Recent reports paint a dark picture of the violence facing millions of the world’s poor every day. Human trafficking generates $150 billion in annual profits, and nearly 36 million people are held in modern-day slavery. But few of the criminals perpetuating this violence are ever held accountable for their crimes.
IJM has been working to protect the poor for nearly two decades, and we’ve seen how everyday violence can stop when laws are enforced. So far in 2014, IJM has helped secure convictions against more than 140 criminals, including traffickers, slave owners and rapists.
As the year ends, IJM teams are celebrating a number of convictions in cases of sexual violence. The following highlights from November 2014 are a snapshot of what justice means to communities where we are working to protect the poor from violence.
In Cambodia: IJM and Cambodian National Police dismantled a Vietnamese trafficking ring that exploited girls for sex and evaded authorities for years. Six criminals were convicted and sentenced to 7-10 years in prison.
IJM and the Cambodian National Police led two operations in mid-2013 to rescue girls from exploitation at a coffee shop and to arrest the suspects running this criminal business. But the operations failed twice—tipped off before the rescue team arrived—and the coffee shop shut down before police could act again.
In August 2013, IJM discovered the Vietnamese trafficking ring had simply moved their business to two massage parlors and split the girls and women between the two.
IJM spent months carefully planning a new operation, and we coordinated with the anti-trafficking police unit on complex rescue operation in October 2013. The young women, including six minor girls, were set free in simultaneous operations from both massage parlors. Many of these survivors courageously testified in the trial against the traffickers, leading to the six convictions last month.
IJM attorney and Director of Legal Saroeun Sek explains why this conviction is a major milestone in the fight against trafficking: “Vietnamese criminal networks still try to traffic girls and women into Cambodia. A positive message was sent that Cambodian and Vietnamese criminal networks will be held accountable under Cambodian law.”
In the Philippines: Eight criminals were convicted in half a dozen sex trafficking cases. This is more convictions in a single month than the IJM Cebu office obtained in their first five years of operating.
Trafficking cases in the Philippines have typically taken many years to move through the overburdened court system. But in 2010, the Philippines Supreme Court issued a directive to fast-track all sex trafficking cases.
One of the cases IJM assisted with this November shows that swift justice is indeed possible in the Philippines. One man pled guilty to attempted trafficking just six months after IJM helped police rescue eight girls and one adult that he was trying to sell to customers for sex. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison and ordered to pay a 500,000 peso fine.
Justice was an answer to prayer for the survivors, who were rescued back in May 2014. As one survivor who is now receiving support from IJM social workers said: “Few days ago [before I heard of the plea bargain], I prayed that [he] would admit his guilt.”
In Bolivia: IJM accomplished a significant milestone this month, with more than 50 perpetrators of sexual violence convicted since we launched an office in 2008.
In just two weeks, Bolivian courts handed down five convictions in four cases of sexual abuse that IJM has been supporting. These cases secured justice for children between 6 and 10 years old and had taken years to move though Bolivia’s overburdened courts.
Most IJM cases have taken three to seven years to move from the initial report to the final verdict, which is incredibly taxing on impoverished families. Parents must take time off much-needed work to attend hearings, but three out of four of these hearings are adjourned. This means a half- or full-days’ wages are lost for naught.
Working cases through this system and supporting families in need requires relentless dedication from the IJM team.
IJM attorneys handle a full caseload, quite literally running back and forth from one hearing in La Paz to another in the neighboring city of El Alto, a 30- to 45-minute journey by public bus. Paralegals track down critical legal documents, make photocopies and deliver important updates to overburdened public prosecutors. Social workers visit survivors in their homes, provide trauma therapy, accompany them to the hospital, and help the family make a plan for economic stability.
“The greatest satisfaction for me is the gratitude of the family,” says IJM lawyer Vanessa Saravia. From just four convictions in the second year of operations in 2008, to the 16 the IJM team has secured so far this year, the justice system is starting to deliver for poor families in Bolivia. Entire communities are safer.
Vanessa’s focus stays on the families she serves: “Knowing that I’ve been able to help this family—that’s everything for me.”