MANILA, THE PHILIPPINES – IJM helped rescue young women who were being sold for sex and exploited at a rooftop bar in Manila. Four of the survivors—including a 15-year-old girl—are from Samar, a very impoverished province.
The young women said they had been offered jobs as waitresses, a chance to lift themselves out of poverty. Instead they were taken to this video-karaoke bar and told they were "Guest Relations Officers," cocktail waitresses who were also forced to have sex with the bar's customers.
One young woman said she had been recruited just last month. She was desperate to earn money to help rebuild her family's home that had been destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan.
IJM worked with the Anti-Transnational Crime Unit (ATCU), to follow up on reports that this open-air bar was offering minors for sex. ATCU is a division of the Philippine National Police, and IJM has advised on several investigations and operations with this unit since providing them with training last year.
On January 29, 2014, a rescue team of IJM staff, police and government social workers drove to a nondescript street in Metro Manila. The video-karaoke bar was located on the rooftop of a small motel. A stage was set up next to a bar with instruments and a TV for karaoke. A tiny room furnished with a bunk bed had been added to the rooftop, separated from the open-air bar by flimsy metal walls; this was where the girls were required to see the men who had paid the bar for sex.
At the back of the bar, another room was crammed with multiple bunk beds where the young women slept when they were not working. They said they would be deprived of their daily meals if they tried to refuse a customer. They also said they had no idea how to get back home and feared what would happen if they were thrown out on the streets.
Freedom, and the Fight Against Trafficking
IJM social workers accompanied the survivors back to the government office where they answered questions about how they were recruited to work at the bar and what they had endured there. The social workers reassured the young women that they were not in trouble and could trust the officers. The survivors then went to government shelters that can provide the longer-term support they will need.
That same night, police also arrested two managers and the bar owner. IJM will support the legal case as it develops.
IJM social worker Leah commended the agents who led the operation and said, "With our new partnership with Philippine National Police ATCU, under the leadership of PSS John Guyguyon, we are in great hopes of winning the battle against trafficking."
Breaking the Cycle of Abuse
IJM is pursing legal action against the operators suspected of trafficking minors and selling them to the bar’s customers, and the bar itself will no longer be a place where children are exploited: Within two months of the rescue operation, authorities ordered the bar permanently closed.
The bar changed its name and appealed the closure notice, but the decision was upheld on April 1, 2014. Police nailed a large sign over the bar’s door that clearly states it had been violating the Philippines’ anti-trafficking act.