Charito* is a strong young woman, known for her quick smile and bright eyes by her friends and the IJM social workers who have walked with her for many years. She is also known for her perseverance and hard work. Today Charito is finishing up her social work degree, eager to graduate from college so she can help others.
'I never thought it would happen to me.'
Charito dropped out of elementary school to help her impoverished family by working odd jobs as a maid or babysitter. When Charito was barely a teenager, she met a woman who promised her a good job in a nearby city. But it was a lie.
Just 14 years old, Charito was trafficked to a large entertainment club in Cebu, the Philippines. "They treated us like animals," Charito said years later, remembering how she was sold for sex night after night. She adds, "I never thought it would happen to me."
Fortunately, national police rescued Charito and 13 other underage girls who were trapped in the bar with her. But from there the case stalled—stuck in a broken court system. Charito returned home alone, overwhelmed by shame and struggling to heal.
Later that year, IJM opened an office in Cebu. IJM attorneys heard about the troubled case and started working with state prosecutors to move the trial forward. IJM social workers found Charito and helped her move into an aftercare home for the support and trauma counseling she so desperately needed.
'God, please grant me justice.'
Over the next few years, Charito said she "realized the importance of dignity." She also decided to go back to school. She knew it would be difficult, but she said, "I really want to finish my studies to prove to people that everyone deserves a second chance."
"I testified against my abusers so that I can help in giving justice to all who have been victimized and exploited." With support, Charito felt strong enough to face her trafficker—and the painful memories—in court. "I testified against my abusers so that I can help in giving justice to all who have been victimized and exploited."
The trial finally ended in June 2013—after more than six years. The trafficker was declared guilty. Charito was ecstatic when she heard the news. She said, "It is an answer to my prayers. All this time, I've been praying, 'God, please grant me justice.' This really is a success for me."
'It is not too late for me.'
Charito developed a strong faith in God during her time in the aftercare home. "I have learned that God rescued me. In the past I felt that everyone was bad, and I felt hopeless. But God brought good people in my life to show me that he loves me."
She has helped IJM pioneer a program to mentor other young trafficking survivors. The innovative program empowers the survivors to share their story in safe settings with other girls—Charito explains it well: "I have experienced what they are experiencing right now. That is why I can help them."
Charito's stronger day is here. She finished school and is now in college. She told IJM she wanted to keep studying so she can become a social worker. Charito gave a simple reason: "Because I saw that I was loved, my passion to serve was developed."