Convinced that earning enough money to finish her education was the only way to help her family out of poverty, Andrea forced herself to work. Anyone who has a computer, internet and a Web cam can be in business.But "doing whatever the customer asked" eventually took its toll. Whether part of large international criminal syndicates or smaller operations, their independent nature and lack of coordinated structure make it easy for cyber-sex operations to remain hidden, she said.when they see men, they sometimes cannot control themselves," she said.
We need people to be aware and to cooperate with us in order for us to track these kinds of crimes."Andrea was rescued after being held for three months, when one of the other girls escaped and told the authorities.
She is now a star witness in a case against her abusers, but she said she has received death threats and that has prevented the case from progressing.
Andrea, which is not her real name, said she had been lured away from her rural, mountain village in the Philippines by a cousin who said he would give her a well-paid job as a babysitter in the city.
She thought she was leaving her impoverished life for an opportunity to earn money to finish high school.
"I want them to be punished but I have moved far away to Manila because I am scared for my life," she said.
Milet Paguio, a social worker working with commercially exploited children in the Philippines, said that many rescued girls, who have often spent years in the cyber-dens, are often uncooperative with rescuers and confused at first.
According to Ramores, parents who submit their children to cyber-sex -- especially the ones from rural areas -- think this is something that won't violate their children in the way that traditional sex crimes do because it is just a camera and just the body being shown, and there is no touching with anyone else.
"So, it's a better option than being pushed to prostitution which has physical interaction," she said.
According to Andrey Sawchenko, National Director at the International Justice Mission Philippines, the private nature of the technology allows the crime to take place in a venue that law enforcement can't easily access -- and that makes it harder to gather evidence against perpetrators.
Although no official statistics exist, Ruby Ramores, a former Executive at the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT), believes tens of thousands of women are involved in the industry and that most of the girls are recruited by friends, family -- sometimes even by their parents.
They fear they will be the ones punished, and in the cases when family members are being accused, the girls often want to protect them.