• Fighting for justice

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    FR. SHAY CULLEN, SSC

    They were only fourteen years old, seized with the urge to know and experience everything. They fell for the bait of the trafficker. He gave them money and gifts, and one by one he had them join a “fraternity,” a group of girls whom he abused in his house. He gave them a taste for drugs and they became dependent on him.

    Then he invited his friends over and they too sexually abused the girls and he gave the girls drugs and money. It was by then no longer an experimental teenage romp, they were being commercially sexually exploited. Soon they came to depend on the money and frequently went to the house of the trafficker and stayed over for some days and were sexually exploited by customers. He made money out of them in his private brothel.

    The police was alerted and, through a tip off, discovered the trafficking operation. The municipal social worker was called in during the raid of the private brothel and six girls were rescued and referred to the Preda Home for Girls. The medico-legal check up revealed that all had been sexually abused many times. The suspect is in jail and his customers are under investigation.

    We can expect a counter-attack from the suspected abusers. They have vilified Preda on the Internet. They may make counter-charges and false allegations against us as happened in the past. This is normal for human rights defenders of abused children. Foreigners who are arrested or charged with child abuse are the most revengeful and post evil and baseless allegations. Some are filled with anger, hatred and desire to get revenge against those who exposed their dirty acts of human trafficking and child abuse.

    When we at Preda rescue an abused child from the abuser’s home or from a sex bar, some of those foreigners accused or put on trial by the authorities will file kidnapping charges. As human rights advocates, we have been charged with libel and slander. When we campaigned to end the Davao Death Squad in 1999, we were charged by the mayor with libel. All the charges were eventually dismissed. That is the risk we take in defending the exploited, abused victims of human trafficking.

    One American suspect who made false allegations against Preda staff went to the point of falsely charging a prosecutor. He was convicted in court for making false allegations and was sentenced to two years in jail. But by some legal maneuvering, he has not yet served his sentence. He may still be behind the campaign vilifying our work with manufactured allegations and working through others on the Internet to get revenge. His failure to serve sentence ought to be investigated. It’s time to reopen the case.

    Even some of the children rescued from the traffickers are not happy to be rescued. They are dependent and have been “bonded” by debt, gifts and drugs to the trafficker. They see him or her as their “best friend,” even as a sex partner. They don’t want to admit that they were abused by him and others and will not, at first, file a complaint against their abusers. But that has changed.

    At first they don’t want to stay at the Preda Center and get help. They don’t see that they need help and want to run back to their trafficker. They want to get drugs to deal with the trauma of having been found and rescued as sexually exploited children. They need to cover up their shame — from their parents, brothers, sisters, friends and relatives.

    At first, they do not accept the fact that they were being exploited. They were friends with their trafficker and pimp, and they wanted the money. Preda social workers have counseled them and took them through the reality of their lives in the emotional expression therapy. There, in the padded therapy room, they released anger and pent up emotions.

    They are angry at their parents for abandoning, misunderstanding or scolding them. They became rebellious. But therapy sessions calmed them down. Day after day, they released their anger — at themselves, their abusers and their parents. Slowly, they start to think and listen, and begin to realize their worth. This is a profound shift – from a willing victim to an empowered youth looking for justice.

    The Preda social worker contacted their parents. They have begun family therapy to bring understanding and support for the girls, which later could lead to reconciliation. They can look forward to a brighter future, with their abuser in jail and facing charges of human trafficking.

    In another case, Preda workers rescued sexually abused children left in the care of a distant relative by their mother who was abandoned by their father.

    They children were taken to Preda, but the accused wanted to get the children back to stop them from filing charges and testifying against him. The accused bore down on the mother, who filed a case against Preda to get the children back in her custody. But this will not succeed and we are counseling her to care and love her children and to resist the pressure of the abuser.

    The fight for justice for children and for Preda goes on. Those vilifying Preda and the children, one day, will be brought to justice. May it be soon.

    shaycullen@gmail.com
    www.preda.org

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