My personal experience and research regarding sex trafficking in the Philippines (Region 8)

My personal experience and research regarding sex trafficking in the Philippines (Region 8)

When Imelda was about 15-years-old she got married to the man she loved. They had two children and she was perfectly happy. A couple of years later he unexpectedly left her for another women and she was left heart broken and with two small children to take care of by herself. Devastated, she suddenly needed to provide for herself and her children. She moved back to her parents home searching for a work in the Philippines; a job market where it is currently hard for university graduates to receive a work. Imelda had not even finished secondary school. Therefore she jumped to the opportunity to work as a waitress at a more remote area in one of the islands in the eastern Visayans. She let her children stay at her parent’s house while she moved there in order to earn enough money so that she could provide for herself and them.

At first she was, like all the other girls at the bar when they started, just serving drinks to the customers. Gradually, her supervisor started demanding more services from her towards the customers than just serving. Later on, she had become one of the many victims world wide of sex trafficking, as it was the actual business the bar she was told to be working for as a waitress was conducting.

Imelda was just one of the several girls who, with different backgrounds, that was allured by the belief that they would be working as waitresses to suddenly find themselves deep into the sex trafficking business. Some people might right now while reading this question themselves why the girls did not leave the work when they realized what it actually was. Sadly there are many issues that are prohibiting the girls from doing that. As they get gradually involved, their perspective of the possibility to exit simultaneously becomes more obscure. Remember that often this is, as stated in the story above, girls we are talking about. Under aged girls who have no education or even an idea about neither their legal nor human rights and due to that they believe or cannot argue against what they are told by their supervisors.

Therefore for them, there is no way out. Many of them are so ashamed of what they have done since they see it as their own fault due to the stigma in the society. When the bar Imelda worked for was shut down and the girls and women that worked there got rescued to a women’s shelter, it turned out that Imelda’s family back home had no idea of the kind of work she had been lured in to. In other words, Imelda was to embarrassed to even tell her own family about what the work as a waitress had turned out to be. That is how strong the stigma currently is in the Philippines and in many other different countries, which tells us from the Western world a lot about how little we now about the current individuals that are in the business of sex trafficking and cannot get out of it not only from physical barriers – also the psychological barrier due to the society.

This was the story that Imelda (not her real name) shared with me, as she was one of the many girls that after a rescue operation was living at the women’s shelter I worked at during my time in the Philippines. After talking to the other girl’s that had gotten rescued, as well as the head of the centre about her experiences I wanted to learn more about the regional situation regarding the sex trafficking business. Therefore I conducted an interview at the local Department of Social Welfare with the focal person for Region 8 in the Philippines, which is the eastern Visayans.

She explains how this region, consisting of among others the island Leyte and Samar, are the primary sources for trafficked individuals in the Philippines. The major reasons for this, according to her, are that the region consists of a lot of remote areas and islands. The people living there are especially vulnerable to recruiters due to poverty, lack of education (mostly just elementary) and are searching for work. Approximately the majority of the girls and women they rescue main reason for why they trusted the recruiter was because they believed in a better future. It was and it currently is that common dream the recruiters take advantage of. Moreover, the recruiter usually they have some kind of connection to the girls and women as for example mutual friends, that they are from the same place/island or that they even are family. This facilitates the recruiters work to gain the girl’s and women’s trust as they simultaneously take advantage of the girls and women’s dreams about a better future.

The most common age is 15 to 17-year-old girls and adults, as she referred them to as, between 20 and 24-years-old.

Many assume that as soon as the girls and women have been rescued, the goal is achieved and they survivors will be ecstatic and ready to continue their lives the way that they had dreamt of. That is not the truth. Once they are rescued, the girls and women are not strutting around on rose pedals. Once they have been rescued, they are faced with the stigma of their society, community and often even family. They have traumas and memories that will be a part of them for life. Furthermore, in Region 8 at least about 30% returns back to the sex trafficking business, according to the focal person I was interviewing, uncompelled. For them the dynamics of the business have changed, they no longer see themselves as victims thus instead blame their rescuer for taking away their livelihood. Others will return as a result of a drug addiction that has become to compelling for them to resist. This has been developed as they has been forced by their supervisors to take drugs so that they would work without arguing. 

Consequently, countries and societies not only need to focus on rescuing individuals from the business, they also need to try to prevent them from going back to it through various ways. That is why support and guidance is a very significant part in order to actually help the girls and women back into society, or in plain English to help them regain their lives, their dreams and their ambitions. It is not easy, but of such big of a significance, to help them individually achieve a positive vision and prospect of their future. That will determine whether they actually have been rescued from the sex trafficking business or not, since it is not only the physical rescue operation that can establish that.

What needs to be achieved in order to stop this business right now is in my opinion two major things. Firstly to track down the networks of the business to stop the on going recruitments and close the bars/brothels and so on that are conducting the business. However this is not something that can be achieved over night.

What is easy to forget is however in order to conduct this kind of business, or rather any kind of industry, there has to be one thing. A demand. Without the commercial demand for sex, there would not be anything for the recruiters to recruit for or the businesses and industries to profit from.

What we all can do, and need to, is to spread awareness and educate regarding the subject to prevent people from getting lured in to trafficking in the first place – as well as spot people who are already involved in order to help them.

We have to remember, that it is modern-day slavery we are talking about.

More about prevention, and to learn more about not only sex trafficking but human trafficking stay tuned to the website since I will write more regarding the subject.