible digital citizenship to students, teachers, parents, and netizens as a whole.
To learn more about Globe's Digital Thumbprint Program, you may access the eModules at www.youtube.com/user/GlobeCSR/playlists.
Globe also partnered with the ABS-CBN Foundation to offer toll-free calls to Bantay Bata 163, a long-running emergency hotline where the public may report incidents of child abuse. Globe and TM mobile phone users may call the helpline for free, making it easier and safer to report, rescue, and rehabilitate sick and abused children.
If you witnessed or have information about a case of child abuse and exploitation, may it be virtual or in person, you may report to Bantay Bata 163 by dialing the number.
“We're calling on everyone to take a stand and join us in this advocacy. We cannot win this fight alone. Only by working together can we truly end OSAEC,” said Yoly Crisanto, SVP Group Corporate Communications and Chief Sustainability Officer at Globe Telecom, Inc.
Globe strongly supports the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, particularly UN SDG No. 9, which highlights the roles of infrastructure and innovation as crucial drivers of economic growth and development, and UN SDG 17, which emphasizes the value of partnerships in achieving the sustainable development goals. Globe is committed to upholding the United Nations Global Compact principles and contributing to 10 UN SDGs.
To know more about OSAEC and #StopOnlineChildAbuse, watch the webinar via Globe Bridging Communities Facebook page.