MANILA, THE PHILIPPINES – Thanks to one remarkable girl, seven more young women were rescued this month from a bar where they had been routinely sold for sex. The youngest was only 12 years old, and all of the girls had been trafficked there when they were teens.
The young women had come from impoverished families, and they thought they were taking good jobs as waitresses where they could earn money to send home. But when they arrived at the bars, they realized quickly that this was not a good job. They would not be earning any money to send home. The girls were trapped, forced to live at the bar and have sex with the bar's customers.
Last month, one 17-year-old girl escaped with two friends, when the mamasan sent them back to their poor communities to find more girls to work at the bar. Instead, the girls took their chance to make their story known. They went to the strongest person they could think, the person who might be able to speak out loudest on their behalf: a host of a local television station. The TV station referred girls to a special police unit of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group that protects women and children.
"I could not help but count God's blessings at the end of that day: [these] young girls will no longer be forced to have sex with strangers, they will no longer feel threatened or helpless, and the youngest of them will celebrate her 13th birthday a day after Christmas, in a safe place." – IJM Manila Lawyer
When the police unit questioned the girls, they said they were afraid that the bar owners might track them down and find them. But the 17-year-old was even more anxious about what was happening to the other girls still trapped in the bars. She said she wanted to take the police there, to help them find her friends.
The police called IJM for assistance with the operation plan – it would be complex to coordinate simultaneous rescue at both bars. Just before 11:30 p.m. on December 3, 2012, a team of police and government social workers infiltrated both bars. Police secured the premises, gathered evidence and arrested four suspects. Social workers explained what was happening to the frightened girls.
IJM workers were waiting at the police station to meet the sex trafficking survivors. Slowly, some of the girls started to open up. Liw Agbayani, one of IJM's lawyers, was there to provide support and observed how the IJM social workers listened to the girls as they shared "their painful stories of how they were raped by customers and deprived of freedom."
Liw added, "I could not help but count God's blessings at the end of that day: [these] young girls will no longer be forced to have sex with strangers, they will no longer feel threatened or helpless, and the youngest of them will celebrate her 13th birthday a day after Christmas, in a safe place."