By Sunshine de Leon for CNN on July 18, 2013—
“”Andrea was 14 years old the first time a voice over the Internet told her to take off her clothes.
“I was so embarrassed because I don’t want others to see my private parts,” she said. “The customer told me to remove my blouse and to show him my breasts.”
She was in a home in Negros Oriental, a province known for its scenic beaches, tourism and diving. But she would know none of that beauty. Nor would she know the life she’d been promised.
Andrea, which is not her real name, said she had been lured away from her rural, mountain village in the Philippines by a cousin who said he would give her a well-paid job as a babysitter in the city. She thought she was leaving her impoverished life for an opportunity to earn money to finish high school. Instead, she became another victim caught up in the newest but no less sinister world of sexual exploitation — cyber-sex trafficking.
After arriving at the two-story house in Negros Oriental — located in the central Visayas region of the Philippines — Andrea found that her new home would become both workplace and prison. She was shocked by what she saw.
“The windows were covered so it was dark. There was a computer and a camera where naked girls would say words to seduce their mainly foreign customers.”
She said customers would ask the girls to perform sexually with each other.
For the next few months, Andrea said she was one of seven girls, between age 13 and 18, who spent day and night satisfying the sexual fantasies of men around the world. Paying $56 per minute, male customers typed their instructions onto a computer and then watched via a live camera as the girls performed sexual acts. She said the girls were often forced to watch the men they served on screens.
Andrea dreamed of returning home but her employer, an uncle, slept downstairs and kept the front door locked. “I was told if I tried to escape, the police would put me in jail. I believed it. I was very innocent — I grew up without TV and had never left my village before,” she explained.
Convinced that earning enough money to finish her education was the only way to help her family out of poverty, Andrea forced herself to work. But “doing whatever the customer asked” eventually took its toll. “I wanted to cry but I could not. I wanted to cover myself with a blanket. I had goose bumps because of the shame. I would feel like I was floating,” she recalled.
Andrea’s story is only one of many playing out every day in a nation where the conditions — widespread poverty, an established sex trade, a predominantly English-speaking, technically-literate population and widespread Internet access — have made it easy for crimes like this to flourish.”
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