In the Philippines, women and children are subjected to sexual exploitation in brothels, bars, and massage parlours, online, as well as in the production of pornography. The Philippines is an international hub for prostitution and commercial sex tourism – a highly profitable businesses for organised criminal syndicates. The demand for sex with children among both local and foreign men has continued to fuel child sex tourism. Rising internet usage rates, the availability of mobile phones and poverty has fostered online child sexual exploitation.
Like many others who find themselves enslaved in situations of sexual exploitation, Cathy was told that she owed her employers all of the money she earned, and kept in debt bondage until a police raid that occurred just before her 18th birthday.
I am Cathy. I am 20 years of age and was born in the north of the Philippines. I lived with my paternal grandmother as a young child and was told that my mother had been a prostitute and had met my father in a bar. She became pregnant with twin girls and we were adopted out to separate places.
Luckily for me I was adopted in the local area so I was able to be reunited with my grandmother and father. I heard years later that my twin sister had died. I met my mother only once before she died. I was 10 at that time and she was selling vegetables in the market and a neighbour pointed her out to me.
My father was worried that my mother would make my life a mess if we stayed together and so I stayed living with my lola [grandmother].
When I was 13 I attended my mother’s funeral. I was told that she was pregnant at the time and had been beaten up by her live-in partner. She had many bruises all over her body. It was very scary to see her that way. I was not really distressed at the actual time of her death because I did not really know her. However, I regretted that I did not have much time to be with her.
Although I was loved by my grandmother, it’s not the same as the love of a mother that I really wanted. If I could turn back time, I would love to have my mother, even for one month, so that I could feel her love.
I attended school up until my second year of high school. My grandmother was the one who bore the cost of my schooling, though sometimes my father would give her money.
My aunties really resented me because of the care my grandmother gave me. They were cruel to me and teased me and told me I was going to end up a prostitute like my mother. This made me sad, but I loved school and I was especially proud when I won Miss Filipina in my school. My aunties didn’t believe that I could do it, but I joined the parade and I won because of a poem I wrote. I couldn’t imagine that I would ever win. It was a very happy moment for me.
When I was a teenager, I left school because I had told my grandma that I would help earn money. I started work as a waitress. It was during this time that I had an affair with a married man. His wife was out to get me so I needed to leave that place. An acquaintance of mine asked me if I wanted to work in Cebu. I told him that it was so far away and that I was only 16, but he arranged for two other friends of mine who were also minors to come to Cebu with me. He told us we would earn good money as waitresses but when we arrived in Cebu we were transported in a van to a club.
When we entered the club it was big and dark but I knew it was a club because there were lights flickering and plenty of girls with heavy make-up. I was nervous at that moment because I knew that this is what they wanted me to do also. I didn’t feel good about it. I had to wear heavy make- up and put on shorts which were very transparent, my underwear could be seen, and I also had to wear boots. We were given numbers to wear so that we could be identified by the customers. We were called one after the other to dance on the stage. My heart was pumping very fast and I was perspiring and I really didn’t know what was happening.
For three weeks I was just dancing on the stage and then one night I was told that somebody had ‘bar fined’ me. I did not know what this meant. A more experienced woman explained that a man had bought me. She loaned me her cell phone and told me to call her when I got to the hotel. When I got there I rang her and she told me to take a bath and then to lie down on the bed and so I followed her instructions. Later she text me and told me if I was done I should take a bath and return to the club.
I was so ashamed but I could not escape my situation. I had more customers after that. Some gave me big tips and some guys were nice to me. I was cautious though because some of the more experienced women told me that foreigners were more inclined to beat their customers. I was always on guard. My customers were generally Korean, Japanese and American. I never went with a Filipino because I was too ashamed.
I gave all my earnings to the two women who were my managers; this included any tips that were given to me. They said that I had plenty of debts. My debts included payment for living in the apartment, my food, clothing and make up. I could not escape because there were people who watched what we were doing – we called them ‘watchers’.
I think I was in that bar for two years. A few days before I turned 18 the bar was raided. Our casa, our apartment, was raided early in the morning. We were so shocked because we slept in our bras and undies and when we opened our eyes there were lights from the cameras shining in our eyes. We were told to get dressed. They raided three casas simultaneously. All the casas were operated by the same managers. There were 90 of us but not all were minors. During the raid I was shocked and afraid. I even hid behind the door because there were plenty of cameras and we were soon on television and in the news.
Although I had had problems earlier in life I did not know that another problem awaited me in Cebu. I pitied myself for what happened to me. I felt that I was alone and nobody would support me, that I would just have this lonely life. I interacted with my co-workers but my own true feelings, I did not share. I did not trust anyone. I did not know, if I told them my real feelings, whether they would not tell my managers, and that could have caused conflict.
And I was angry with myself. I wondered how I could let all this happen to me.
There were times when I was a victim of trafficking that I just went with the flow, like I just accepted it. But I still had hopes and I fought for my future. No one can treat me like a dog. I had a limit to what could be done.
As told to Our Community in their report 'I Have a Voice: Trafficked Women - in their own words' by Angela Reed & Marietta Latonio