The Multi-Facets of Cyber-Sex Trafficking. A Call for Action and Reform from Society

Master's Thesis, 2014

78 Pages




Appeal of the Internet for Traffickers and Buyers

Appeal of Internet to Children and Teens

Advances in Technology

How Should One Refer to the Criminals Who Engage in this Crime?

Cyber -Sex-Trafficking: As Harmful as “Traditional” Sex Trafficking

Type of Services to be Given Child Sex-Trafficking Victims and Potential Victims

How Can the U.S. Limit Access to Pornographic and Sexually Explicit Material of Children without Violating the Right of Free Speech?

How Can Civil Society Be More Involved in Reducing this Crime?

Trauma Effects on Children-Boys Can be Victims Too- Eliminating Gender Bias

Viewing pornography and child abuse imagery by youth affects their future relationships and their development

What to do When the Perpetrator is the Child’s Parent and the Buyer is a Teenager?




In the year 2014, human trafficking is still prevalent. Traffickers around the world abuse vulnerable individuals and rob them of their freedom to be safe from harm despite the international and national laws that are in place. In particular, sex trafficking, a subset of human trafficking is a form of discrimination in which people in power, typically men, take advantage of the vulnerabilities of women and children— though men are also victims—to exploit them for their services, whether for labor and/or sex. In addition, deception, fraud, force, and coercion are often used to recruit victims (UNODC 2000, Article 3(a)) although that should not be the main factor when investigating and prosecuting these crimes; for children proof of the threat or use of force or coercion is not required. Already a hidden crime due to the difficulty of identifying the traffickers and victims, the advances in internet technology have offered traffickers a new mechanism to escape detection from law enforcement. Internet offers affordability, accessibility, and anonymity –the “Triple-A Engine Effect” (Manning 2006, 133). Shawn Henry, former Executive Assistant Director of the FBI informed the public that the Internet, despite its contribution to knowledge, has many setbacks. “At any given time, there are an estimated 750,000 child predators online — and they all have a key to your house via the Internet” (FBI News Video 2011, Shawn Henry). As a result, it is time for individuals to be more cognizant of the importance of internet safety in order to combat cyber-sex trafficking.

In May 2013, the use of the Internet to facilitate sex trafficking came to the fore again with the case in the Philippines in which three girls were rescued from a ring forcing them to perform live sex shows via the Internet for customers. Often the customers-- mostly Americans and Europeans--paid $56/minute for the girls to perform live sexual acts (web-cam sex) based on the customers’ typed requests transmitted via computers (de Leon 2013). In the case of the three girls, who were eight years old when the abuse started, U.S. agencies, the Philippine National Police and the non-profit Visayan Forum Foundation received tips on one of their frequent customers, Jeffrey Herschell from Washington, Pennsylvania with the help of the victims. This information helped law enforcement arrest and sentence the offender to 12 years in federal prison (Coorlim 2013).

The methods of recruitment of the victims resemble that of “traditional” sex trafficking. Traffickers prey on an individual’s poverty, runaways, kidnapped children, and individuals from abusive homes. Also, traffickers rely on a child’s negligent use of the Internet to lure them into their dangerous world; children often do not realize that safety precautions should be used on online because they think it is a safe place to share one’s personal information. It grants its users mobility and the ability to use more than one mobile device, thereby making it borderless and difficult for law enforcement to prosecute traffickers and buyers. Moreover, if the sexual encounter is not recorded, it will be difficult to trace the IP address and to prove that a crime has been committed.

Since this is a relatively new phenomenon there is no standard definition for this besides “cyber mediated crime” (Davis 2012, 276) or “child abuse imagery” (Smolenski 2013, 2). I will be examining cases and laws in the Philippines, a source country, and the United States as a source, transit, and destination country; these two countries are reflective of where current demand and supply originate for this heinous crime. The Philippines is more advanced in its human trafficking law since it added Section 3g: Sex Tourism, Section 3h: Sexual Exploitation and Section 3j: pornography facilitated by “whatever means” in Republic Act 10364 of 2012. The U.S. however, failed to enact House Resolution 2801 on Internet Facilitated Human Trafficking introduced in September 2011. This is may have been caused by lack of understanding of the issue. The committee chair of the House Energy and Commerce House Judiciary has not given approval to refer the bill to move past the committee. With the ever increasing importance and use of the Internet, child rights advocates hope that this Bill will be passed and approved in Congress; it would establish a task force for the study of the causes and effects of this crime and produce an effective response and prevention methods.

Questions that will be answered in this project are the following: How can we redefine cyber-sex trafficking in order to make it a crime “worthy” of being investigated? Law enforcement is often concerned with traditional crimes and might not have the resources necessary to investigate and prosecute the crime. Traffickers have modified their methods of recruitment and business with potential buyers. As they realized that law enforcement began monitoring the streets, they started to use the Internet as a means to facilitate their illegal activity since it guarantees anonymity of the user. Therefore, law enforcement needs to be informed and trained on cyber-sex trafficking to be able to combat it effectively; otherwise traffickers will continue to sexually exploit children online with impunity.

2. Given the failure of U.S. Congress at present to enact H.R. 2730 “Strengthening the Child Welfare Response to Human Trafficking Act of 2011” and H.R. 2801 “E-SAFETI Task Force Act” how can the U.S. limit access to pornographic and sexually explicit material of children without violating the right of free speech enshrined in the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution?

3. How can the U.S. and the Philippines collaborate with different sectors of civil society: parents, educators, children themselves, and law enforcement (including adequate resources) to prevent this crime from happening in the first place?

Appeal of the Internet for Traffickers and Buyers

With progress comes technological innovation. Although this is great news for our fast-paced society, it also allows traffickers to recruit victims on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Skype, Snapchat, and Oovoo among many others by gaining their trust by posing as a child/teen with similar interests and problems. With the internet and social media, one does not necessarily have to have access to a computer to speak with an online friend; that can be done with smartphones, iPads, iPods, and tablets, as well as anywhere there is Wi-Fi access. Therefore, it is difficult for law enforcement to identify traffickers, buyers, and victims if there is no constancy in the device used. Furthermore, the danger of live transmissions of sex acts is that it is not recorded. By the time law enforcement arrive at the scene, the crime would have already been committed and the trafficker/buyer can easily deny that any harm has been committed. Law enforcement would have to catch them in the act but that would require knowing the inside details of the arrangement and/or would have to find direct communication: e-mails, phone calls, or texts between traffickers and buyers confirming the operation and payment details. The Internet guarantees safety to traffickers and buyers because it is borderless, as already stated, and individuals can presume many identities. In order to defeat them, technological innovations need to advance in law enforcement’s favor.

Appeal of Internet to Children and Teens

In addition, the Internet’s anonymity has led it to be a favorite source of communication among youth. This resonates especially with those who feel socially excluded in society or who are introverted. Hence, unfortunately a youth feels at home while on the various internet platforms rather than the actual home. Jan Willem Duyvendak, in his book The Politics of Home argues that individuals from all societies struggle to feel at home somewhere. When they do find a place that they identify as home, they might personalize it only to find that they do not belong there (CGA Lecture November 4, 2013). The traffickers use this need to feel at home to target children who come from a troubled family life, poverty, abusive homes, and runaways.

Moreover, social media sites and chat rooms often pressure individuals, especially youth to assume a different identity in order to please others and to gain popularity. Nancy Baym in Personal Connections in the Digital Age notes, “In many online environments, people seek to individualize themselves as different from the other participants (Baym 2010, 108). Therefore, the lack of internet barriers when communicating contributes to the lack of internet safety practices by youth. In particular, “When friends in an SNS can be strangers, admirers, confidants, coworkers, family, and a host of other relationship types, yet all be called same thing on site, it triggers inevitable confusion” (Baym 2010, 145).

Furthermore, the Internet is appealing to youth because they are able to meet many people online with similar and different interests. They are fast to judge that they can befriend someone solely because they like the same artist or actor. For a child who has trouble socializing at school and in society in general, this provides ample opportunity to feel accepted and to be taken advantage of by traffickers. Perpetrators offer a sense of security and affection to youth who need it; they learn the various likes and dislikes of their targeted victims and pretend to have undergone the same experiences as them to gain their trust. As it is argued, “When people meet one another online, especially in media with few identifying cues, they often seem to like one another more than they would if they had met in person” (Baym 2010,126). With the Internet, there is not the pressure to say the right thing right away because there is time for reflection. One can respond to a Facebook message hours to a day later and one will not question it.

As a result, youth in particular do not question the identity of individuals on the web, leading them to befriend others without any demonstrable urgency to verify this information. As noted by Dombrowski, Gischlar, and Durst, “Participants sometimes consider these online friends to be closer and more accepting of their true selves” (Dombrowski et al. 2007, 158). When there are direct face to face first time encounters there exists a greater sense of security and safety; this is due to the fact that there is a human element that is absent in online communications which is filled with words and pictures on the screen. The anonymity of the Internet is beneficial to the perpetrator. Dombrowski et al. argue “as these networks were developed to obscure the identity of participants, they offer effective anonymity for those who wish to disseminate pornography” (Dombrowski et al. 2007, 158).

Advances in Technology

Since traffickers often use more than one mobile device to escape detection, law enforcement needs all the help it can receive from technology experts. Recently, on November 4, 2013, Terre des Hommes in the Netherlands devised a creative way to catch online predators who engage in webcam child sex tourism. They established a 3-D model of a Filipino girl nicknamed Sweetie to chat with predators online. The traffickers and buyers truly believed Sweetie was an actual ten year-old girl and sent sexually explicit messages in an attempt to further the encounter. This mechanism of using technology before the trafficker harms a child is innovative and makes the day where all children will be safe from sexual exploitation closer (Terre des Hommes 2013). Moreover, it demonstrates the increase in awareness of the issue and the ability from individuals in the technology sector to collaborate with law enforcement to facilitate the tracking down of perpetrators. It also demonstrates the naivety of traffickers who perceived Sweetie to be real and continued to chat with her unsuspectingly.

In addition, the U.S. based NGO THORN represents another technology based organization that will help law enforcement. The organization partners with nonprofits and academic institutions to study the role technology plays in child sex trafficking and online exploitation. The THORN Technology Task Force consists of more than twenty technology companies including Microsoft, Twitter, Facebook, Google, and Yahoo which share their company’s latest innovations to develop tools to identify both victims and perpetrators (THORN 2014, “Task Force”).With that shared information on best practices, THORN strives to catch the offenders and identify victims at the source (THORN 2013, “Tech Task Force” 0:55).

THORN’s Shared Hash initiative allows for technology companies to disseminate information on child pornography by sharing digital fingerprints of abuse images via a cloud-based tool. As a result, the identification, removal, and reporting of child pornography to law enforcement are increased (THORN 2014). Moreover, its deterrence program, led by technology experts, seeks to discourage individuals from sexually exploiting children. Ron Conway, Founder of SV Angel and Founder of the THORN Tech Task Force explains, “The software that we put in place deters these perpetrators from taking action. We go and we message them and encourage them to go seek help” (THORN 2013, “Our Work—Deterrence” 0:48).

As of September 2013, Homeland Security Investigations from ICE collaborated with Operation Predator to create this new smartphone application in which people can report tips on unknown or fugitive predators 24/7 by phone or online. Representatives from ICE report,

The Operation Predator App enables those who download it to receive alerts about wanted predators, to share the information with friends via email and social media tools, and to provide information to HSI by calling or submitting an online tip. Additionally, the app enables users to view news about arrests and prosecutions of child predators and additional resources about ICE and its global partners in the fight against child exploitation (ICE News Release 2013).

Although this is great news, International Organization for Adolescents (IOFA) recently shared that traffickers are getting smart and are avoiding law enforcement by the new phenomenon of “chatlining.” They have realized that law enforcement and the anti-trafficking community are monitoring their activities on the Internet and therefore, they have found a safe method of communication. Traffickers and perpetrators use cell phones to complete business transactions. Traffickers will only reveal the age of victim and if the buyer is interested he will respond with buying price. If trafficker agrees on price, they will agree on a meeting place (“Responding to Child Trafficking in Westchester County Agenda” IOFA Training September 25-27, 2013).

The International Organization for Adolescents is also currently in the process of piloting a scientifically validated screening tool to identify child victims of sex and labor trafficking. This is part of the Child Right Model: Building the Child Welfare Response to Child Trafficking; there still exists a stigma to sex trafficking victims, even if they are minors. Therefore, there is an urgent need to have all victims treated as victims and not as criminals (IOFA Conference, January 28, 2014).

How Should One Refer to the Criminals Who Engage in this Crime?

Should these types of offenders, who violate the freedom and dignity of children, be referred to as pedophiles or child molesters? Kenneth V. Lanning argues that society should not use the term interchangeably. He defines pedophilia as “a diagnostic term referring to persons with recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, urges, or behaviors involving prepubescent children…” (Lanning 2012, 74). Furthermore, he clearly states that “a child molester is an individual who sexually molests children. A pedophile might have a sexual preference for children and fantasize about having sex with them, but if he does not act this fantasy out, he is not a child molester (Lanning 2012, 74).

Although one can understand these distinctions, how can one ensure that both pedophiles and child molesters receive the help they need to avoid harming children? Furthermore, how does one categorize those individuals who only engage in sexually explicit conversations with young children and/or ask the child to perform sexually explicit acts via the webcam? Even though there is not any physical touching involved it is as if the encounter was held in person. The child is sexually molested by words and being ordered to perform sexual acts. He or she feels ashamed, scared, and distrustful of adults in general; the same effects as in traditional sexual exploitation cases.

Therefore, the term child molester has to be employed in cases involving computers and the Internet as well. Otherwise, it will signify to internet “abusers” that this behavior is acceptable and an easy alternative to physical molestation and harm. The community, especially law enforcement, social service providers, and educators need to send the message that children are not to be harmed in any form. If they are aware that the community is being vigilant they will think twice before resorting to the Internet. It is never acceptable to endanger the welfare of the child regardless of the circumstances. Children have their entire lives ahead of them and it would be unjust to deny them their dignity and freedom.

However, the situation becomes complicated when the alleged pedophile and/or molester has himself/herself been a victim of sexual abuse/pornography when younger. Should they be considered less “guilty” because they themselves have been victimized? Or should they be considered just as guilty as or guiltier than the traditional offender because they should have known better? This question is currently up to debate with the case of former chief of staff to Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) Ryan Loskarn. Law enforcement arrested the seemingly law-abiding Loskarn on December 11, 2013 at his home for possession of child pornography. Officials reported to have found two hundred child pornographic videos on his hard drive (Sullum 2014, 1-2). Many citizens quickly questioned the motives behind Loskarn’s actions. Criticism towards the former chief of staff also was rampant in many conversations. The increased emphasis on this case originated in the fact that Loskarn violated the law despite being a representative of the law. Many expressed their shock in comments such as “He should have known better. What’s wrong with him? How can it be? He’s a chief of staff.”

These commentaries are common among children’s rights advocates who simply cannot understand why anyone would harm a child intentionally or non-intentionally. However, the answer is not always as simple as it seems and should serve as a lesson for children’s rights advocates. As evidenced by law enforcement that arrested Loskarn, he did not actually produce the child pornography; he only downloaded and viewed it on his computer; that in and of itself is considered a less severe crime since there has not been any in-person contact. He faced up to eight years in prison for simple possession and viewing of child pornography (Sullum 2014, 2).

Nevertheless, the United States finally found the cause behind the former chief of staff’s actions on January 23, 2014 when he took his life. In a suicide note he explained that he did not intentionally seek child pornographic images on the Internet. It started with a simple search for music on a peer-to-peer network. The reason why he did not report it when he first came across it? “I found myself drawn to videos that matched my own childhood abuse. It’s painful and humiliating to admit to myself, let alone the whole world, but I pictured myself as a child in the image or video. The more an image mirrored some element of my memories and took me back, the more I felt a connection” (Jesse Ryan Loskarn 2014, 1). Unable to overcome his childhood sexual abuse as a child, Loskarn found some strange comfort viewing child pornography. For him, it represented a form of connecting with the abused children because he felt their pain and also was a form of healing for him in some matter since he never revealed his childhood abuse before speaking with his psychiatric counselor in prison. Ryan Loskarn himself recognized that his abuse did not justify his actions but rather provided an explanation. Perhaps the healthcare community should devise better ways to help child abuse victims “heal.” His apology to the children he hurt is touching. “And last, to the children in the images: I should have known better. I perpetuated your abuse and that will be a burden on my soul for the rest of my life” (Jesse Ryan Loskarn 2014, 2). The lesson from this tragic story is that legislation should be reformed to assign prison sentences according to the gravity of the crime committed. Viewing and/or distributing child pornography is a crime but not as serious as meeting a potential victim online and luring them to engage in sexual activities either through webcam or in-person.

Cyber -Sex-Trafficking: As Harmful as “Traditional” Sex Trafficking

Cyber-sex-trafficking is a relatively new phenomenon which requires more in-depth study in order to increase and ameliorate prevention efforts. As a result, this illegal act is known by many terms: cyber-sex-trafficking, child webcam sex tourism, or even “internet-facilitated sex-trafficking” (H.R. 2801, Introduced September 6, 2011). What these terms have in common is the reference to the Internet. The difference with previous years is that in addition to being able to sell children on websites such as, traffickers can now provide to their clients child sexual services via live transmissions such as webcam, various chat rooms, and social media outlets.

The message needs to be made to law enforcement officials and representatives that this is not a crime that occurs occasionally. It happens every day on several electronic devices, especially if the perpetrator does not record or save the encounter. The internet task force mentioned in H.R 2801 to study and make recommendations for the prevention of this crime is an excellent strategy; nevertheless, it is essential that more components be included in the definition of internet-facilitated human trafficking.

Currently, H.R. 2801 defines internet-facilitated human trafficking as “the use of the internet to engage in severe forms of trafficking in persons” (H.R. 2801, 2011, G (1)). This definition is an excellent foundation but needs more in-depth explanation. It does not define the many ways that the Internet can be used to condone and promote the commercial sexual exploitation of children. Paragraph 1 of the definition can include “Internet used to exclusively sell children online to potential buyers.” Part 2 can include “Internet used to engage in sexually explicit conversations and/or sexual acts via the Internet (webcams, social media, and chat rooms).” Furthermore, Paragraph 3 of the definition can include “use of the Internet to view and/or distribute child pornography. This does not necessarily include use of the Internet to engage in sexual explicit activities via webcam and/or chat. That is included in Paragraph 2 of this definition.”

With this extended and detailed definition, society is better prepared to respond to potential and actual cases of internet-facilitated human trafficking. The Internet could be misused in many ways just as it could prove to be useful for benevolent purposes. The internet task force, if it launches, will be able to analyze these three components of the definition and find different and common characteristics for each. In addition, the various sectors represented in this potential internet task force will offer many suggestions and opportunities for improvement in the response to this crime, especially in terms of technology innovation. The goal for this task force is to “study and make recommendations to prevent internet-facilitated human trafficking” (H.R. 2801, 2011, Section 2(a)). The twenty members of the task force include representatives from the Department of State, Federal Communications Commission, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Administration for Children and Families, Department of Justice, Department of Labor, Secretary of State, companies fighting human trafficking, one of which represents an internet company, non-profit organizations, academic institutions, State Attorney General’s office, a victim of severe forms of human trafficking, and members from the public or private sectors (H.R. 2801 2011, Section 2(b)). These representatives from different sectors of society will bring their individual expertise to reduce cases of human trafficking facilitated by the Internet. It is also assumed that this task force will seek to educate youth on internet safety as part of their recommendations to prevent this crime. A multi-prong approach is needed to prevent internet- facilitated human trafficking. One can catch the predators in action, but youth need to be educated and empowered as well in order to dissuade traffickers from recruiting them. The ever evolving technologies today require a task force that is cognizant of all changes and updates in technology in order to outsmart the traffickers.

In turn, the response to human trafficking of minors needs to be improved in general as well. There is this general misconception that anyone who engages in sexual activity of any kind, including prostitution is guilty. This perception is dangerous as it does not take into consideration the many causes of human trafficking discussed previously. Not every individual willingly engages in prostitution. For children, it is never a free choice. They are essentially robbed of their freedom and dignity. A child does not have the capacity to understand and to consent to sex. Protecting children should be the priority of every citizen but especially that of law enforcement, social service providers, educators, and health care providers. An attempt has been made in Congress to ameliorate the child welfare response to human trafficking in H.R. 2730. Originally introduced in August 1, 2011, and referred to the House Ways and Means Committee, it still needs to be passed by the full Congress. Stephanie Richard, Policy and Legal Services Director, at the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking argued that “The United States government needs to do better at utilizing existing state resources to combat modern-day slavery in our own backyards. HR 2730, as introduced by Representative Bass will assist both labor and sex trafficked children be identified and provided specialize assistance by our State child welfare agencies” (U.S. Representative Karen Bass Press Release 2011). However, Faiza Mathon-Mathieu, Director of Public Policy and Government Relations at ECPAT-USA explains that the process for new legislation to become law can be long

There has been a growing interest in legislation that would address the role between the child welfare system and child trafficking, specifically child sex trafficking. In the most recent session, the 113th Congress had two child welfare focused child trafficking bills under consideration in the House and the Senate. Both the Senate and the House Finance and Ways and Means committees respectively passed in mark-up one of the bills that extends protections to child sex trafficking victims in the child welfare system. This is quite significant progress (Mathon-Mathieu 2014).


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The Multi-Facets of Cyber-Sex Trafficking. A Call for Action and Reform from Society
New York University  (Center for Global Affairs)
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multi-facets, cyber-sex, trafficking, call, action, reform, society
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Ericka Rodas (Author), 2014, The Multi-Facets of Cyber-Sex Trafficking. A Call for Action and Reform from Society, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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