MANILA, THE PHILIPPINES – After a six-year trial heard by four different judges, one sex trafficking case finally came to a close late last month. A trafficker was convicted, bringing justice to six girls who were rescued in an IJM-assisted operation. It was a hard-won victory for the entire team of IJM staff, government social workers and the public prosecutor who persevered throughout the case. And it was the 100th conviction ever under the Philippines’ anti-trafficking law.
In 2006, IJM Manila helped police rescue girls from multiple bars lining the same street. Arianna* was one of the teenagers who had been trafficked and sold for sex from one of these bars. Over the last six years, she has received ongoing care and counsel from IJM social workers. Arianna decided that she wanted to take part in the trial, and her strong testimony led to the guilty verdict against her trafficker.
“We have the privilege of seeing our clients victorious at the end of a lengthy trial,” said IJM attorney Lawrence Aritao – the final IJM advocate on the case – after attending the final hearing with Arianna and Juliette,* another trafficking survivor who was only 16 when she was rescued.
The courtroom was silent as the judge prepared to read the verdict. Everyone held their breath.
When the judge declared the trafficker guilty, relief flooded the IJM staff and survivors standing in the back of the courtroom. Arianna burst into tears, overcome with emotion after so many years of waiting.
Lawrence and the girls’ social worker took them to lunch, where they explained more of what the sentence meant. The trafficker received life imprisonment and was ordered to pay each girl monetary compensation. As they enjoyed their meal together, Arianna and Juliette – both young mothers – laughed with the IJM staff and talked freely about their families and future plans.
Although there were so many starts and stops, disappointments and uncertainties along the way, Lawrence lauded the team of people and agencies who had worked relentlessly for the young women: “This conviction is the result of a strong partnership with the government and the fruit of our team’s steadfast compassion and love for survivors of trafficking.”
*Pseudonyms has been used for the protection of these IJM clients.