From the comfort of their own homes, some men watch as rape and sexual abuse of children is streamed live to their computers. The price these men pay for the shows creates an industry in developing countries where desperate families will leave their kids at the hands of internet pimps to survive.
One of these children, 12-year-old Rosa was raped while a web camera was running. On the other side of the world, a businessman from Norway allegedly watched it happen live.
Iligan, the Philippines
Iligan city, the Philippines
A big bed consumes most of the space in the room. On it, an adult man and a girl. She is twelve.
Three other men from different countries are with them. Their faces are barely visible in the glare of a computer screen in the corner. A web camera lets them into the room to watch. Then it starts.
Instructions flow from the computer. The man starts to touch the 12-year-old. He fondles her.
The girl sits motionless. Rosa does not cry.
Just a show
Show is the innocent word used online to mask the sale of live streamed sexual abuse of minors.
This is a crime that knows no borders. Aided by technology it will travel the world in seconds leaving shattered families and traumatized children behind, but few leads for law enforcement to follow.
The Philippines is commonly referred to as the global epicenter of live streamed rape. A potent mix of poverty, despair, deep internet penetration and a population fluent in English has contributed to enabling it.
By 2018, police in Trøndelag, the central part of Norway, have yet to work on these kind of cases. However, in the spring of that year, a local businessman is suddenly arrested and charged. The man denies any wrongdoing.
Today an investigation into internet logs, international currency transactions and image data show how Norwegian citizens contribute to a new kind of sex trade which humanitarian organizations call modern-day slavery.
Men in the machine
The three men watching Rosa are sitting at home in Scotland, Belgium, and Norway. Their Skype accounts have connected to an internet pimp who is in control of the 12-year-old girl. An inexpensive web camera let them see the child and through an open chat, they can decide what will happen to her.
Some of the men have left their own web cameras running. This way, they are almost face to face with the girl as she is subjected to oral sex and attempts of penetration.
The Scot is allegedly directing it all. As he types, he is touching himself, then laughing.
Images supposedly secured from the conversation show the Norwegian businessman as he watches the show. He remains stoic throughout, according to information obtained by Adresseavisen.
A witness has provided the details of the alleged abuse of the 12-year-old. The account is supported by technical data from images taken in the video conference in question.
Through an attorney, the Norwegian businessman denies any wrongdoing. He refuses to comment on this story but adds that it is a difficult matter for him.
Another image obtained by Adresseavisen shows the Skype-account of the businessman as it was connected to the one used by the internet pimp to live stream abuse of Philippine children to customers in the west.
The same picture shows the Norwegian's face. In the world of business, his is a familiar one.
In 2018, almost five years after the show, the Norwegian abruptly leaves his position.
Clients and customers are not told the real reason behind the hugely successful man's exit.
The family business
Rosa, the girl on the bed, grew up on Mindanao. The second biggest island in the Philippines is troubled. Rebels, criminals and scattered terrorist groups are active throughout parts of the Mindanao. The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has warned citizens not to travel there.
Out of the Philippine population of 100 million around 25 million are poor, according to the humanitarian organization Plan. Rosa is among them. She was raised with an absent father according to information given to Adresseavisen. The whereabouts of the girl's mother are not known. At one point when Rosa was around ten years old, she is taken in by an aunt.
The aunt, Camille, has a small house in the city of Iligan. She lives in a Barangay, the tiny and overpopulated areas that are predominent in Philippine towns. There are few public services there, the only thing in abundance is poverty.
Camille has access to numerous kids throughout the Barangay. Together with her boyfriend, she will turn their house into a cybersex den. Together they make live-streamed abuse their family business.
Last September Europol published the Internet Organized Crime Threat Report for 2018. It highlights live streamed sexual exploitation of children as a particularly complex problem for investigators.
By nature, it is a crime which is almost impossible to pin down. Abuse is transmitted as it happens and consumed in real-time. Through a couple of strokes on a keyboard, a live stream of data travels the globe, traversing jurisdictions and jumping borders to leave the crime-fighting initiatives of a single state in its wake.
As this happens, few traces of it remain on the internet. The computers that connect abusers and customers from one part of the world to another are also clean. No downloaded images are there for police to find.
According to the report by Europol, the Philippines is the most common country of origin. The United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) has called the Philippines the global epicenter of rape of children.
There are very few aligning characteristics shared by Norway and the Philippines. One is internet penetration.
Ninety-eight percent of the Norwegian population is connected to the internet. Most use wifi to go online.
Despite rampant poverty, nearly half of the Philippine population can access relatively cheap computer equipment. The internet penetration is the best in the region.
In Manila, Cecilia Oeabanda is running a shelter for women who have been rescued from human traffickers. Oebanda has been fighting sexual abuse for decades. She recognizes live streaming as a very difficult problem.
- It is an underground phenomenon, she said.
Throughout the last few years, Oebanda's organization Voice of the Free has seen a rapid increase in victims traumatized in cybersex dens arriving at their facilities.
- This is a form of modern slavery. I think we only see the tip of the iceberg, Oebanda said.
Sex first, then school
From the small house in Iligan, Rosa's aunt Camille can use the internet to meet potential customers from all over the world in online chats and forums. She has three of her children in the house, along with Rosa.
Hundreds of logs of her aunt's online activity show how Camille offers up the children to strangers. She can provide potential customers with birth certificates to prove the kids are not too old.
Rosa's name surfaces in the logs. In one her aunt discusses abuse with an American customer. The American wants Rosa to come to the United States to live with him. He promises to care for the girl.
- Due to the poverty here in Philippines I agree to be with you, Rosa's aunt responded.
She has two conditions: Money and education. Camille wants Rosa to go to school in the US. After she confirms her niece's birthdate, the American agrees to the terms.
- If she live with me I will let her go to school and give her nice life, he wrote.
- But she must agree to allow me to use her for sex.
Sexual abuse on sale
Another reason why police struggle to detect and expose live-streamed sexual abuse of children is the rate. It's cheap.
According to a report commissioned by the European Union, live-streamed rape of a child will set a customer back between 5 and 50 USD.
With rates like that no one needs to download or save any incriminating material that can be found by police. Offenders in the west can simply purchase a new show and let the evidence dissipate as the abuser in the Philippines turns his web camera off.
Another enabling factor is that many Philippine citizens are used to receving money from abroad, acoording to UNICEF. Ms. Lotta Sylwander ran UNICEF's office in a Manila from a high-rise downtown throughout 2018.
- Many work outside of the country and most send money back from abroad. It is one of the reasons why it is easy for Norwegians or Swedes that want this kind of abuse. There is a multitude of remittance centers here, Ms. Sylwander said.
If the amount leaving a Norwegian bank account is less than 10 000 dollars, the authorities are not interested. Every day, there is a plethora of smaller amounts transferred from Norway to other countries. Everyone shops online. However small the amounts though, following the money might be easier than tracing bits and bytes through the internet.
Adresseavisen has obtained access to transfers received by Rosa's aunt Camille, her boyfriend and others linked to their house in Iligan. Examined and cross-checked with logs from their online conversations, these transactions can speak to years of abuse ordered by customers in countries in Europe and the US.
The documents show how the local financial system is exploited to get paid for rape and other forms of sexual abuse of children:
Camille and her boyfriend receive small amounts well within the payment range determined by Europol. However, the money is not sent exclusively to the couple. Sometimes names of the children in the house show up on receipts. In other instances, it is sent to unknown persons who may function as money mules.
Different systems are used to receive funds. There are traces of Western Union, Paypal, Worldremit, Azimo, and Cebuana Lhuillier, a local remittance service. Money is wired to several addresses in Iligan or surrounding areas in Cagayan de Oro, or The City of Gold. The area is very familiar to UNICEF.
- Cagayan de Oro is a hotspot for illegal activities. We are aware of the fact that there are families there that will take money to let their kids be abused for live streaming, said Unicef chief Lotta Sylwander.
Throughout 2013 western money keeps flowing in as abuse is streamed out the small house in Iligan. At the same time, social media profiles offer a different perspective on life in the family.
There are photos showing strolls on the beach and trips to a swimming pool. Celebrations and birthdays. The children get to try out the three computers in the house.
It is through one of these machines that Camille is assuring the American customer of Rosa's age. Camille has also explained to Rosa that she will need to have sex with him if she wants to move to a better life in the US. Rosa will do what the adults tell her is best, explains Camille.
A little later in the same year, data show that the Norwegian businessman's Skype account connects to Camilles. The aunt receives instructions from the Scottish man, and Camille's boyfriend executes them on the body of 12-year-old Rosa.
When the Scot tells Camille to have Rosa smile, the aunt translates. Rosa smiles. It is a part of her life, like the walks on the beach and trips to the swimming pool.
Two years later, it is just another Tuesday night in the little house when Rosa is told to sit on the big bed again as the camera is turned on.
Then, there is a noise. The kind Rosa has never heard before.
At the same moment, armed police storm down the alley towards the house.