A former colleague who now works as a partnership development coordinator for the International Justice Mission (IJM) sent me an email regarding last month’s three-day course designed to help law enforcers and prosecutors combat online sexual exploitation of children (Osec) in the country.
Aside from protecting the poor from violence, IJM, a global organization, also “partners with local authorities to rescue victims of violence, bring criminals to justice, restore survivors and strengthen justice systems.”
According to the group’s press release, the third iteration of the Prosecuting Online Sexual Exploitation (Pose) training had two objectives: to support effective law enforcement and prosecution of Osec cases and to maximize chances of obtaining and presenting digital evidence.
The Pose training series began in March 2018, bringing together prosecutors, police officers, agency representatives and legal staff from the Visayas, Luzon and Mindanao.
The program resulted from a partnership between the Inter-Agency Council against Trafficking, the United States Department of Justice Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance and Training and the IJM.
The faculty included experts active in digital investigative analysis and the prosecution of Osec cases from the Philippines and the US.
“The modules dealt with not only related laws, but practical solutions and, more importantly, innovative prosecution strategies that are aimed towards protecting the children involved,” said Atty. Lisa Guevara-Garcia, IJM Manila’s director of Legal Interventions and Pose faculty member.
Lt. Col. Christine Tan, chief of the Women and Children Protection Center-Mindanao Field Unit (WCPC-MFU), attributed the success of the recent entrapment and rescue operation in Iligan City in part to the training.
She said their recent accomplishment was a result of the WCPC-MFU’s extensive collaboration with partner agencies and the just concluded training that equipped their online investigators.
WCPC-MFU operatives, led by Tan, arrested an online trafficker and rescued four minors in Iligan City last June 27. This rescue operation enabled them to apply what they learned during Pose 3.
“Combatting this crime requires a strong law enforcement response and international cooperation. We are proud to be part of an international community that makes this a priority and we are proud to serve side by side with the Philippines in fighting this,” said US Ambassador Sung Kim in his opening remarks at the start of the program.
Lawrence Aritao, IJM national director of prosecution development, said Pose was designed to support justice system partners, embracing a trauma-informed approach that focused on making the most out of digital evidence to ease reliance on victim testimony.
It is only fitting to minimize the victims’ participation in the investigation. They are, after all, minors. They probably don’t understand that what they are doing is wrong, especially if the person who asked them to engage in online sexual acts is a close relative. But they also need to understand that it isn’t their fault.
It’s not as if they haven’t been through enough.