I drove from Olongapo City to Subic town recently and pointed to a journalist the row of shuttered, dilapidated and closed-down sex bars that lined the road at Calapadian. It is evidence of the success of an anti-trafficking operation conducted by the Preda Foundation social workers with the help of the Philippine police and an agent of the US Homeland Security. About 15 young girls were rescued from the horrible life of forced prostitution.
Some younger minors, so traumatized after being trapped and abused for over a year in this kind of sex slavery, were in need of therapy, support, compassion, friendship and hope for a better life. They came to the Preda home for girls and have made a recovery and are empowered to testify.
Others had been newly recruited for jobs as food servers in the hotels of Subic Bay Freeport, but were forced into prostitution in a sex hotel. They were freed and were brought to the homes in a town south of Manila by government social workers. They were later intimidated by the sex mafia and were too scared to testify. The bar operators walked free except one US national who is on trial.
That is the common course for the victims; they are poor, helpless and need strong support, witness protection and encouragement to find justice but, sadly, the government agencies do not provide these services effectively.
The long-term success of that operation is that we had retired federal cops from Australia as volunteers, who went undercover as sex tourists and infiltrated the sex bars and clubs. (see www.preda.org links to YouTube “children of the sex trade.” And “The Raid,” ABC NY.)
This secret surveillance is still ongoing around the Philippines and is popular with retired policemen. Many sex tours and bar operators today are, in fact, worried because they don’t know if the sex tourist downing a cold beer and chatting beside them is a fellow exploiter of young girls or a retired police officer on an undercover mission for the Philippine government.
These retired officers are good men determined to save children and working to end sex-trafficking and slavery. The evidence could put the bar operator and owner in a filthy jail cell, where he could die of malnutrition or disease. These kinds of operations are very necessary to curb the growing abuse of younger teenagers disguised as adults with fake documents.
It’s a crime against humanity, according to Pope Francis, who has spoken against and acted upon this issue to bring together police and church leaders in finding a more effective response against the said crime that destroys young lives. The Santa Marta Group, which consists of senior police officers, diplomats and church leaders, brings together the energy and resources worldwide to combat this evil trade in human beings. It was first held in Vatican City at the Santa Marta guesthouse, where Pope Francis lives, from which the group got its name. Last week they had their annual meeting in New York. They need to work faster.
About 21 million people in the world are today in slavery in its various forms. Many people under 18 are sex slaves not enjoying their rights or freedom. They are held in sex clubs, houses and hotels where prostitution is rampant. Most are young girls without identity and freedom of choice and who are usually lured into debt and scared to escape from their pimps.
The families of these girls may have taken advance payments against their so-called “salaries” and are threatened if the minors run away from the sex bars, the pimps or the human traffickers. It is a false argument to claim the girls are working to support their families back in the province. Some do but most, apparently, don’t. Poverty and inequality is at the heart of the problem.
The documents showing these girls as adults are fake or those of their elder sisters. Prostitution is illegal in the Philippines but this is ignored. Girls, as young as 14, are offered for sex on the streets and sex bars. (The Raid, ABC NY)
Corrupt officials are getting payments from the human traffickers and club owners. So external police are needed. That’s why I promote the formation of multinational police forces with jurisdiction wherever they are assigned to investigate traffickers.
Local mayors give operating permits to the sex bars. Such government approval is at the heart of the crime. In the Philippines alone, there are some 100,000 minors being trafficked and sexually exploited every year. This worldwide business is worth $110 billion, according to the UK’s Anti-slavery independent commissioner Kevin Hylan, a dedicated campaigner against white slavery and human trafficking.
What is needed is action on the ground to rescue, protect, heal and help the victims recover and testify and bring the criminals to justice. That is not there sufficiently. That’s why we need a special human trafficking court in each region on which two international retired judges will sit trying the child abusers and human-trafficking suspects. A new law for this can be passed if there is commitment.
But one thing is certain: this crime is the shame of humanity and the blight of each nation. Failure to act against it is to condone it, and silence against abuses is the greater crime.