CEBU, THE PHILIPPINES – In July 2012, a manager of a local karaoke bar was convicted of trafficking, sentenced to life in prison and ordered to pay a steep fine of 5 million pesos. The battle in court lasted more than three years.
Two courageous young women who were survivors of the routine abuse at the karaoke bar were in the courtroom that day. Jelena* was 16 and Analyn* was 17 when they were rescued from the bar. Three years later, they are now students and dreamers, both back in high school and thriving. When the court announced the conviction, they could not contain their relief.
They were rescued by police in 2009 along with several other young women who had been forced to have sex with the bar's customers. The police called IJM Cebu for assistance immediately following the operation. IJM lawyers and social workers quickly arrived to care for the survivors and help the police gather evidence.
As the survivors settled into various aftercare programs where they would receive counseling, education and training to prepare them before transitioning back home, IJM lawyer Liza Tan started to develop a legal case against the trafficker.
Their testimonies were straightforward and stark. They shared how they had been brutalized and intimidated by the bar owner and employees, who forced them to leave with customers who wanted sex. They told of times they tried to escape, but failed.
Jelena and Analyn both chose to testify in the case against the men who had sold them to customers night after night. Their testimonies were straightforward and stark. They shared how they had been brutalized and intimidated by the bar owner and employees, who forced them to leave with customers who wanted sex. They told of times they tried to escape, but failed.
These same brave young women are now students in high school. Jelena says she hopes to work at a call center someday, a job that will give her security and peace. Analyn is studying on a scholarship from the Red Window Project, another NGO that provides vocational training for trafficking survivors in Cebu. She also runs a small food business that she started with government funds she received to help her get back on her feet.
Liza knew that Jelena and Analyn deserved justice, and she fought diligently in the court, month after month. She noted that the entire case has been successful thanks to the many individuals, agencies and organizations that have come together to support these young women – from the police initiating the rescue to the Philippine social workers and other private organizations providing critical aftercare support. She says, "In this case I have seen what difference collaborative efforts can do to combat the problem of modern-day slavery."
Charges and an arrest warrant are still pending against the owner of the karaoke bar.
*Pseudonyms have been used for the protection of these IJM clients.