IJM Manila: Six Accused of Using Karaoke Bar as Front for Sex Trafficking Arrested

Customers could pay to take a girl into this “VIP room” above the bar.
Customers could pay to take a girl into this “VIP room” above the bar.
The stairs leading up to the third floor, where IJM and Philippine NBI found young women who were being sold for sex.
The stairs leading up to the third floor, where IJM and Philippine NBI found young women who were being sold for sex.

MANILA, THE PHILIPPINES – Last month, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) rescued young women from a three-story video-karaoke bar, including one 16-year-old girl. Half a dozen suspects were arrested during the operation and may face charges under the Philippines’ strong anti-trafficking law.

The Rescue

IJM uncovered the abuse that was happening inside the dingy bar located on a crowded street. After presenting evidence of sex trafficking to the NBI, a small team of IJM staff helped the police plan and execute the operation on May 15.

When the rescue team arrived, most of the young women were in the main room with the customers. The bar itself was hot and dimly lit. A couple young women were already upstairs in the room where they would have been forced to have sex; wooden benches were converted into beds by placing a thin mat on the surface.

But this night would bring light into the darkness. As authorities made arrests, IJM made sure the girls understood that they were not in trouble, that they were being rescued.

Keeping the Survivors Safe

Police arranged for the survivors to go to a separate government building, so that they would not have to share their stories at the same police station where their traffickers were being questioned.

Making sure survivors of sex trafficking have a safe place to go immediately after rescue is critical. In many cases, they go straight to a police station—although physically safe, having victims and perpetrators in the same place can create a tense and intimidating environment. Right now in Manila, after years of IJM’s advocacy, the government is preparing to build a separate shelter, called “SafeSpace,” where survivors will go immediately after rescue. (Read how another city in the Philippines provides innovative crisis care for survivors at HerSpace.)  

The following day, the survivors started to open up about the abuse they had suffered. IJM Manila social worker Sheila Garduque explained how important it was to give these young women space to rest and begin to process what had happened. She said, “We are thankful to our local police partner for providing our newly rescued girls with a spacious and a more private and comfortable space. This makes it a little bit easier for our girls as they rest for the night and prepare to undergo the legal proceedings the following day.”

The survivors then went to a government shelter where they could receive immediate care and talk to social workers about their next steps. The 16-year-old will remain in the good care of this aftercare home. IJM will continue to support the legal case as it develops, to ensure those operating this exploitive business are held to account.

UPDATE: Bar Closed for Good

On July 4, government officials ordered the karaoke bar closed for good. A sign nailed over the door indicates the business is suspected of violating the Philippine’s anti-trafficking law. An investigation against the suspects arrested during the May operation continues.