Internet facilitates a vast plethora of virtual movements across borders & global destinations. 20,000 new porn images are posted on the net each week, these can be downloaded on most smart phones. (“PORNLAND” by Gail Dines, 2010, Beacon Press, Boston). According to Gail, “The internet has hijacked our Sexuality and distorted its true meaning”. Addiction to porn is dangerous to the individual (on average, males start @ 11 years old) & is extremely difficult to eradicate it. The image is literally engraved on the frontal lobe of the brain. Each sexual encounter thereafter is viewed through this lens. The sex industry is the largest purveyor of profound damage to minds, bodies, emotions & the human spirit, to exploit the most vulnerable. COVID-19 has not slowed traffickers down. Rather it has helped them utilize alternative methods. On 30thMay 2020, the Anti-Human Trafficking and Child Protection Unit (DCI – AHTCPU) raised a red flag over the alarming and sudden spike in online human trafficking, recruitment and exploitation of children in Kenya, with concerns that the trend will continue for as long as children are at home and online – “the dusk to dawn curfew and cessation of movement, intelligence reports reveal that human traffickers are capitalizing on the online platform to recruit, groom and exploit children and lure adults feeling the pinch of the emaciated economy as a result of COVID-19”
In July 2020 (Covid-19 peak period), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Regional Advisor Rachel Harvey estimated that a third of internet users were children (below 18 years) with internet usage increasing by half (50%) following the stay-home orders adopted by most countries to help suppress the spread of COVID-19.
Any Kenyan (youth or adult) who is exposed to poverty and other vagaries of nature during this Covid=19 period was and still remains at a high risk of exploitation. Even so, girls and women constitute the higher percentage as they are easily lured into sexual exploitation by human traffickers who promise them better jobs but find themselves locked in brothels or other services and accommodation where they can neither leave voluntarily nor escape.
Below, we have two cases of minors who were extremely exploited in the US [courtesy, The National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE)] but their stories are synonymous with any youth in Africa who has exposure to uncensored online adventure.
A 13year girl was abused and exploited on Instagram in her own home. It could have been prevented.
Maria* was 13 years old when she first got Instagram on her cell-phone. She had her parent’s permission because Instagram is rated as appropriate for “Ages 12+.”
She loved sharing photos as well as “liking” and commenting on her friend’s images. She mostly posted about being in Girl Scouts, babysitting her younger brother, and going to the lake with her friends. That’s when strange men started reaching out to her in direct messages.
She mostly ignored them. But, one day, a direct message came in from someone who looked young and cute in his profile picture and who said he went to the school in the neighboring town. Maria accepted his direct message request and the two began exchanging pleasantries back and forth every day.
He was interested in learning everything about her, which was flattering, and he soon asked her to be his “girlfriend.” Even though she’d never met him in real life, she agreed because he made her feel loved.
It was shortly after that when he started soliciting her to send him sexually explicit images. At first Maria said no, but he kept asking and began making her feel guilty for saying no. Eventually she relented and sent him some sexually explicit images of herself. And that day changed everything.
Instagram, the social media app that Maria had been so excited to use and share with her friends, became her virtual prison! You see, this “young and cute boy” to whom Maria had sent her sexually explicit images was not a boy at all. He was an adult man who promptly used these graphic photos to blackmail Maria. He threatened to send Maria’s sexually explicit photos to her parents and to all her classmates if she didn’t have sex with him and then with others. Maria felt trapped. Before she knew it, she was a victim of sex trafficking and was being sold to one stranger after another.
This went on for three months, while she was still living in her parent’s home, until she finally gathered the courage to tell someone and get help. How much is a childhood free from sex trafficking and pornography worth to you and your family? We know you care deeply about girls like Maria. No child should ever go through that trauma.
And because we know that you care, we are asking you to link arms with us to prevent this kind of exploitation from befalling the countless other girls and boys out there who are being targeted, groomed, and abused on social media at this very moment.
Right now, law enforcement only has the capacity to rescue a few children at a time and safe houses have a limited number of beds to help those children recover. Meanwhile exploiters have nearly limitless access to children through social media apps, and therefore abuse more girls like Maria than we’ll ever know.
Young boy was groomed for sex trafficking via an online video game
You’ve heard the tragic stories of men, women, and children who have been abused and harmed by the current culture of rampant sexual exploitation. But did you know that in uncertain and confusing times, such as the COVID-19 pandemic gripping our nation and the larger global community, the threat of exploitation looms even larger?
We recently heard a tragic story of a young boy who we will call Leo*. That is not his real name but he and his story are very real. Leo was just 16-years-old when he was groomed and trafficked through what seemed like an innocent online video game platform, one used by millions of American children. He wanted to connect with other players, and when the man who reached out to him acted like his friend, it seemed to both Leo and his parents to be just another way to talk to friends on the Internet.
But the reality was far worse! Men like Leo’s trafficker use and abuse mainstream platforms with children, like video games and social media platforms, in order to locate and abuse vulnerable victims.
When Leo decided to meet up with his online “friend,” traveling across state lines, he was shocked to discover the person on the other side of the screen was no friend, but rather a group of seven grown men who proceeded to traffic and sexually exploit the young boy.
Leo was used as a sex slave for over a year, trapped in a filthy trailer while his traffickers spent their time trying to lure other victims. It wasn’t until another 17-year-old boy arrived, also groomed and lured through the video game platform, that Leo was finally released from his prison. The men were arrested for sex trafficking, but Leo’s life has been scarred forever from his experience.
It’s no secret or surprise that stories like Leo’s are happening all across Africa too. Our child protection projects urgently need funding right now not only because we are running short of cash, as importantly, because these projects are gaining so much momentum. We are a grassroots non-profit organization that relies on passionate advocates like you to help us change the narrative of the online sexual abuses of our children for their success by convincing them to beef up their child-protection measures.
Every amount can be used to make a big difference right now. We’ll turn your monthly donation, whatever you can afford, into advocacy with legislators and corporate executives as well as a means for getting crucial information and resources into the hands of parents so they can protect their children through our robust school awareness programme.
With children online more than ever during this period of social isolation and distance, the threat of online sexual exploitation is more pressing now than ever.
*Names changed to protect the innocent children