Simultaneous Symposium 1 of the Ako Para Sa Bata 2015: Cyberprotection of Children conference, “Online Child Abuse (Part I): Definitions, Laws and Reporting, Initial Investigation” provided attendees with a broad and solid foundation for understanding the lay of the land in terms of the relevant laws, agencies and procedures. It was moderated by Lolita Lomanta, Senior Assistant Provincial Prosecutor of Cebu Province.
Dr. Clara Nemia Antipala, Director of Aftercare of International Justice Mission Cebu, followed up with an overview of the challenges and impact of online sexual exploitation of children, the challenges we face during and after rescue, and the needs of the children that must be addressed.
Dr. Antipala started with a case study on providing aftercare to survivors of OSEC in Cebu, but using composite data so as not to identify specific cases. She highlighted three major problems that come up: a confused sense of right and wrong, attachment issues, and trauma. These affect the child survivors on very deep levels, so aftercare providers need to be aware of the inherent difficulties presented by OSEC simply as a matter of fact, even before the unique complicating factors of each case.
There are inherent challenges as well in providing aftercare both during rescue and post-rescue. First, during rescue there is the matter of reducing the trauma of the rescue itself, as any rescue attempt will necessarily be a very jarring and emotional event. There is also a need to provide developmentally appropriate information to survivors, and to protecting the survivors’ privacy.
In terms of post-rescue aftercare, the biggest challenges are the lack of appropriate protective placements (gender-applicable shelters and then later foster care), the lack of expert care to manage trauma symptoms, permanency planning, and the actual engagement in legal cases.
To close her topic, Dr. Antipala emphasized the primary needs of all OSEC survivors:
- Safe, trauma-informed placement options immediate post-rescue
- Structure and return to normalcy, such as a return to a routine and the continuation of schooling
- Strong trauma services
- Long-term care options
After Dr. Antipala’s portion, the next section was a short teaser for Simultaneous Symposium 7: Effective Aftercare for Survivors of OSEC, which was set to take place the next day. Dr. Jose Andres Sotto, Consultant for Aftercare Development of IJM and a practicing trauma therapist and pastoral counselor, provided the details of what attendees could look forward to in SS7.
Judge Amy Avellano, Presiding Judge of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 58, San Carlos City, Negros Occidental provided her reactions to the session and its speakers. She spoke at length about the importance of proper procedure and the value of understanding both investigative protocols and the letter of the law, as the government’s hands are tied if technicalities or complications for the prosecution lead to cases failing.
The law can only work with what evidence and testimonies are available, and it is up to everyone involved in all the collaborating agencies, as well as the civilians in the relevant situations, to do right by our children. We cannot afford to make mistakes or leave children open to further danger because of things like complex parental situations or misapplied warrants.
The open forum for SS1 explored several questions from the audience. The first was about how foreign law enforcement agencies (LEAs) tie up with local LEAs. Atty. Aritao replied: “It’s still good local police work that we need. There may be a general vicinity in the referral, but it’s up to the police to do a proper search. The second challenge is applying for search warrants, because of the requirements; what can you show me as proof? When foreign LEAs are involved, they’re very supportive.” He went on to explain to a follow-up question that the majority of the referrals that have resulted in formal rescues came from foreign LEAs.
The next major open forum question was how to detect the possibility of OSEC taking place in a community. The different speakers each had advice:
- Atty. Aritao: Evidence/behavior from young people, early sexualized behavior; teachers can be vigilant too. For ordinary citizens, maybe you can pick up possible signs, but personal investigations are inadvisable; talk to the police, let the government do its job.
- ACP Landicho: Parents should know their children well. Unless you know your children well, you may not be able to spot the changes in their behavior. This is a challenge for everyone. Law enforcement can only do so much. It’s up to the rest of us to pay attention.
- Dr. Antipala: One of the signs is when you see antennas rising from dilapidated huts. Another is when you see in the neighborhood there’s a poor household that can suddenly afford a lot with no clear source of income.
- Director Pagunsan: Pay attention to Internet cafes. Computers should be visible and not secluded, because hidden corners and areas are conducive to criminal behavior.
Further questions and commentary were discussed in the open forum, with SAPP Lomanta eventually suggesting that additional and more in-depth inquiries be directed to the speakers after the session, as time for the session had concluded. She invited the audience to SS7 and SS8 the following day, as those were the direct follow-ups to SS1 in terms of subject matter.
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