Sex Trafficking: Social Media Used to Target Girls in Foreign Countries
Indonesian Girl Kidnapped
DEPOK, Indonesia (AP) —A 14-year-old girl received a Facebook friend request from an older man she didn’t know-however she accepted it out of curiosity. It’s a click she will forever regret, leading to a brutal story that has repeated itself as sexual predators find new ways to exploit Indonesia’s growing obsession with social media.
The junior high student was quickly overtaken by the man’s smooth online flattery. Phone numbers were exchanged, and his attention intensified with rapid-fire texts. He convinced her to meet him at a mall, and she felt him to be just as charming in person.
They agreed to meet at another time. She told her mom she was going to visit a sick girlfriend on her way to church choir practice, but instead climbed into the man’s minivan near her home in Depok, just outside of Jakarta.
In a later interview with The Associated Press, the man was 24-years-old and called himself Yogi, who drove her an hour to the town of Bogor, West Java. There, he locked her in a small room inside a house with at least five other girls aged 14 to 17. She was drugged and repeatedly raped — losing her virginity in the first attack.
The frighten young girl cried hysterically and begged to go home. She was beaten and told to shut up or die.
After a week of torture, her captor told her she was being sold and shipped faraway to an island called Batam. Batam is known for its many brothels and child sex tourism that caters to men coming by boat from Singapore.
According to Arist Merdeka Sirait, group’s chairman to Indonesia’s National Commission for Child Protection, 27 of the 129 children reported missing this year are believed to have been abducted after meeting their captors on Facebook. One of the 27 has been found dead.
In the month since the Depok girl was found near a bus terminal on September 30, 2013, there have been at least seven reports of young girls in Indonesia being abducted by people they met on Facebook. Although no solid data exists, police are very concern along with aid groups that works on trafficking issues in Southeast Asia.
Anjan Bose, a program officer who works on child online protection issues at ECPAT International, a nonprofit global network that helps children in other countries had this to say:. “Maybe Indonesia is kind of a unique country so far. The Internet is such a global medium-it doesn’t differentiate between poor and rich. It doesn’t differentiate between the economy of the country or the culture.”
It’s reported that certain websites that monitors social media says Indonesia has nearly 50 million people signed up for Facebook, making it one of the world’s top users after the U.S. Twitter is also popular in the capital city of Jakarta, according to a Paris-based social media monitoring company name Semiocast. In addition, networking groups such as Yahoo BlackBerry and Messenger are very popular on mobile phones.
As in most countries, many young Indonesians and their parents are unaware of the dangers of allowing strangers to see their personal information online. Teenagers frequently post personal details such as their phone numbers, home address, school and places of interest and photos without using any privacy settings at all-thus allowing anyone to find and learn everything about them.
“We are racing against time,” said Sirait. “And the technology frenzy over Facebook is a trend among teenagers here in Indonesia. Police should move faster, or many more girls will become victims.”
The 27 Facebook-related abductions reported this year in Indonesia have already exceed 18 similar cases it received in all of 2011. Overall, the National Task Force Against Human Trafficking said 435 children were victims last year, mostly for sexual exploitation.
Many who fight child sex crimes in Indonesia believe the real numbers are much higher. Missing children are often not reported to authorities. Stigma and shame surround sexual abuse in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, and there’s a widespread belief that police will do nothing to help.
An ECPAT International report estimates that each year, 40,000 to 70,000 children are involved in trafficking, pornography or prostitution in Indonesia, a nation of 240 million where many families remain impoverished. Around the world, sex-trafficking is a 30 billion dollar a year industry.
The U.S. State Department has also warned that more foreign girls are being recruited using social media networks. In a 2013 report it’s said traffickers have “resorted to outright kidnapping of girls and young women for sex trafficking within the countries like Indonesia and abroad.”
Internet exploitation and child sexual abuse are not rare in much of Asia. In the Philippines, kids are being forced to strip or perform sex acts on live webcams — shockingly often by their parents, who are using them as a source of income while western men are typically the ones paying to use these sites.
“In the Philippines, this is the tip of the iceberg. It’s not only Facebook and social media, but it’s also through text messages … especially young, vulnerable people are being targeted,” said Leonarda Kling, regional representative for Terre des Hommes Netherlands, a nonprofit working on trafficking issues. “It’s all about promises-a good job or a nicer cell phone or whatever. Young people see all the glamour and glitter around them and they want to have the latest BlackBerry, the latest fashion, which makes them so vulnerable.”
Facebook says its investigators regularly review content on the site and work with authorities, including Interpol, to combat illegal activity. It also has employees around the world trained to “crack down” on people who attempt to use the site for human trafficking.
“We take human trafficking very seriously and, while this behavior is not common on Facebook, a number of measures are in place to counter this activity,” spokesman Andrew Noyes said in an email.
He declined to give any details on Facebook’s involvement in trafficking cases reported in Indonesia or elsewhere. One thing is for certain: while millions of young people are using social media, so are human trafficker, tracking their every move!