From Scared To Safe: #DearGaby and What It Means To Take Back Our Internet

July 12, 2023 | 5 mins read

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. The creation of fictional characters is a means to protect the privacy and dignity of real victims of cyber sex trafficking. Any resemblance to real persons or other real-life entities is purely coincidental.

 

Gaby was 18 when she started live streaming. Young and fresh out of senior high school, her eyes always shined with fervor and excitement on what else life could offer. Most of her aspirations come from what she has seen online, being born in the Philippines, the world’s social media capital.

Like many of her friends, college was out of the question. Despite her parents breaking their bones everyday for work, their accumulated earnings still wouldn’t be enough to afford higher education. Not with four younger children left to feed and definitely not with the current level of inflation. 

The situation wasn’t getting any better then, even with Gaby graduating. Not many companies are eager to hire 18-year old Filipinas who have neither a college degree nor significant work experience. By the time the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country, Gaby’s family was barely able to have two meals. 

It was during one night of endless scrolling on her phone that Gaby discovered the concept of live streaming. The caption—“Want an easy way to earn Php 3,000? You only need a phone with a camera!”—piqued her interest so much, it was as if she jumped right into the rabbit hole. Right there and then, Gaby downloaded the app, made her account, and started her own show. 

The first red flag came months later in the form of a direct message from someone she would soon learn to call “Doc G”. It started with an offer of Php 5,000 pesos, in exchange for doing a private livestream for an anonymous viewer. One “Yes” turned to three, and soon enough Gaby was being offered ludicrous amounts for face-to-face meetings in shady hotel rooms in the city.

The practice went on for a long time, in the shadows, unbeknownst to Gaby’s family or closest friends. As her family was thanking her for a new television set she just bought with her “earnings from some part-time online work”, her mother noticed how dim Gaby’s face had been, the shine from her eyes long gone.

“Are you alright?” her mother asks in Tagalog.

With so many words in her head she could only wish she could say, Gaby forces a smile and answers, “Yes Ma. I’m okay.”

 

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A post shared by kumu (@kumuph)

 

ONLY THE YOUNG

In 2020 alone, there had been 1.2 million reports of online sexual exploitation of Filipino children. Of these children, 86% are females with a median age of 11

While many global non-profit organizations such as the International Justice Mission are working round the clock to do rescue missions, we are still very much far from completely eradicating modern-day slavery of women and children.

 

THE COST OF SURVIVAL

In the Philippines alone, only 13% of Filipinos are able to attain a college degree while only 21.67% are able to finish high school

The inaccessibility of education for the majority of the Filipino population in itself is a crisis, which ultimately leads to more pressing and life-threatening crises such as extreme poverty and involvement in illegal trade such as sex trafficking.

 

TAKING BACK OUR INTERNET

According to Statista.com, it is expected that by 2026, over 91 million Filipinos will become users of a social network. The population is estimated to be at 118 million by then, which means almost 80% of the country will be relentlessly online.

Our current average internet usage as Filipinos is at 4 hours per day, the highest in the world. And kumu, with the internet as its core foundation, could not simply turn a blind eye to the reality that’s happening on the internet’s dark side. 

The campaign, #DearGaby, not only serves as means to amplify victims’ silent pleas for justice and support, but also serves as a promise that as one of the biggest social media platforms in the Philippines, kumu will continue to put the highest value on the safety of all of our users. We are and will always be committed to building safe communities for our creators, viewers, and staff members. 

 

If you are a kumu user or a staff member and would like to report any incident that has made you feel unsafe or uncomfortable, send your report here, or  feel free to message us at safe@kumu.ph All reports are treated with utmost confidentiality.

We are dedicating the month of July to do whatever we can to #TakeBackOurInternet— to make it a safe place for Filipinos, one livestream at a time.

 

Rescue missions for victims of cyber sex trafficking are still ongoing. To extend a helping hand, you may give or partner with the following non-profit organizations committed to stopping modern-day slavery:

VOICE OF THE FREE

CALLED TO RESCUE

COMPASSIONATE HOPE

WRITTEN BY:

Sheena Jawa

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