Philippines webcam sex bust reveals shocking rise of online child abuse

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 May, 2017, 3:12pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 May, 2017, 10:51pm

The suspected paedophile could see people banging on his front door through his security cameras. Were they neighbours? Police?

One had letters on her jacket. As David Timothy Deakin googled “What is NBI?” from the laptop on his bed, Philippines National Bureau of Investigation agents smashed their way into his cybersex den.

Children’s underwear, toddler shoes, cameras, bondage cuffs, fetish ropes, meth pipes and stacks of hard drives and photo albums cluttered the stuffy, two-bedroom townhouse. Pencilled on the wall, someone had scrawled “My Mom and Dad love me” and a broken heart. In his computer were videos and images of young boys and girls engaged in sex acts.

“Why is everyone asking about children coming into my house?” said Deakin, 53, his wrists bound with a zip tie.

Deakin’s arrest on April 20 reveals one of the darkest corners of the internet, where paedophiles in the US, Canada, Europe and Australia pay facilitators on the other side of the world to sexually abuse children, even babies, directing their moves through online livestreaming services.

The FBI says it’s epidemic, and that at any given moment, 750,000 child predators are online.

Almost every case stems from the Philippines, where good English speakers, increased internet connections and widespread international cash transfer systems combine with widespread poverty and easy access to vulnerable kids.

The youngest victim ever, rescued a few weeks ago, was an infant, two months old. Most are under 12.

“This should serve as a warning,” said NBI anti-human-trafficking chief Janet Francisco, who leads the case. “We will really catch them, with the help of our foreign counterparts. We will really put them in jail and they will die in jail.”

The tip that led authorities to Deakin came, as they often do, when an online international money transfer service notified an American internet provider about a suspicious account.

When agents reached Deakin’s house, he had a webpage open ready to wipe his phone clean.

Investigators asked him repeatedly why he had images of children engaged in sexual acts on his computer and bondage and fetish tools in his apartment.

“I’m just a costumer,” he said at first, as if the leather wrist restraints and ropes in the second bedroom were just for dressing up.

He described a series of house guests, people he let stay in his small place from down the street, other countries. Perhaps “some Danish guy” used his computer.

At one point, he said the images might have inadvertently slipped in when he downloaded massive files using BitTorrent, a data sharing tool.

Deakin grew up in Peoria, Illinois. He visited the Philippines in 1998 and two years later moved there for a job setting up internet service providers and installing livestreaming production programs.

In recent years, Deakin said, he earned US$30 an hour as a systems administrator.

“You know what you’ve done in this room,” an investigator told Deakin.

She showed him a photo he had of several children. Shrugging, he said one of them was probably a few doors away with her cousin. Minutes later, two girls, nine and 11 years old, were rescued by police.

The first high-profile international case of livestreaming sexual exploitation of children was reported in 2011 out of the Philippines.

By livestreaming, they bypass digital markers law enforcement embeds in illegal content to catch people downloading, sharing or saving child pornography on computers or in the cloud. Once isolated, paedophiles now operate with virtual anonymity, sharing images and children, say experts.

Because it’s a newer crime, legal systems grapple with how to prosecute. In the US, the buyers are typically charged with possessing, distributing or producing child pornography. In the Philippines, it’s a human-trafficking crime.

Deakin’s bust turned out to be one of the largest seizures of its kind in the Philippines, and also a first for investigators on the case who caught the suspect in the act. His tablet had more than 4,000 contacts.

Neighbours who gathered to watch the raid knew something was wrong in that house.

Josue Santos, who patrols the neighbourhood on foot, said he saw seven children, 3 boys and 4 girls, heading into Deakin’s home one evening a few months ago.

Bessie Geronimo, across the street, was teary-eyed. She’d seen children going in and out. Now, she wondered, could she have intervened?

“How could they do such a thing?” she asked.

Before Deakin was taken to jail, he said he’d been planning to leave town.

Just one day earlier, he had texted a friend: “I’ve got to get out of here.”