JESSICA MARY with 30 other recovering child survivors of sexual abuse and human trafficking marched down the streets of Olongapo City on International Women’s Day. They carried a banner that declared “Olongapo City Home of the Most Empowered Women in the World for Human Rights.” The teenagers had the courage and commitment to take to the streets and declare that they were survivors with a cause. As Jessica said in Tagalog, “We join the march so other children will not suffer abuse like us.”
She and the other girls were happy and proud to be part of the march. They said they want to tell the world that it is a serious and heinous crime for adults to have sex with children. This hateful crime is spreading because of inaction by government and church officials and the apathy of society in general.
The Center for Women’s Resources, a Philippine research group, stated recently that 77 percent of rape victims are children, and that an astounding two children are raped every minute. Although under-reporting of the crimes is common due to fear, shame and intimidation, the Philippine National Police said since June 2014 to June 2015, there was a 63.5-percent increase in rape cases reported. Thousands more go unreported.
The children carried their banner to challenge the official city banner and welcoming archway that spans the highway at all entry points to the City of Olongapo. It declares that the traveler is “Welcome to the Home of the Most Beautiful Women in the World.” The city with a shameful history of a single economy of prostitution in years past when it was a US Navy town considered women a commodity to be promoted and sold in the sex bars.
Preda Foundation campaigned for the removal of the US Naval Base in Olongapo City and the sex industry it spawned and promoted a conversion plan and vision to convert all facilities into a free port economic zone, where work with dignity and prosperity would thrive. Today that is an astounding success.
However, it seems the same mentality toward women as commodities reigns today among some officials.The sex bars are coming back again as the US military is also expected to return on an expanded basing agreement.
Preda continues to educate and promote vigilance and prevention of human trafficking and child abuse. It is currently giving workshops and training to the hotel employees of the Subic Bay Freeport Zone to prevent the rise of sex tourism and human trafficking of women and minors.
Government officials are in denial and cover-up the extent of child abuse and human trafficking into the hotels and sex bars of the country. Many officials are in violation of the law by ignoring the problem. Given the fact that thousands of mayor’s business permits and licenses are given out to sex bars and clubs that are fronts for prostitution, we have to hold these officials liable for all the abuse happening in those brothels.
Moral and legal responsibility has to fall on the government officials who allow it. The owners, managers, both foreigners and local Filipinos, think they have the approval of the authorities to exploit and abuse the young people hired as dancers and entertainers.
Some Church officials cover up the child sex crimes of abusive clergy and bring the good, dedicated clergy and Catholic laity unjustly into the dark shadow of suspicion. Pope Francis has taken a zero tolerance policy on clerical abuse.
The recent Oscar award-winning film “Spotlight” showed the dedication of Catholic media practitioners and journalists who went after the truth without fear or favor in regard to the coverup of widespread clerical child abuse in the Boston Archdiocese.
The failure of church officials to protect children and bring abusive clergy to justice is a contradiction of all that Jesus of Nazareth taught about the children being the most important in the Kingdom of God. To accept them is to accept Him, he said. In Matthew 18: 1-8, he stated a most powerful truth that is ignored by all too many clergy and society in general.
Instead of an unwavering commitment to do justice for child victims, they covered it up. That is a sin in itself. The shame and embarrassment they are trying to avoid are trivial in comparison to what the children suffer for the rest of their lives. With therapy, affirmation, support and education ,the children can recover and find the spirit to demand justice and start a new life, but that cannot erase the scars and the hurt that is always there.
That statement of Jesus is unequivocal. The abuser of children must be brought to justice and receive a just punishment, a millstone should be tied around his neck and he be thrown into the deepest ocean, said Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel Chapter 18.
Some people persuade children not to complain of sexual abuse and to forgive their abusers, especially if it is their own fathers or relatives. This is totally wrong. Before forgiveness, the Gospel calls for the sinner to repent, accept and confess his or her sin, do penance and then ask forgiveness.
When two children are raped every minute, many are victims of human trafficking, we cannot idly stand by and wring our hands. We must do all we can to act, speak out, report abuse and get help for the victims.
The only answer to human trafficking is uncompromising law enforcement by a highly trained Filipino-speaking multinational undercover intelligence gathering unit working with a multinational police unit with shared jurisdiction.
A special court with a panel of two or three assisting international volunteer retired judges as in the French system is needed to get convictions. Speedy justice is what abused women and children need above all and legislation is needed for this.