This isn’t a documentary to watch when you’re feeling fragile. Stacey Dooley’s Saving the Cyber Sex Girls reveals the unimaginably awful world of children being sexually abused online, particularly in the Philippines, which is fast becoming the world centre of this very modern industry.
Poverty-struck children, some as young as five, are forced to perform on webcams or are trafficked into cyber-sex dens. This year, 139 Brits alone have already been investigated for paying to watch children being abused and local charities and police are on the hunt for predators as the industry booms.
Dooley has a really natural way of talking to the victims – she doesn’t show that she’s shocked by what she sees, but equally she shows compassion. And there’s plenty to be shocked about. At one point Dooley waits with local charity workers for a huge ship to arrive at the port, which they suspect is carrying several trafficked children. With real urgency, they race onto the ship to find the children and gently question them about why they’re alone, with no parents or guardians.
Amazingly, sometimes the children are taken without their parents knowing but sometimes it’s actually the parents who are selling their children off for easy money. The attitude, says leading Filipino journalist Ana Santos, is “they’re going to get f**ed anyway, they might as well get f**ked for money.” While we all know that desperation can sometimes cause people to do inhumane things, some of the cases in this film are impossible to comprehend.
As well as the heart-wrenching scenes in which Dooley talks to vulnerable young girls – some of them don’t even know what’s happened to them is wrong – there is excitement too when she goes undercover with police to catch a notorious pimp selling children for sex. If the sting is pulled off, he could get life imprisonment. The stakes are seriously high and you can really feel Dooley’s fear as the tension rises. It makes for very compelling TV.
What’s also interesting – and this makes the whole issue so much sadder and more complex – is that the young girls are clearly not always happy to be ‘rescued’ because actually, this cyber sex industry was their only chance to make some money. Plus, if they refuse to perform, their pimp will simply refuse to feed them.
Every so often often a documentary comes along that haunts you for days afterwards. Saving the Cyber Sex Girls is one of them.
Saving the Cyber Sex Girls is on Monday 19th October at 9:00pm on BBC3