MANILA, PHILIPPINES—International Justice Mission (IJM) gathered leading influencers and key partners during a pre-launch event for The Fight of My Life: Finding Ruby, an immersive podcast series produced by Cadence to shine a light on one of the world’s fastest growing crimes – the online sexual exploitation of children.
The six-part series walks hand-in-hand with 16-year-old Ruby* from her rural home in the Philippines to enslavement in an online sex trafficking den and then into the light of justice.
On August 25, 2022, IJM hosted an event where Ruby (a pseudonym), now a survivor leader helping catalyze a global movement to protect children from this crime, and Rich Thompson, podcast host and creative director of Australian agency Cadence, shared about their journey creating the podcast.
Held at the Calor Membership Lounge in Makati City, the event gave guests a sneak peek of the podcast ahead of its global release on September 5, 2022, with influencers, led by IJM Ambassador Amanda Griffin Jacob, pledging to support this global awareness effort.
There are no reliable estimates on how many children are trapped in the industry, where predators from around the world pay to watch and direct the sexual abuse of children via livestreams, with the median age of victims being just 11 years old. However, the United Nations estimates that at least 750,000 sexual predators are online at any given time.
From behind a veil of acronyms, statistics and niche terminology, Finding Ruby aims to make the livestreamed sexual abuse of children a talking point by highlighting the human side of a hidden crime from the perspective of Ruby, her rescuers and those who walked with her toward justice and healing.
“It was important for us to create an almost cinematic listening experience, to pull listeners alongside Ruby and on the journey through the highs and lows,” said Rich Thompson, Creative Director at Cadence.
“Online sexual exploitation of children is a confronting topic and people are quick to turn away – but Ruby’s story reminds us that there is great triumph and hope to be celebrated, too.”
Using vast soundscapes and gripping first-hand accounts, the podcast takes listeners inside Ruby’s mind as she leaves her rural home – tricked by a fake job offer – and is forced to endure seemingly endless hours in a dark world lit only by computer screens.
The podcast takes listeners into the trafficking den for the dramatic day that police kicked the door down to free Ruby and others – and it continues with her journey through recovery and restoration, the legal system and onto becoming a vital voice in elevating livestreamed child sexual exploitation as an issue of critical importance, for households, tech companies and governments worldwide.
“We wanted to use the stories of those around Ruby – the rescuers, the lawyers, the carers, the advocates – to demonstrate just how profound her story is,” said Evelyn Pingul, Director of Brand, Media and Communications, IJM Program Against Online Sexual Exploitation of Children.
“Ruby’s life was changed forever, but her perseverance, her courage and her resilience also changed the lives of so many others.”
Police Colonel Sheila Portento, former chief of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Division of the Philippine National Police - Women and Children Protection Center, spoke at the pre-launch event about her experience rescuing victims of the crime and holding perpetrators accountable.
The first two episodes of Finding Ruby – entitled ‘The Trick’ and ‘The Trap’ – will be released publicly on September 5, but advanced access can be organized upon request.
Since 2016, when IJM began to focus on online sexual exploitation of children, almost 1,000 children have been rescued from online sexual exploitation in the Philippines. An IJM-led study looked into global law enforcement data from 2010 to 2017 and found that Philippines had eight times more reported cases than any other country, making it a global hotspot for the crime.
Cheap internet access, high levels of English-language proficiency, and financial disparity between foreign remote offenders and local traffickers are believed to be key factors driving the proliferation of the crime.
In 40% of online child sexual exploitation cases recorded from 2010 to 2017, biological parents perpetrated the crime, while other relatives, family friends or neighbours accounted for 42%.
In 2019, the Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Center (PICACC) was launched to strengthen global law enforcement collaboration against this rapidly growing crime. Led by the Philippine National Police’s Women and Children Protection Center (PNP-WCPC) and the National Bureau of Investigation’s Anti-Human-Trafficking Division (NBI-AHTRAD), PICACC is supported by the Australian Federal Police (AFP), the United Kingdom National Crime Agency (UK NCA), the National Police of the Netherlands (Politie) and non-government organization IJM.
Based on data from IJM-supported casework, Philippine authorities have conducted at least 269 operations since 2011, resulting in the rescue of 990 victims and at-risk children, the arrest of 311 suspects arrested, and the conviction of 146 perpetrators.