Revealed: How Facebook is used to kidnap and traffic Indonesian girls

  • 27  Facebook-related abductions  reported this year in Indonesia
  • 435 children were  trafficked last year,  mostly for sexual exploitation

By Katy Dartford

PUBLISHED:05:46 EST, 29  October 2012| UPDATED:06:57 EST, 29 October 2012

Facebook is increasingly being used to kidnap  Indonesian children who are shipped off to a life of slavery in brothels, say  child protection teams.

This year alone, 27 of the 129  children  reported missing to Indonesia’s National Commission for Child  Protection are  believed to have been abducted after meeting their  captors on Facebook.

One of those befriended on the social media  site has also been found dead.

There are growing numbers of incidents involving social media networks being used as a means for children trafficking in IndonesiaFacebook chat: There are growing numbers of incidents  involving social media networks being used as a means for children trafficking  in Indonesia

A month since a girl kidnapped from her home on the outskirts of Jakarta, was found near a bus terminal on September the 30th,  there have been at least seven  reports of young girls in Indonesia being  abducted by people they met on Facebook.

The  14-year-old girl says she  received a Facebook friend request from an older man  she didn’t know, so she accepted it out of curiosity.

The junior high student was quickly smitten  by the man’s smooth online flattery.

She didn’t realise that he was one of the  growing number of sexual predators who had found a new way to exploit  Indonesia’s increasing obsession with social  media.

They exchanged phone numbers, and  his  attention increased with rapid-fire texts. He convinced her to meet  in a mall,  and she found him just as charming in person.

They agreed to meet again. After  telling her  mom she was going to visit a sick girlfriend on her way to  church choir  practice, she climbed into the man’s minivan near her home  in  Depok.

The man, a 24-year-old who called  himself  Yogi, drove her an hour to the town of Bogor, West Java, she  told The  Associated Press in an interview.

There, he locked her in a small room inside a  house with at least five other girls aged 14 to 17.

She was drugged and raped repeatedly – losing  her virginity in the first violent session.

After one week of torture, her captor told  her she was being sold and shipped to the faraway island of Batam, known for its  seedy brothels and child sex tourism that caters to men  coming by boat from  nearby Singapore.

She sobbed hysterically and begged to go  home. She was beaten and told to shut up or die.

Although no solid data exists, police and aid  groups that work on trafficking issues say it seems to be a  particularly big  problem in the Southeast Asian archipelago.

‘Maybe Indonesia is kind of a unique country  so far,’ said Anjan Bose, a program  officer who works on child online protection issues at ECPAT International, a  nonprofit  global network that helps children in 70 countries.

‘Once the reports start coming in,  you will  know that maybe it’s not one of the countries, maybe it’s one  of a hundred  countries.

‘The Internet is such a global  medium. It  doesn’t differentiate between poor and rich. It doesn’t  differentiate between  the economy of the country or the culture.’

Websites that track social media say  Indonesia has nearly 50 million people signed up for Facebook, making it one of  the world’s top users after the U.S.

The capital, Jakarta, was recently named the  most active Twitter city by Paris-based social media monitoring company  Semiocast.

In addition, networking groups such as  BlackBerry and Yahoo Messenger are wildly popular on mobile phones.

There are at least eight reported incidents this month alone in Indonesia of young girls being abducted and enslaved by men who approached them randomly on FacebookThere are at least eight reported incidents this month  alone in Indonesia of young girls being abducted and enslaved by men who  approached them randomly on Facebook

Many young Indonesians, and their  parents,  are unaware of the dangers of allowing strangers to see their  personal  information online.

Teenagers frequently post photos and  personal details such as their home address, phone number, school and  hangouts  without using any privacy settings – allowing anyone trolling  the net to find  them and learn everything about them.

‘We are racing against time, and the  technology frenzy over Facebook is a trend among teenagers here,’ Sirait said.

‘Police should move faster, or many more  girls will become victims.’

The 27 Facebook-related abductions  reported  to the commission this year in Indonesia have already exceed 18 similar cases it  received in all of 2011.

Overall, the National Task Force  Against  Human Trafficking said 435 children were trafficked last year,  mostly for  sexual exploitation.

Many who fight child sex crimes in Indonesia  believe the real numbers are much higher.

Missing children are often not reported to  authorities.

Stigma and shame surround sexual  abuse in  the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, and there’s a  widespread belief  that police will do nothing to help.

An ECPAT International report  estimates that  each year, 40,000 to 70,000 children are involved in  trafficking, pornography  or prostitution in Indonesia, a nation of 240  million where many families  remain impoverished.

The U.S. State Department has also warned  that more Indonesian girls are being recruited using social media networks.

In a report last year, it said  traffickers  have ‘resorted to outright kidnapping of girls and young  women for sex  trafficking within the country and abroad.’

Online child sexual abuse and exploitation  are common in much of Asia.

In the Philippines, kids are being  forced to  strip or perform sex acts on live webcams – often by their  parents, who are  using them as a source of income. Western men typically pay to use the  sites.

‘In the Philippines, this is the tip of the  iceberg.

It’s not only Facebook and social  media, but  it’s also through text messages … especially young,  vulnerable people are  being targeted,’ said Leonarda Kling, regional  representative for Terre des  Hommes Netherlands, a nonprofit working on  trafficking issues.

‘It’s all about promises. Better jobs or  maybe even a nice telephone or whatever.

Young people now, you see all the  glamour  and glitter around you and they want to have the latest  BlackBerry, the latest  fashion, and it’s also a way to get these  things.’

Facebook says its investigators  regularly  review content on the site and work with authorities,  including Interpol, to  combat illegal activity.

It also has employees around the world  tasked with cracking down on people who attempt to use the site for human  trafficking.

‘We take human trafficking very  seriously  and, while this behavior is not common on Facebook, a number  of measures are in  place to counter this activity,’ spokesman Andrew  Noyes said in an  email.

He declined to give any details on Facebook’s  involvement in trafficking cases reported in Indonesia or elsewhere .

There are fears that the overall number of trafficked children remains grossly underestimated in IndonesiaThere are fears that the overall number of trafficked  children remains grossly underestimated in Indonesia

The Depok girl, wearing a mask to  hide her  face as she was interviewed, said she is still shocked that the man she knew for  nearly a month turned on her.

‘He wanted to buy new clothes for me, and  help with school payments.

He was different … that’s all,’ she  said.

‘I have a lot of contacts through Facebook,  and I’ve also exchanged phone numbers.

But everything has always gone fine. We were  just friends.’

She said that after being kidnapped, she was  given sleeping pills and was ‘mostly unconscious’ for her ordeal.

She said she could not escape because a man  and another girl stood guard over her.

The girl said the man did not have  the money  for a plane ticket to Batam, and also became aware that her  parents and others  were relentlessly searching for her.

He ended up dumping her at a bus station,  where she found help.

‘I am angry and cannot accept what he did to  me. … I was raped and beaten!’ said the lanky girl with  shoulder-length black  hair.

GLOBAL TRAFFICKING FIGURES

The United Nations estimates that 80% of  persons trafficked are trafficked for sexual exploitation.

They are mostly women and children. (UN, 2003).
An estimated 120,000  women and children are trafficked into Western Europe each year. (European Commission, 2001).
800,000 people are trafficked across borders every  year, of whom 80% are women and girls and some 50% are minors. (US Dept  of State, 2005)
9.8m are involved in  unpaid work or prostitution
The  annual human trafficking industry is worth almost £20  billion
Source: Congressional research Service / UN Global report  on Trafficking

The girl’s case made headlines this month  when she was expelled after she tried to return to school.

Officials at the school reportedly claimed  she had tarnished its image.

She has since been reinstated, but she no  longer wishes to attend due to the stigma she faces.

Education Minister Mohammad Nuh also came  under fire after making remarks that not all girls who report such crimes are  victims:’They do it for fun, and then the girl alleges that  it’s rape,’ he  said.

His response to the criticism was that it’s  difficult to prove whether sexual assault allegations are ‘real  rapes.’

The publicity surrounding the story  encouraged the parents of five other missing girls to come forward this  month,  saying their daughters also were victimized by people they met on Facebook.

Two more girls were freed from their captors  in October and are now seeking counseling.

A man who posed as a photographer on Facebook  was recently arrested and accused of kidnapping and raping three teenage girls.

Authorities say he lured them into meeting  him with him by promising to make them models, and then locked them in a house.

Police found dozens of photos of naked girls  on his camera and laptop.

Another case involved a 15-year-old girl from  Bogor.

She was recently rescued by police  after  being kidnapped by her Facebook ‘friend’ and held at a restaurant, waiting for  someone to move her to another town where she would be  forced into  prostitution.

In some incidents, the victims  themselves  ended up recruiting other young girls after being promised  money or luxuries  such as mobile phones or new clothes.

Police are trying to get a step ahead of the  criminals.

Detective Lt. Ruth Yeni Qomariah  from the  Children and Women’s Protection unit in Surabaya said she posed as a teenager  online and busted three men who used Facebook to kidnap  and rape underage  girls.

She’s searching for a fourth  suspect.

‘It has been getting worse as  trafficking  rings become more sophisticated and underage children are  more easily  targeted,’ she said.

The man who abducted the Depok girl  has not  been found, and it’s unclear what happened to the five other  girls held at the  house where she was raped.

‘I saw they were offered by my kidnapper to  many guys,’ she said. ‘I don’t know what happened. I don’t want to remember  it.’

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