In 2011, the Philippines successfully prosecuted its first case of cyber-sex trafficking against two Swedish nationals and three Filipinos. Although there have been more than 100 convictions under the country's Anti-Trafficking in Persons law of 2003, this was the first case that specifically punished someone for cyber-sex operations.
"It gives a strong message to the traffickers: 'We know you are out there now and we are going to get you,'" said Ramores. It also serves as a wake-up call for Filipinos in a country where law enforcement and the public have been largely unaware of the problem.
The government has initiated a nationwide advocacy and media campaign that focuses on awareness of this new face of commercial sexual exploitation. This includes training seminars held to teach those on the front lines -- law enforcement, prosecutors, government agencies, and NGOs -- to combat these crimes.
The Philippines Congress has also passed the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, which increases funding to government agencies, provides greater protection to victims and is designed to strengthen the prosecution of those engaged in human trafficking.
Ramores says it's essential for the public to have a new context in which to interpret any suspicious behavior: "Unless there will be whistle-blowers, we won't be able to catch them. 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. "I want them to be punished but I have moved far away to Manila because I am scared for my life," she said.
Scars of abuse
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. 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. The crime may be a virtual one but the emotional scars are very real.
"They have low self-esteem, don't respect themselves, and for those who spent a long time in the dens -- they often behave in a way that is very flirty ... when they see men, they sometimes cannot control themselves," she said.
In many ways, cyber-sex trafficking appears to be the perfect 21st century crime. Technology has made it easier to access and exploit the vulnerable, operate illegal activities across borders and more difficult to discover the identities of those who are behind the crime.
Information technology evolves quickly and in the Philippines, perpetrators often have more financial and technological resources than those trying to catch them.
According to Sawchenko, close cooperation with international law enforcement authorities -- providing training to local police and working together to catch those involved in both countries -- has made a vital difference.
Sawchenko points to an increase in the number of victims being rescued and an increase in the number of cases being filed against perpetrators in recent years, as an example.
Eric Mcloughlin, Deputy Attache at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a Homeland Security Investigations agency (HSI), is among those working with authorities in the Philippines to fight cyber-crimes. "Because of the nature of the Internet and cyber-crimes, criminals feel it's easier to operate with anonymity behind these virtual barriers," he said. "It's a challenge for law enforcement to identify them and make sure they are held accountable.
"In addition to cyber-operations being more complex criminal syndicates, there are also many mom and pop shops -- if you take one down there could be several on the same street who are doing the same acts that might not have connections to each other."
Even customers abroad are not safe -- officials in the Philippines are working with U.S. domestic agencies to identify offenders.
Recently, CNN reported that the testimony of three girls in the Philippines helped convict a Pennsylvania man who had been involved in a cyber-den. He has been sentenced to 12 years in a U.S. federal prison for child pornography.
"Rescuing victims is a priority but if we don't continue to investigate the ones purchasing their services, we are only doing half the job," said McLaughlin.
"Catching those running the cyber-dens is the first step of what could be a big domino effect with lots of challenges. If we go to digital analysis and the forensics of hard drives, we can find that they were communicating with thousands of customers around the world -- this involves different jurisdictions and we need evidence to go after all those individuals."
Andrea, now 20 and in college, hopes to become a social worker so she can help victims. She offered advice from her own experience: "If you want to find a job, know everything about the recruiter, the kind of job and the payment. Don't be blinded by the money. You can find a decent job, just don't give up. And do not trust people so easily -- just because someone is your family it does not mean they are good."