Cybersex trafficking is distinct from other sex crimes. Victims are transported by traffickers to 'cybersex dens', which are locations with webcams and internet-connected devices with live streaming software. There, victims are forced to perform sexual acts on themselves or other people in sexual slavery or raped by the traffickers or assisting assaulters in live videos. Victims are frequently ordered to watch the paying live distant consumers or purchasers on shared screens and follow their commands. It is often a commercialized, cyber form of forced prostitution. Women, children, and people in poverty are particularly vulnerable to coerced internet sex. The computer-mediated communication images produced during the crime are a type of rape pornography or child pornography that is filmed and broadcast in real time and can be recorded.
There is no data about the magnitude of cybersex trafficking in the world. The technology to detect all incidents of the live streaming crime has not been developed yet. Millions of reports of cybersex trafficking are sent to authorities annually. It is a billion-dollar, illicit industry that was brought on with the Digital Age and is connected to globalization. It has surged from the world-wide expansion of telecommunications and global proliferation of the internet and smartphones, particularly in developing countries. It has also been facilitated by the use of software, encrypted communication systems, and network technologies that are constantly evolving, as well as the growth of international online payment systems with wire transfer services  and cryptocurrencies that hide the transactor's identities.
The transnational nature and global scale of cybersex trafficking necessitate a united response by the nations, corporations, and organizations of the world to reduce incidents of the crime; protect, rescue, and rehabilitate victims; and arrest and prosecute the perpetrators. Some governments have initiated advocacy and media campaigns that focus on awareness of the crime. They have also implemented training seminars held to teach law enforcement, prosecutors, and other authorities, as well as NGO workers, to combat the crime and provide trauma-informed aftercare service. New legislation combating cybersex trafficking is needed in the twenty-first century.
Cyber-, as a combining form, is defined as 'connected with electronic communication networks, especially the internet.' Sex trafficking is human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation, including sexual slavery. Victims of cybersex trafficking are trafficked or transported to 'cybersex dens,' which are rooms or locations with a webcam. The cybercrime also involves the transporting or streaming of images of the victims' bodies and sexual assaults in real time through a computer with a webcam to other computers connected to the internet. It thus occurs partly in the physical or real world, as the sexual assault is real, and partly in cyberspace.
Victims, predominantly women and children, are abducted, threatened, or deceived. Others are drugged. They are held captive and locked up in rooms with covered or no windows and a webcam. They experience physical and psychological trauma. Gang rape has occurred on webcam. Some are coerced into incest. Victims have been denied food, deprived of sleep, and been forced to perform when sick. They have contracted diseases, including tuberculosis, while in captivity. A number are assaulted or tortured.
Victims can be exploited in any location where the cybersex traffickers have a computer, tablet, or phone with internet connection. These locations, commonly referred to as ‘cybersex dens,’ can be in homes, hotels, offices, internet cafes, and other businesses, making them extremely difficult or impossible for law enforcement to identify. The number of cybersex trafficking victims is unknown. Some victims are simultaneously forced into prostitution in a brothel or other location.
Some victims are not physically transported and held captive, but rather victims of online sextortion. They are threatened, webcam blackmailed, or bullied to film themselves committing online sexual acts. Victims have been coerced to self-penetrate, in what has been called 'rape at a distance.' Others are deceived, including by phony romantic partners who are really rape or child pornography distributors, to film themselves masturbating. The videos are live streamed to purchasers or recorded for later sale.
Those marginalized through poverty, conflict, social exclusion, discrimination, or other social disadvantages are at an increased risk of being victimized. The cybersex trafficking and or non-consensual dissemination of sexual content involving women and girls, often involving threats, have been referred to as "digital gender violence" or 'online gender-based violence.'
Victims, despite being coerced, continue to be criminalized and prosecuted in certain jurisdictions.
Traffickers transport victims to locations with webcams and live streaming software. They or assisting assaulters then commit and film sex crimes to produce real time rape pornography or child pornography materials that may or may not be recorded. The online audience or consumers, who are often from another country, may issue commands to the victims or rapers and pay for the services. Male and female perpetrators, operating behind a virtual barrier and often with anonymity, come from countries throughout the world and from every social and economic class. Some traffickers and assaulters have been the victim's family members, friends, and acquaintances. Traffickers can be part of or aided by international criminal organizations, local gangs, or small crime rings or just be one person. They operate clandestinely and sometimes lack coordinated structures that can be eradicated by authorities. The majority of purchasers or consumers are men. Impunity is a problem. The encrypted nature of modern technology makes it difficult to track perpetrators. They are motivated by greed and or sexual gratification. Traffickers advertise children on the internet to obtain purchasers. Funds acquired by cybersex traffickers can be laundered.
Overseas predators seek out and pay for live streaming or made-to-order services that sexually exploit children. They engage in threat to gain the trust of local traffickers, often the victims' parents or neighbors, before the abuse takes place.
Cybersex trafficking is partly an internet-based crime. Perpetrators use social media networks, videoconferences, dating pages, online chat rooms, mobile apps, dark web sites, and other pages and domains. They also use Telegram and other cloud-based instant messaging and voice over IP services, as well as peer-to-peer (P2P) platforms, virtual private networks (VPN), and Tor protocols and software, among other applications, to carry out activities anonymously.
Activities by region
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Australia and Oceania
The European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol) investigates and spread awareness about live streaming sexual abuse. Europol's European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) is especially equipped to combat the cybercrime.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the investigative arm of the United States Department of Homeland Security, carry out anti-cybersex trafficking operations. The United States Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (J/TIP) partners with agencies and organization overseas to rescue cybersex trafficked victims.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) identified the Philippines as the global center of cybersex trafficking. The Office of Cybercrime within the Philippines Department of Justice receives hundreds of thousands of tips of videos and images of sexually exploited Filipino children on the internet. The Philippine National Police, along with its Women and Children Protection Center (WCPC), Philippine Internet Crimes Against Child Center (PICACC), Philippine InterAgency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT, Department of Justice (Philippines), and Department of Social Welfare and Development fight cybersex trafficking in the country. Rancho ni Cristo in Cebu is a shelter devoted exclusively to rehabilitating children of live streaming sexual abuse. Children in the shelter are provided food, medical care, counselling, mentoring and life skills training.
Combating the crime
Authorities, skilled in online forensics, cryptography, and other areas, use data analysis and information sharing to fight cybersex trafficking. Deep learning, algorithms, and facial recognition are also hoped to combat the cybercrime. Flagging or panic buttons on certain videoconferencing software enable users to report suspicious people or acts of live streaming sexual abuse. Investigations are sometimes hindered by privacy laws that make it difficult to monitor and arrest perpetrators. Conviction rates of perpetrators are low.
The International Criminal Police Organisation (ICPO-INTERPOL) collects evidence of live streaming sexual abuse and other sex crimes. The Virtual Global Taskforce (VGT) comprises law enforcement agencies across the world who combat the cybercrime. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) funds training for police to identify and address the cybercrime.
Relation to other sex crimes
Cybersex trafficking shares similar characteristics or overlaps with other sex crimes. That said, according to attorney Joshua T. Carback, it is "a unique development in the history of sexual violence" and "distinct in several respects from traditional conceptions of online child pornography and human trafficking". The main particularization is that involves victims being trafficked or transported and then raped or abused in live webcam sex shows. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime identified the cybercrime involving trafficked victims on webcam sex shows as an emerging problem. The illegal live streaming shows occur in 'cybersex dens,' which are rooms equipped with webcams. The cybercrime has sometimes been informally called 'webcam rape'.
The International Justice Mission is one of the world’s leading nonprofit organizations that carries out anti-cybersex trafficking initiatives. End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes (ECPAT) and the Peace and Integrity of Creation-Integrated Development Center Inc., a non-profit organization in the Philippine, support law enforcement operations against cybersex trafficking.
The Korea Future Initiative is a London-based organization that obtains evidence and publicizes violations of human rights, including the cybersex trafficking of North Korean women and girls in China.
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