Pandemic Scourge


ASIDE from pummeling the global and domestic economy, the Covid-19 pandemic has wrought another colossal damage. In its 2021 Global Threat Assessment Report, the WeProtect Global Alliance disclosed that the Philippines posted an unprecedented 265-percent jump in cases of online sexual abuse and exploitation of children.

Other countries on the “infamous” list are Australia with a 129-percent increase on reports of child sexual abuse materials discovered online, followed by Mexico reporting a 117-percent rise in reports of similar online abuse.

Moreover, the Unicef cited the Philippines as the “global epicenter of the livestream sexual abuse trade” in online sexual abuse and exploitation recorded during the March to May 2020 period, just as when pandemic lockdowns were imposed.

Meanwhile, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) revealed a 106- percent increase in reports of suspected child sexual exploitation to its Global CyberTipline.

IAIN DRENNAN, Executive Director of
WeProtect Global Alliance: “Over the past
two years, we have observed an increase
in the scale and complexity of child sexual
abuse online. This report should act as a
wake-up call to us all; together we must step
up the global response and create a safer
digital world for all children.”

“Findings show that the scale of child sexual exploitation and abuse online is increasing at such a rapid rate that a step change is urgently required in the global response to create safe online environments for children,” the report read.

“It shows that in the past two years the reporting of child sexual exploitation and abuse online has reached its highest levels with the US-NCMEC processing 60,000 reports of child sexual abuse online every day,” the report added.

Covid culprit

WEPROTECT Global Alliance stressed the Covid-19 pandemic is a major factor behind the spike in reported incidents.

Meanwhile, the Internet Watch Foundation reported a 77-percent increase in child “self-generated” sexual materials from 2019 to 2020. The organization cited an online group created by teenagers for the buying and selling of sexual images in the Philippines. It pointed out that economic factors may have fueled such a “trade.” The group had garnered 7,000 members by the time it was taken down.

Interestingly, the Internet has become a double-edged sword as it has also evolved into a tool for child sexual abuse online.

“The Internet has become central to children’s lives across the world, even more so as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Over the past two years, we have observed an increase in the scale and complexity of child sexual abuse online. This report should act as a wake-up call to us all; together we must step up the global response and create a safer digital world for all children,” Iain Drennan, Executive Director of WeProtect Global Alliance, said in a news statement.

Lingering hope

DESPITE the disconcerting findings, there is hope that advances in online safety technology and increased government engagement can help turn the tide on this global crisis.

WeProtect Global Alliance, a global movement of more than 200 governments, private sector companies and civil society organizations, is working to transform the global response to child sexual exploitation and abuse online.

The 2021 Global Threat Assessment Report details the scale and scope of the threat of child sexual exploitation online and aims to encourage action on the issue to reduce the risk to children and prevent abuse before it happens.


For her part, Dr. Rani Sheilagh Dunn, a cyberpsychologist and member of the Global Foundation for Cyber Studies and Research, told the BusinessMirror in an e-mail interview that cyberpsychology and recent research studies have found that rehabilitation of sexual abuse victims can be assisted by including evidence-based digital interventions such as the use of virtual reality (VR) for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“This is one example of how cyberpsychology can help in relation to the exploitation and sexual abuse of children who would likely suffer from PTSD,” she said. In addition to utilizing nondigital-based treatment methods, including cyberpsychology, Dunn pointed out that validated, evidence-based cyber treatment is a component of a child’s overall treatment plan that capitalizes on the potential for technology to be used as a positive tool that could help in facilitating recovery.

Dunn underscored the important role of parents in teaching their children digital cyber hygiene. Aside from the parents, teachers should also be aware and be educated on digital technology so both parties can be aware of what the children are doing in cyberspace, understand and discuss what is appropriate and safe behavior online and know how to best support positive technology experiences and digital well-being for their children.

Cyberpsychology, however, is not a direct treatment for sexually abused children and it is not something that would be introduced directly to a child, she pointed out.

Dunn said the treatment of sexually abused children should always be under the guidance of qualified professionals and doctors working within this specialized and sensitive area.

“However, those who are working within this area can expand treatment by working with cyber psychologists who have expertise related to this area to ensure they are providing scientifically validated cyber approaches, digital tools and technology use for a potentially more effective treatment that supports successful recovery for children who have experienced this trauma,” Dunn explained.

Dunn said the role of cyber psychologists became more important during the lingering Covid-19 pandemic as people became more intertwined with technology and many aspects of life moved into digital spaces that also brought many benefits as well as many challenges.

As a result, the role of cyber psychologists has become more prominent because the need to understand the human mind and behavior in the context of human-technology interaction was highlighted during the pandemic through “direct experiences of how vital it is to ensure our digital well-being and thriving.”

Proactive approach

TO address the rising challenges of mental health concerns caused by Covid-19, the Department of Health, in collaboration with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) RenewHealth, harnessed the power of digital technology to help Filipinos have a proactive stance in monitoring their mental health amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dubbed “Lusog-Isip,” the mobile app features screening and self-care tools, intervention programs and referral networks to help users navigate and manage their emotional and mental well-being. Lusog-Isip can be downloaded on AppStore and will soon be available on PlayStore. The launch was part of the recent National Mental Health Awareness Week commemoration.

Dr. Ma. Regina Hechanova-Alampay, Chief of Party, USAID RenewHealth, told the webinar participants that the launching of Lusog-Isip is part of their five-year project that aims to help people who use drugs, people in recovery and their families obtain access to informal care, self-help, or community-based rehabilitation and recovery support to reduce and prevent drug dependence.

“Lusog-Isip is a very timely response to provide Filipinos with access to self-help tools and interventions. Furthermore, it is a response to the growing needs for mental-health services for Filipinos during the Covid-19 pandemic where face-to-face intervention is challenging,” Hechanova-Alampay explained.

In these uncertain times, Hechanova-Alampay stressed that mental health is as important as physical health. She added self-care on mental health is now made easier with the Lusog-Isip app.

“It shows that we can actually do something about what we’re going through even with the current pandemic that we have,” Hechanova-Alampay said.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Philippine Special Initiative for Mental Health study conducted in the early part of 2020 showed that at least 3.6 million Filipinos suffer from one kind of mental, neurological and substance abuse disorder.

Frances Prescilla Cuevas, Chief of Mental Health Division of the Department of Health, said the partnership was anchored on the mental health pyramid, emphasizing that majority of Filipinos need self-care for their basic mental health service, noting that Covid-19 saw the rise in mental health and substance abuse cases. “Lusog-Isip seeks to enable self-care related to mental health and substance use,” Cuevas said.


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