MANILA, THE PHILIPPINES – This month, three young women in the Philippines were honored through a local court’s ruling: The man and woman who had trafficked them were convicted for exploiting the girls in a bar that operated as a brothel.
The ruling came just nine months after these young women were rescued—a stunningly swift verdict in a country where notoriously slow courts have kept justice out of reach for many.
The trial itself lasted seven months and is the fastest for any IJM case in the Philippines. Most trials take three or four years from start to finish, and some have taken twice that.
“This case proves that swift justice for survivors of sex trafficking is possible here in the Philippines,” says IJM attorney Noel Eballe. He helped the government prosecutor assigned to the case gather evidence, and he also helped the survivors prepare to testify in court. All three decided to take the witness stand and bravely share how they had been forced to have sex with customers in the “VIP rooms” on the bar’s second floor. The survivors told their IJM social worker that they wanted to prevent other girls from being trafficked and exploited.
The woman who managed the brothel was convicted of qualified sex trafficking; she faces life imprisonment and a steep fine. She was also convicted of child sexual abuse. The other perpetrator worked at the bar as a waiter and a cashier, and it was the first time in an IJM case in Manila that such an employee was successfully convicted. In the past, it was difficult to convict employees like this one on trafficking charges; however, the Philippines amended the anti-trafficking law in 2012 enabling them to be tried as accomplices.
The speedy trial is most significant for the young women, who are still living at an aftercare home for survivors of sex trafficking. Mutya* turned 18 last year; for now she is living at the shelter, but she plans to attend college and become a teacher or social worker. Her dream reflects the good care she has received from women in these roles. The other girls are still under 18, and both are committed to finishing their high school studies. One has said she wants to become a policewoman.