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Guest Blog: To Fight the Spread of Cybersex Trafficking, Anti-trafficking Organizations Need to Innovate

Colleen O'Day, writer and anti-trafficking advocate

Colleen O’Day

Controlling the spread of human trafficking is a monumental challenge. Traffickers are innovating in the tactics that they use to exploit millions of victims, underscoring the difficulty of responding to an international epidemic that can look completely different from case to case and country to country. The rapid expansion of internet access across the globe, for example, has enabled people who would otherwise have limited ability to engage in exploitation to participate in the victimization of child trafficking victims from the convenience of their home.

A recent investigation by The Associated Press highlights the nature of cybersex trafficking and those who profit from this exploitation. Chronicling the bust of David Deakin, an Illinois native who relocated to the Philippines, the AP piece exposes not only the means that many of these perpetrators use to exploit children, but also the mentality of many traffickers and the customers who engage in this specific form of trafficking.

Similar to victims of other forms of trafficking, cybersex trafficking victims often come from impoverished communities, with children in particularly vulnerable positions. Where there is a great deal of sex trafficking in general, such as in countries like the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, there is likely to be a great deal of cybersex trafficking.

In many instances, parents or older family members exploit children and force them to perform sex acts for predators living in other countries. Families who need money rationalize their actions by pointing to the barrier of the internet.

“There seems to be this notion of morality; people splicing the definition of sex,” says Annalisa Enrile, an expert in human trafficking and professor at the University of Southern California’s online MSW program. “They rationalize their behavior by thinking, ‘It’s not really sex because it’s happening via the internet.’ This simply isn’t true.”

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