When I set foot in Cebu, the Philippines, five years ago, it was a place ravaged by the evil of human trafficking — a place where teenagers like Glenna (a pseudonym) were deeply vulnerable. Glenna had been spending time with friends at a local pier when her group was joined by a friend's acquaintance.
The man invites Glenna to join him in a waiting taxi, and when she refuses his offer, he physically forces her into the vehicle. Glenna quickly realizes that the man is a pimp, and that he plans to sell her when they arrive at a nearby hotel. She is terrified, and the man casually laughs off her panic.
Behind the neon signs of the clubs lining Cebu's streets and in the alleys prowled by its pimps, the abuse of girls like Glenna was brutally routine. The under-trained and under-resourced police rescued just a handful of trafficking victims each year, and the court system moved at such a grindingly slow pace that virtually no traffickers were convicted.
The criminals held the upper hand — and they knew it. Truthfully, it is unlikely that IJM's decision to open an office in Cebu in 2006 caused them any serious concern. They had no idea what kind of fight they were up against.
In IJM's work around the world these past 13 years, we've discovered that slave masters and traffickers expect their opponents to show up late and quit early — and they are simply not intimidated. What they do not expect is fearless, sacrificial love that does not go away. But now, after nearly four years of casework and partnership with local law enforcement in the community, Cebu's traffickers have started to realize that we simply will not give up, and they are getting scared.
When I visited my colleagues in Cebu this summer, I saw the results of their tenacious love and fierce commitment:
- Traffickers are going to jail. In 2009, IJM partnered with the government to establish a specialized police force: the Regional Anti-Human Trafficking (RAT) Task Force. Now the RAT Force and other police units have charged more than 100 trafficking suspects in IJM cases.
- Victims are rescued. Since the field office opened, IJM and the local police have rescued more than 200 trafficking victims in Cebu. As a result of IJM partnership with the government, girls are now taken to a safe, calming center to share their stories with authorities after a rescue operation, rather than an intimidating police-station waiting room.
- Girls once viewed as property are now thriving in meaningful careers. IJM Cebu and our local partners are giving trafficking survivors the opportunity to discover their skills and engage in specialized job training, with the goal of drastically reducing their odds of being re-victimized.
Through God's favor, these victories have created a seismic shift in Cebu. This summer, external researchers found that, after nearly four years of IJM casework, the number of minors available for exploitation in the commercial sex industry in Metro Cebu has plummeted 79 percent from their initial study. Though there is still much work to be done, we are in awe of all that God has accomplished so far through the faithfulness of IJM's Cebu team and our partners.
Together, we are building a different kind of future for girls like Glenna. Indeed, when she and her trafficker arrived at the hotel that night, it was the criminal, not the teenage girl, who was most vulnerable. The pimp had been under surveillance for months by IJM investigators and local police — and the waiting "customer" was an undercover police officer partnering with IJM. Glenna was rescued before ever being abused; the pimp was placed under arrest and taken to jail. His trial is ongoing.
Today, Glenna is a happy young wife and mother. She has graduated from IJM Cebu's job-readiness training program and is grateful for and proud of her new career, working at a local bakery. She is cared for deeply by IJM Cebu's team — men and women who seek each day to reflect the kind of relentless love their Maker has shown them.
We have seen that not only is this fight worth fighting, but that it is working. Will you partner with us financially and give a gift by December 31 so that we can continue to push forward in the battle for justice in the coming year? Together, we can bring protection and freedom to more people in great need. Thank you for considering this request to partner with us in this worthy fight.
With deep gratitude for your partnership and wishes for a joyous Christmas season,
Gary A. Haugen
President and CEO, International Justice Mission