Jolie’s Story Inspires Other Survivors of Sex Trafficking in Manila

IJM Manila has been working with local authorities to protect children from sexual violence since 2001.
IJM Manila has been working with local authorities to protect children from sexual violence since 2001.

MANILA, THE PHILIPPINES – After four years in trial, two traffickers have been convicted and sentenced to life in prison for trafficking, thanks in part to the testimony of Jolie,* who they trafficked when she was just 15 years old. Jolie and her mother are now advocates who share their story with sex trafficking survivors and their parents.

It was Jolie’s mother who first learned the terrifying truth of the abuse her daughter was enduring and called IJM for help. Jolie had managed to borrow a cell phone and sneak a call telling her mother what had happened: She hadn’t been given a good job like the man who had befriended her back home had promised. Instead, she was trapped in a bar eight hours north of Manila—hidden away among more than 30 bars that crammed the single street. Night after night, Jolie was rented out to the bar’s customers for sex.

Jolie begged her mother to help her get out.

A Decade Later, IJM Got Another Call For Help

Jolie’s mother knew about IJM because the organization had helped her daughter several years earlier. When Jolie was a child, she was sexually assaulted by her neighbor. Jolie had received therapy from IJM social workers, and the legal team worked with police to build a case against the neighbor, who had fled.

The IJM team mobilized immediately, bringing the case to the National Bureau of Investigation Anti-Human Trafficking unit. In December 2009, Jolie and eight others were rescued from the abusive bar. The floor manager was arrested that night, and an IJM investigator helped police track and arrest the recruiter who had trafficked Jolie to the bar.

Over the next four years, IJM lawyers helped the public prosecutor build a strong case, traveling several times to the courthouse more than 300 miles away to attend hearings.

Making a Difference: Justice for Jolie

As social workers provided Jolie with therapy and helped her make a plan for a stable future, Jolie decided to testify in the trial. She spoke out boldly against the man who recruited her, and the woman who managed the bar where she was routinely raped. 

Both traffickers were charged with qualified trafficking under the Philippines’ strong anti-trafficking act. On Friday, August 29, 2014, each one received the maximum penalty—life in prison.

According to her IJM lawyer Ralph Catedral, “This victory would not have been possible if not for the persistence of Jolie’s mother, the tireless effort of our social workers, investigators, and our lawyers; and the active involvement of our government partners from day one. Truly, when we all come together, we can make a difference in the life of someone like Jolie and others like her."

Jolie completed an alternative high school degree and is now raising a baby girl. She returns regularly to speak at the aftercare shelter for sex trafficking survivors where she herself received good care. Jolie’s mother attends too, and she has become an advocate who enjoys encouraging parents of sex trafficking survivors.