MANILA, THE PHILIPPINES – IJM Manila staff sat quietly with police officers from the National Bureau of Investigations and other members of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT). Minutes slowly ticked by, turning into hours. At 10:30 p.m., an undercover operative made a phone call, and the calm before the storm ended as everyone sprang into action.
The rescue team loaded into vans and sped off towards the large entertainment bar where they believed young women had been trafficked and sold for sexual exploitation.
The bar, previously a warehouse, had high ceilings and walls with bright décor. A single pole stood in the center of the stage. Hidden behind the stage was a long, narrow room with cardboard beds crowded along the cinderblock walls. On one wall was a picture of Jesus, hanging next to a cover of Maxim Magazine. Cigarettes and clothing were strewn about the dirty room. A rickety staircase led up to four tiny rooms, reserved for customers who paid the bar owners to have sex with the dancers.
Law enforcement officers effectively secured the location and arrested half a dozen suspects who have now been charged under the Philippines' anti-trafficking law. IJM and staff from the Philippine Department of Social Welfare and Development helped explain what was happening to the young women.
After leaving with the rescue team, at least one of the girls said she had been hired as a minor, and several more gave statements at the law enforcement office indicating they had been trafficked and exploited for sex in the bar.
The successful operation was the result of intensive coordination between IJM and its government partners. One of IJM Manila's lawyers explained how he felt at the end of the long night: "Seeing the girls leave that dark and dirty place that has been like their prison cell for months and knowing that there is freedom and a new life on the other side of the door makes it all worth it."