In an effort to escape poverty, Filipino children are being lured into the cybersex trade and the consequences can be devastating. Cybersex dens are found in the country’s big cities, including Manila, Cebu, and Davao. Operators live-stream and record acts from small rooms equipped with laptops, webcams, and routers.
“In Shadow” is a documentary portrait series inspired by child survivors of cybersex trafficking in the Philippines. The project aims to advocate for and alongside these survivors, amplifying their voices and documenting their healing. My focus in creating this body of work was to listen and offer the survivors attention — not just because it provides insight into their daily struggles, but also because they need to feel acknowledged in a society that stigmatizes them. More importantly, I hope that when the survivors see their photographs, they feel stronger. From the process to the final image, this series is about connection and exchange.
In the sale of humans, perpetrators use all types of means to recruit victims, deceiving them to believe they will have a better life. Many cybersex trafficking victims are lured away from rural, mountain villages in the Philippines by someone who said he or she would give them a well-paid job in the city. They are lead to believe they are leaving their impoverished life for an opportunity to earn money, but instead become entangled in the newest, but no less sinister, world of sexual exploitation: cybersex trafficking.
The response to the “In Shadow” art project was overwhelmingly positive. Despite the terrible traumas that these survivors endured and their fear of repercussions, many were eager to take part in this project. The child survivors explained that they don’t want to be forgotten — they want everyone to know what happened to them. Being able to tell their own story and take control of your own narrative is incredibly powerful and perhaps helped them to come to term with their experiences. All photos were taken in a healing garden using natural lighting.
Across the country, online traffickers are now arrested and charged with non-bailable offenses such as human trafficking, along with cybercrime and producing child pornography, police are heavily focused on investigation operations.