In the Philippines, the operation of cybersex dens is increasingly becoming a huge concern. From the early 2000s, various sex dens have been raided, resulting in the arrests of perpetrators and rescues of victims [1], some of them being minors as young as two years old [2]. Filling the gaps in previous laws, the Cybercrime Prevention Act can be provide authorities a powerful way address these offenses.

Operation of cybersex dens in the Philippines

In cybersex dens, clients pay to have cybersex workers perform sexually explicit acts over the internet. Operators usually maintain a website, where potential clients can look at the profiles of the cybersex workers. After the client has chosen a profile, he enters a private chat room with the worker. The client then types out his instructions, ranging from mundane acts like eating or just talking, to more lascivious acts such as stripteasing or simulated sex. The client pays on a per-minute basis, via credit card or online remittance.

The workers are usually forced to do such work, and may even be confined or detained, but there have also been instances where the workers do it voluntarily.

A study conducted in the cities of Angeles and Olongapo [3] revealed that three parties are usually involved in the management of such operation: the financier, the website administrator, and the operator. The financier, usually a male foreigner, funds and directs the operation. The website administrator, on the other hand, is in charge of maintaining the website and also tends to be a male foreigner. The operator is in charge of recruitment and managing day to day operations, and is usually a Filipino.

These cybersex dens usually mask themselves as legitimate businesses such as an internet café or a call center. The workers are heavily monitored, and the operators may have remote access over their computers.

Prior to the Cybercrime Prevention Act

Prior to the enactment of the Cybercrime Prevention Act in 2012, there was no law penalizing the operation of cybersex dens.

If the worker is a minor, the case would fall under R.A. 7610 or the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation, and Discrimination Act. This law penalizes child trafficking, child prostitution, obscene publications and indecent shows. The penalty for offenders is prision mayor in its medium period (8 years and 1 day to 10 years).

Moreover, R.A. 9975 or the Anti-Child Pornography Act of 2009 also prohibits the selling and distribution of child pornography, and the maintenance of a venue, such as dens, houses, or establishments fronting as legitimate businesses, for the commission of the prohibited acts under this law.

The question of what law to apply, however, arises when the cybersex worker is an adult. The Revised Penal Code (RPC) provisions penalizing prostitution, as well as other laws on prostitution, cannot apply as there is no actual sexual intercourse between the client and the worker. Under the RPC, prostitution is defined as engaging in sexual intercourse for money or profit.

The closest provision in the RPC that applies then is the prohibition on obscene exhibitions and indecent shows under Article 201 (2) (b). However, this does not address the unique situation of cybersex dens. Cybersex transactions are usually conducted privately – the acts are conducted one-on-one. The RPC provision assumes an audience, since it applies to theatres or any other place of indecent or immoral scenes and acts, whether live or in film, which serve no other purpose but to satisfy the market for lust or pornography.

On the other hand, R.A. 9208, the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003, as well as R.A. 10364, the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2012, which amended R.A. 9208, is more applicable, but may not cover all situations.

The Supreme Court has held [4] that under this law, trafficking in persons has three elements: (1) the act of recruiting, transporting, or harbouring person/s with or without the victim’s consent or knowledge, within or across national borders, (2) the means used, which include threats or use of force, or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, and other means, and (3) the purpose of trafficking, which include exploitation, prostitution, forced labor or services, slavery, and other purposes. It further prohibits the maintenance or hiring a person to engage in prostitution and pornography.

The law expands the definition of pornography to include any representation, through information technology or by whatever means, of a person engaged in real or simulated sexual activities. While most cases of cybersex trafficking may fall under these offenses, there may be instances that the law does not cover. For instance, if the workers do it voluntarily, then one of the elements, the means, would be absent.

Cybersex penalized under RA 10175

The Cybercrime Prevention Act addresses this issue by specifically penalizing cybersex. Under R.A. 10175, cybersex is categorized as a content-related offense, and is defined as “the willful engagement, maintenance, control, or operation, directly or indirectly, of any lascivious exhibition of sexual organs or sexual activity, with the aid of a computer system, for favor or consideration” in section 4 (c) (1) of said law.

The broad provision of the law prohibits all forms of cybersex ‘trafficking,’ regardless of whether the worker gave his or her consent, or the means used to recruit said worker. The inclusion of the word “favor” means that offenders cannot circumvent the law by claiming that there was no consideration paid. It must be noted that what the law contemplates is an element of engaging in business in order for it to constitute illegal cybersex, as held by the Supreme Court [5].

It must be noted, however, that the law does not intend to penalize a private transaction between two consenting adults, as it only applies to persons engaged in the business of maintaining or operating the lascivious exhibition of sexual organs or sexual activity with the aid of a computer system.

Aside from adopting the provisions of the RPC and Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act to apply to cyberspace, the law also expands the scope of the Anti-Child Pornography Act by increasing the penalty to be imposed if any of the acts punishable under that law are committed through a computer system.

Early this year, the law has already been applied by law enforcement agencies when the Philippine National Police Anti-Cybercrime Group conducted a raid of a cybersex den in Tondo, Manila last February 2016 [6]. This led to the arrest of the operator and his four cybersex workers, as well as the rescue of a minor. The suspects were charged with violations of section 4 (c) (1) of the Cybercrime Prevention Act, as well as Article 201 of the Revised Penal Code.

[1] See: Alhambra, Vic. “Cybersex a billion-dollar industry, says Madrigal.” Philippine Star. 16 Jan. 2005. Web. 23 Mar. 2016; Sapnu, Ric. “25 girls rescued from cyber sex dens in Angeles.” Philippine Star. 12 Feb. 2007. Web. 23 Mar. 2016; “Two Swedes jailed for life over Philippine cybersex den.” BBC News. 11 May 2011. Web. 23 Mar. 2016.

[2] Waterlow, Lucy. “Depraved Filipino cybersex dens where children as young as two are abused in front of webcams exposed in documentary – and many paying customers are British.” Web. 22 November 2016.

[2] Sajo, Trina Joyce, and Elinor May Cruz. “Cybersex as Affective Labor: An Exploratory Study of Cybersex in the Philippines.” Academia. Web. 23 Mar. 2016.

[3] J. Leonen. “People of the Philippines v. Shirley A. Casio.” Lawphil. 3 Dec. 2014. Web. 23 Mar. 2016.

[4] J. Abad. “Jose Jesus M. Disini et al v. Secretary of Justice et al.” Lawphil. 11 Feb. 2014. Web. 23 Mar. 2016.

[5] De Jesus, Julianne Love. “5 Arrested, Minor Rescued in Cybersex Den Raid in Tondo.” Inquirer News. 29 Feb. 2016. Web. 23 Mar. 2016.

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