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Australia

Four years’ jail for Victorian man who paid Filipina to livestream sexual abuse of children in her care

Wednesday 6 October 2021

Melbourne, AUSTRALIA—A 61-year-old Victorian man was sentenced today to four years and one month in prison for pay-per-view livestreaming of the sexual abuse of Filipino children and other offences relating to the online sexual exploitation of children. One of Phillip John Cooper’s victims, represented pro bono in Australia by law firm Jones Day with support from International Justice Mission’s (IJM) Center to End Online Sexual Exploitation of Children, also successfully entered into a victim compensation settlement.

The case is a victory for transnational collaboration between Australian and Philippine law enforcement and IJM, as well as between IJM and law firm Jones Day.

“Today’s result is the fruit of effective partnership through the Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Center (PICACC) and IJM is proud to be a founding member of this initiative,” said IJM Australia CEO, Steve Baird. “However, this case also proves that child sexual abuse online is undeniably and shamefully a problem fuelled by Australians. Our country needs to do more to address this atrocious form of modern slavery.”

The trafficking of children to produce child sexual abuse material is an emerging form of modern slavery in which traffickers in countries like the Philippines livestream the sexual abuse of children to foreign online sex offenders like Cooper, who pay to watch and often direct the abuse. According to an IJM-led study released in May 2020, Australian offenders were involved in 18 percent of IJM’s cases. They pay as little as $15 for these “shows”.

While defence lawyers argued that the fact that the abuse occurred online and that there was no physical contact between Cooper and his victims meant that the offending was at the lower end of the scale, His Honour Judge Hannebery was unequivocal in rejecting these arguments. He found that the harm caused was severe and full culpability existed. Ultimately, Cooper pleaded guilty to five counts of child sex abuse offences.

While the conviction and sentence are cause for celebration, IJM believes that sentencing in Australia for crimes of this nature should be strengthened.

Mr Baird explained, “That a convicted child sex offender could be out on parole in two-and-a-half-years is concerning. The sentence given to the Australian offender is minimal relative to the harm he inflicted on his child victims.

“Accountability for offenders in Australia paying for children to be abused is an area in which IJM is committed to further advocacy. Sentences should be commensurate to the severity of the crime so as to produce a just result and send a clear message that Australia will not tolerate online sexual abuse in any form.”

The trauma inflicted on child survivors is deep and lasting, particularly when they have been betrayed by family members or other trusted adults. April*, one of the survivors, represented in Australia by law firm Jones Day with support from IJM in the Philippines, filed for victim compensation from Cooper. Her claim was settled out of court, which her social workers agree is the best result for April and her ongoing recovery.

Because young victims are often abused by adults close to them, the almost continuous COVID-19 lockdowns in place in the Philippines since March 2020 have only exacerbated the danger for vulnerable Filipino children. The Philippine Department of Justice reported a 264% percent surge in reports related to all forms of online sexual exploitation of children during the first three months of the pandemic.

Cooper’s arrest in November 2019 led law enforcement to arrest another suspected Australian online sex offender and seven Filipina traffickers. Police also rescued 21 Filipino children and two young adults, most of whom were related to the traffickers. One of the rescued children was a 2-month-old boy.

“We cannot stand by idly while Australians are paying to direct and watch the sexual abuse of pre-pubescent Filipino children,” Baird said. “All of us have a role to play – from government, to the tech and finance sector, to everyday Aussies.”


Timeline

  • 7 November 2019 – Australian Border Force finds sexualised conversations with children on Phillip John Cooper’s phone.
  • 8 November 2021 – Australian police find child sexual abuse videos on electronic devices at Cooper’s Barnawatha home.
  • AFP forwards intelligence to the PICACC. After initial investigation by the PICACC, Philippine National Police continue investigations with training support from IJM and the AFP.
Philippine police rescued 20 children and 2 adults from online sexual exploitation.
Cooper’s arrest led to the arrest of a Filipina trafficker and the rescue of 9 children in early February 2021. Photo: PNP WCPC.
  • March 2021 – Investigation into Filipina suspect uncovers a second suspected Filipina trafficker.
  • 3 March 2021 – Evidence of chats between this second suspect and a remote Australian offender leads to the arrest of the offender.
  • 26 March 2021 – Cooper pleads guilty to 5 child abuse offences.
  • 25 August 2021 – Sentencing in Cooper cased delayed to allow for settlement to be factored into sentencing submissions. Cooper agrees to pay victim compensation to one of his now adult victims, April*.
  • 6 October 2021 – Cooper sentenced to 4 years and 1 month in prison, with a non-parole period of 2 years and 6 months, 21 days of which he has already served.

Further information

On offender accountability in “demand-side” countries like Australia, see the October 2020 report from IJM’s Center to End Online Sexual Exploitation of Children, Falling Shortsee Report Summary here.

* A pseudonym and stock image have been used to protect the identity of this survivor.

MEDIA ENQUIRIES: Nick Trainor 0407 078 138

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