When Ruby* was just fifteen, she was abused by traffickers so that sex offenders in other countries could watch live online. She’d been tricked into coming to the traffickers’ house by the promise of a job in an internet café — which sounded like a great opportunity. The reality turned out to be very different, as Ruby found herself trapped inside the house by a guard, unable to return to her family. “It was like being trapped inside a dark room without any rays of light — as though there’s no point in living at all,” she remembers. She found herself losing hope, her self-esteem shattered by the abuse she was forced to endure.
Ruby’s story is far from unusual. The online sexual exploitation of children is a rapidly growing crime, which is outpacing global law enforcement efforts to keep it in check. The reality of this crime is that children — sometimes just a few years old — are sexually abused while offenders in countries like the UK pay to direct and watch the abuse in real time. The market for child sexual abuse materials is readily accessible, because they are sold and shared on mainstream social media sites (not just the dark web) for low prices: the Australian Institute of Criminology found a median of A$51 being paid by sex offenders, equivalent of just over £27, per livestream. Sadly, the pandemic has made the situation even worse. In the Philippines, where Ruby lives, reports of child sexual abuse materials grew by 265% during this time.
But we know that God is at work, even in the darkest situations. Ruby remembers praying one night: “God, if you’re real, get me out of here.” The very next day, she was brought to safety by local authorities, supported by International Justice Mission. Now, she is safe to rebuild her life in freedom. She’s a successful graduate and a fearless advocate for other survivors, telling her story to raise awareness and to encourage others to take action to end this crime.
Now is a particularly important moment to pray for an end to online sexual exploitation of children, not only because of the increased risks posed by the pandemic, but because of a unique opportunity the UK government currently has to make an impact on this issue through the Online Safety Bill. The bill, which will soon be debated by Parliament, would place a duty of care on tech companies to prevent, detect, remove and report child abuse materials, with potentially game-changing results.
Please pray that:
- As parliament considers these new measures, they would listen to the stories and experiences of survivors like Ruby, and introduce strong measures that would improve detection of child sexual abuse materials, particularly livestreamed content
- Pray that rather than waiting until child sexual abuse materials are ‘prevalent and persistent’ on a platform, OFCOM would be given the power to penalize tech platforms found to be hosting even small amounts of these materials
- Pray for the success of IJM’s Global Centre to End Online Sexual Exploitation in engaging tech companies, governments and law enforcement to address the issue collaboratively on a global basis
*Ruby is a pseudonym
Learn more about IJM UK, our work tackling online sexual exploitation of children, and how you can be part of the movement, at IJMUK.org