The day before summer break began marked the beginning of a new season for three sisters who had been groomed and abused by a 76-year-old American man. The girls, 9, 10 and 13 years old, disclosed awful details of abuse perpetrated by this man they called “daddy,” a former American law enforcement officer living on his pension and teaching English at a school in the Philippines.
The rescue operation that brought the truth to light took place on March 29. Officers from the FBI and Philippines National Bureau of Investigation had been investigating the 76-year-old American man, and a small team from IJM flew to the island to help find his exact location.
The sisters were getting ready for school when law enforcement officers in plain clothes quietly showed up at their home in a middle class sub-division. IJM and local government social workers explained what was happening to the young sisters and their aunt.
At first the girls were shy and seemed confused. It was the youngest who finally asked if they could go to school now, because they needed to turn in final projects and join the final practice for a dance recital that would happen tomorrow on recognition day.
The sisters have endured immense suffering in their young lives.
Gloria,* the eldest, explained that she was 4 years old when her parents separated. She doesn’t know what happened to her mother. Their rural community was devastated by the 2013 super typhoon Haiyan, and her father now lives in Manila doing construction. The sisters have largely been raised by their young aunt and her aging American husband.
At first Gloria held back answers to questions about the American man. But by the afternoon she was disclosing details of sexual abuse and how he made her pose naked with her little sisters for photos when her aunt was not home. Gloria labelled all of these as “the bad memories.”
Lucille Dejito, IJM Cebu Director of Legal, explained: “[The suspect] had a way of coating the abuse with some loving acts. But Gloria was old enough to understand there was shame associated with what happened to her. The younger ones had fewer inhibitions; they just said what happened like it was a matter of fact.”
The girls’ aunt was incredibly distraught by the traumatic ordeal. She was 18 years old when she married the American man, who is fifty years her senior. She is in her third year of college and has no way of paying rent or continuing to care for the children. IJM and the local social workers arranged for safe housing and are helping her find a job.
Local authorities and Lucille met with the girls’ principal, and Gloria and her sisters were able to participate in their recognition ceremony. They will stay in the local government shelter for survivors of sexual violence and trafficking so they can get the ongoing aftercare they need.
The Philippines Bureau of Immigration deported the American man who will now face criminal charges in the U.S. “IJM will continue partnering with international and local law enforcement to track down other perpetrators of online sexual exploitation—bringing them to justice and rescuing their young victims so that the abuse stops,” says John Tanagho, IJM Cebu’s Deputy Field Office Director.
We will update this story with more details as they are made available.