PAMPANGA, THE PHILIPPINES – In just one week, IJM helped police rescue 17 girls and young women from four different bars in the Philippines. The team of IJM staff worked around the clock—nearly 100 hours—on the back-to-back operations.
Pampanga is a region in the Philippines, long known as a hotspot for sex tourism and as a hub for traffickers. Neon signs keep the streets bright, but inside many of these bars and entertainment clubs women and girls suffer violence and abuse.
A Training Exercise Leads to Real Rescue
The first rescue operation came about as a direct result of a training offered at the end of September. IJM led a course on investigative techniques for police, including the regional anti-trafficking unit within the Philippine National Police. IJM staff collaborated with these officers to gather evidence during a real-time investigation exercise—and they documented real abuse taking place inside this bar.
On September 24, a team of police and IJM staff entered the bar. Customers were seated at plastic chairs around flimsy tables, drinking beer and watching one another sing karaoke. The “VIP rooms” at the back of the narrow contained old mattresses where customers could pay to abuse a girl.
As police questioned the suspects and made arrests, IJM staff and social workers from the government social services agency made sure the young women understood that they were not in trouble, they were safe.
13 Rescued from Three Bars in One Night
Less than a week later, on October 1, IJM helped police with another complicated operation, this one targeting three bars on the same street at the same time.
At first many of the girls inside huddled together, afraid, confused and unsure who they could trust. An IJM lawyer described one of the bars as “dungeon-like.” IJM social workers and other support staff explained what was happening to the 13 young women rescued from the three bars, working around the clock so that they were never alone.
Later that night, one of the survivors explained how they had been paraded in front of customers, shown off like goods for sale. She said she had lost hope. Then she added that God must be behind this rescue, and she felt he is the one making a new life for her.
A Global Epidemic That Must Be Stopped
Human trafficking is a devastating global industry. It’s also incredibly lucrative—generating more than $150 billion a year.
But IJM’s model has shown that when anti-trafficking laws are enforced, the violence can stop. In the Philippines, the availability of children for commercial sex in Metro Cebu plummeted by 79% after just four years of IJM’s work with local authorities.
Restoring What Has Been Lost
IJM will support the cases as they move to trial, making sure the police properly file charges and the people who profited from the degradation and abuse of these young women are restrained from harming others. Between the four bars, police arrested 10 suspects.
Some of the survivors have been free now for a full week; others are still in the first days of freedom. Learning to rebuild trust and confidence will take time, but the journey of freedom has begun.
One of the young women rescued from the first karaoke bar is in her early twenties now, but she said she was first trafficked when she was 14. “It’s impossible to imagine how many lies this one girl has been told over all these years. She should have been in high school, going to college,” says IJM Pampanga field office director Rey Bicol. “Those years were stolen from her; so now we begin our most critical work—helping restore what has been lost.”