When Joy* was eight, her parents separated and she began staying with relatives and neighbors. She babysat, did laundry, cleaned floors—whatever she was asked. During this time, she prayed a simple prayer: to reunite her family and finish her education.
As Joy recalls her life bouncing from home to home, she says she felt “like a dog… I lived wherever I can possibly stay—with my relatives that will accept me.” A woman she trusted invited Joy and her friends into her home, but something felt wrong. In her own words, Joy explains what happened next:
“Without knowing what to do while we were inside, I was surprised when she asked us to go naked, and then she said she will take pictures of us together. I was so scared, nervous and confused. I didn’t know what to do. But since we were already inside [her] house, we were left with no choice but to follow her instructions.”
This horror, called cybersex trafficking, is all too real for Joy and thousands of other girls and boys in the Philippines. For a quick profit, people facilitate abuse and stream it to anyone with an internet connection.
Joy was 10 years old when her abuse began. Then she turned 11. Then 12. And 13. And 14. At first, Joy didn’t fully understand what was happening to her. But as she grew older, the horrible reality dawned on her. The girl who prayed every night to reunite her family and finish her education says, “I wondered if a brighter future was possible for me.”
Seven years after Joy was first exploited, IJM learned of her abuse and partnered with police to rescue Joy and arrest the woman she called her “Boss.”
It was one of the first cybersex trafficking operations we were able to support, and with help from supporters like you, Joy and 15 other children were brought into freedom.
Joy was 17 years old when she arrived at the shelter. She was brought there with the other children who were being abused, and IJM social workers met her, explaining that she was free from abuse and exploitation.
Without supporters like you, operations to rescue children like Joy might not happen at all.
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Even though Joy was safe from the reach of her “Boss,” and even though she was no longer being exploited online, she still had a long road of healing and counseling ahead of her. As she grew accustomed to living in a shelter with people who cared for her physical and emotional needs, the dreams of finishing school came back.
Today, she is in school and inspiring other survivors to pursue their dreams. In the summer of 2018, she interned at a government shelter, mentoring children and young adults who have experienced similar abuses.
“I am inspired by the social workers who don’t stop helping survivors like me. I too have a passion to help survivors see that there is hope after rescue, and that there are people who can help us if we let them.”
Her brave spirit is taking her places she never imagined she would go. After speaking at an event in the United Kingdom, she closed with these words:
“We need you. Help us be encouraged, show us that we are important and that we can have freedom to live our dreams. I am standing before you today, sharing my story, because I believe children are the future. I want every bad “Boss” to stop abusing children. Slavery is happening all around the world. I want it to stop. I believe it can stop, but I cannot do it alone.”
Stand with Joy and help end slavery and violence.
* A pseudonym