MANILA, THE PHILIPPINES – IJM helped rescue young women who were being sold for sex and exploited at a rooftop bar in Manila. Four of the survivors—including a 15-year-old girl—are from Samar, a very impoverished province that was devastated by Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013.
The young women said they had been offered jobs as waitresses, a chance to lift themselves out of poverty. Instead they were taken to this video-karaoke bar and told they were "Guest Relations Officers," cocktail waitresses who were also forced to have sex with the bar's customers.
One young woman said she had been recruited just last month. She was desperate to earn money to help rebuild her family's home that had been destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan. "It is very alarming how traffickers expedited their recruitment to take advantage of the crisis after the typhoon," said IJM Manila social worker Leah Ann Martin.
IJM worked with the Anti-Transnational Crime Unit (ATCU), to follow up on reports that this open-air bar was offering minors for sex. ATCU is a division of the Philippine National Police, and IJM has advised on several investigations and operations with this unit since providing them with training last year.
"It is very alarming how traffickers expedited their recruitment to take advantage of the crisis after the typhoon." --IJM Manila Social Worker
On January 29, 2014, a rescue team of IJM staff, police and government social workers drove to a nondescript street in Metro Manila. The video-karaoke bar was located on the rooftop of a small motel. A stage was set up next to a bar with instruments and a TV for karaoke. A tiny room furnished with a bunk bed had been added to the rooftop, separated from the open-air bar by flimsy metal walls; this was where the girls were required to see the men who had paid the bar for sex.
At the back of the bar, another room was crammed with multiple bunk beds where the young women slept when they were not working. They said they would be deprived of their daily meals if they tried to refuse a customer. They also said they had no idea how to get back home and feared what would happen if they were thrown out on the streets.
Freedom, and the Fight Against Trafficking
IJM social workers accompanied the survivors back to the government office where they answered questions about how they were recruited to work at the bar and what they had endured there. The social workers reassured the young women that they were not in trouble and could trust the officers. The survivors then went to government shelters that can provide the longer-term support they will need.
That same night, police also arrested two managers and the bar owner. IJM will support the legal case as it develops.
IJM social worker Leah commended the agents who led the operation and said, "With our new partnership with Philippine National Police ATCU, under the leadership of PSS John Guyguyon, we are in great hopes of winning the battle against trafficking."