PAMPANGA, THE PHIILIPPINES – A handwritten sign is still taped to the bar door: Gentlemen it’s time to close, it’s hotel and motel time. The message may be the last one the bar owners are able to post.
On Friday night, IJM helped police rescue 11 young women from this bar in Angeles City. This was our first rescue operation of the year in Pampanga.
The bar caters to foreigners and ex-pats who live in the area, and it is notorious for offering girls for sex. “This was the first of its kind for me,” said one IJM lawyer after the rescue operation.
The Regional Anti-Trafficking Task Group-3 initiated the investigation of the bar. Apparently, men could come to the bar to drink, then pay to take a girl out of the bar to exploit.
IJM has trained this police unit, and they called for assistance with a rescue operation to free the trafficking victims and arrest the criminals. IJM lawyers and social workers were on site to help gather evidence and take care of the survivors.
The police took affidavits by interviewing each survivor, providing information that can be used as evidence against the traffickers. Government social workers, who IJM had trained on Trauma Informed Care, were present throughout the operation, helping to provide crisis counseling and support to the survivors.
The survivors settled into aftercare homes over the weekend. Some of the adult women chose to go home, and an IJM social worker accompanied them to speak with their families. IJM will continue to follow up with these survivors to offer ongoing aftercare services.
Three of the young women had only recently come to work at that bar, and had been trying to figure out how to leave. However, the mamasan claimed the girls owed her money and could not leave until they paid their debt. One of the survivors is a minor, and her parents said they had no idea what had happened to their daughter. They thought she was going to work in a Korean food restaurant.
An IJM social worker who provided support on the operation said she was encouraged by conversations with a few of the young women: “They want to try other things or look for other jobs. For me, that is the starting point for us to help them.”
Eight suspects were arrested during the operation and are currently under preliminary investigation. IJM will support the public prosecutor in building a strong case once the suspects are charged. The bar is also under investigation.