CONTENT WARNING: This article includes references to abuse and sexual exploitation, particularly of children.
It’s hard to recommend The Fight of My Life: Finding Ruby, a podcast series that premiered on Monday, September 5. The topic is nothing short of stomach-turning, but the story is extremely important and grippingly told via first-hand accounts—it’s all very hard to listen to, but it is impossible to tear oneself away.
With two episodes currently out (and four more to be released on following Mondays), listeners will find themselves deeply invested in the story of “Ruby”, the pseudonym for a Filipina who was 16 years old at the time of the events she speaks about here. Faced with a run of bad luck at home in rural Philippines, a job offer falls into her lap that seems to be heaven-sent. Ruby finds herself traveling to another province, where she is swiftly entrapped and forced to produce sexually explicit livestreams. She has been trafficked, an underage girl forced into making child sexual abuse material.
It is every woman’s worst nightmare, and rightly so. But the sheer horror of the topic also means that the online sexual exploitation of children—referred to as "OSEC" by those working to fight it—is rarely spoken about in public. The makers of this podcast are asking listeners not to turn away.
At its surface, Finding Ruby can be seen as an excellent true-crime podcast, so fans of the genre might find it easy to get into. Podcast host Rich Thompson masterfully paces the story, weaving in Ruby’s first-person accounts with those of law enforcers, anti-OSEC advocates, and of ordinary people like Thompson himself, who stands in for every listener who must grapple with the darkness that this crime reveals.
Ruby’s segments are an unprecedented look inside what goes on inside these modern-day bordellos, and it’s a harrowing account that will sear itself into memory. She talks about the houses in which she and other girls were kept as virtual prisoners, where she had to be on “duty” for eight hours a day, six days a week, performing to a webcam under the direction of johns often half a world away. The details that can only be described by someone who was there—like the peculiar smell inside the house—bring listeners into Ruby’s world for that terrible time she was there.
But more than that, the podcast is also a very good piece of advocacy, dropping bits of difficult, important information that should shock any listener. We learn that there are no figures on how many children are exploited in the industry, but that the United Nations estimates that, in the United Kingdom alone, there are about 750,000 sexual predators online at any given time; and that the median age of victims is just 11 years old. We learn that the Philippines, disturbingly, is at the epicenter of the problem, providing rich hunting ground for predators and the criminals who enable them. At the other end, it is seemingly ordinary men from developing countries who provide the demand. The podcast puts a name to both victim and perpetrator in these crimes, helping the public remember that on the other side of these harrowing statistics are human beings.