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.
As a child, Ester had experience of both domestic slavery in her Aunt’s home, as well as forced sexual exploitation, in which her mother was complicit.
I am Ester. My life is not yet beautiful; I still have plenty of problems.
The place where I lived as a child was mountainous and cold. I lived with my lola [grandmother] as a young baby and then I was brought by my mother to stay in Cebu with my paternal lola.
I have three half-sisters and two half-brothers. As a child I felt sadness because my mother and father quarrelled and I was moved around a lot. We were very poor and I was always told that I was such a burden to care for. When I was six years old I was raped by my step-brothers when I was staying with my father and stepmother. No one knew about this. Later I was raped by my paternal uncle and when I went to my aunty’s her husband sexually harassed me.
When I was nine I went and lived with my aunty as a house helper. At first, I thought that she was good. She treated me nicely and I said to myself, “I hope this is not only plastic.” But I was wrong. Within a month she showed her true colours. She mistreated me. She treated me like an animal. I did all the housework and she shouted at me and every time she wanted to do something she yelled and physically abused me.
If I could live my childhood again I would have many toys, many playmates, food, and my parents would be loving towards me. They would take care of me and I would have plenty of friends to play with.
At the age of 15 I fell pregnant. The father of my baby was 50 years old and I was sold by my aunty to that man because they were friends. We started living together when I was 14 and I gave birth at 15. I was really forced to go with that old man because I wanted to get away from my aunty. It was like clinging to a blade – I had to just to get away from my aunty, and I thought it would be good to go with this man but I was wrong.
At first he seemed good, he promised to buy me a house and to provide everything but these promises were not fulfilled. He didn’t even buy a container for our plates. And after I gave birth he did not have anything for the baby. He had lots of fun with his friends but he neglected me.
At 16 I separated from this man because I could not endure his behaviour. He was jealous and controlling and possessive. I ran away from him but he found me and physically abused me. Eventually I went to Cebu City where I worked as a dancer in a disco bar. I had a pimp there under the arrangement of my mother; he would pick up customers for me. That pimp really treated me like a pig. I had to obey him just to get the money.
The first customer I had took me to a hotel. I really had no idea. I was bothered and I started crying and the customer said, “What, you don’t know what your job is?” and I told him, “This is my first time, so I really don’t have an idea” and I cried a lot and I appealed to the customer. So he said to me, “OK, you want the pimp to be arrested? I can help you,” but I said, “No, just take me home” and the customer gave me money but he did not have sex with me. He just took me home.
I was very angry at my mum but I could not show it to her, so I just said to myself, “What kind of a mother is she, to pimp her own daughter?” I was so angry but I had no power to show it to her because she was also under the power of her husband and they didn’t want me to stay in their house.
That first customer explained to me that the pimp and my mother could be charged with trafficking and he told me to call him if I needed help. I was happy that this man understood me and offered to help me so I just stayed in my house for two weeks. However, I was concerned about how I could feed my baby, how I could have money, so I decided to go into prostitution because that’s the only way I knew I could get some money.
I became a ‘pick-up girl’. I arranged with another pimp to collect well-to-do customers. He would text me when a customer was available and I would give his some of the profits. After a while I maintained my own regular customers. I no longer needed the pimp; I received all the profits.
There were also instances when I got customers who were foreigners. They would organise a tour. Me and sometimes two or three of us would accompany them on a tour and I would make big money. I was there only as a guide, there was no sex involved. I enjoyed this touring because there was plenty of food and it was very expensive and extravagant. Even though we were prostitutes, they treated us very well. We three girls had one room and we could sleep and wake up when we liked. It was really a good experience.
Pick-up girls stay on the streets not because they want sex. In my case, I did not become a pick- up girl because of sex. The reason I was pushed to become a pick-up girl was because of money. I needed money. The other girls, they needed money. That is why they stayed pick-up girls. If we had money then we wouldn’t be standing on the streets looking for customers. If there was an opportunity where there would be money and no sex, we would appreciate that very much.
The incident that really made me give up being a call girl was when I was abused by my last customer. It was 3am and I was in a disco bar and about to go home when I was called by a pimp to take a customer. I was not feeling well, I think I was sick, so I refused, but the pimp insisted because he said the customer would pay very well. So I was really forced to come. The customer was in his forties and he was very fat and he was very drunk. He was staying in a nearby hotel. He asked me to get in a bathtub full of water and it made me feel even sicker because I was shivering and being dipped in the water. That was very bad for me but I had to do it. I was a little bit drowned for some seconds and then he pulled me up and made me have sex in several positions. There was a moment after the bathtub incident that we were bathing under the shower and he bumped his head against the wall because he was so drunk. He then bumped my head against the wall, saying “I was hurt, you also must be hurt”. I was abused physically and sexually by this man. He demanded to have sex many times. I said, “If you take juice first you will have more energy.” I came up with this strategy to save myself because I saw on the table plenty of pills, including sleeping pills. So when he got his phone, his butt was on me, I got the sleeping pills and put them in the juice. I forced him to drink the juice, explaining to him that he would have more energy for sex. So he took the juice and after some seconds he was asleep and I dressed and ran away.
Once I got outside of the hotel I didn’t have any energy anymore. I just stood against the wall and dropped. I was so sad because I thought at that time that I had no hope, I had no future, and people would sneer at me. I could feel it; they did not respect me anymore. I even said to myself at that time that I could die anytime, it would not matter.
The last word I have about trafficking is that I hope people will understand why we are prostituted. I hope that they will understand that we are there not because we want sex but because we need money to support ourselves and other people who depend on us. I hope people will understand, and respect us, and not put us down. When I see someone who is trafficked now, I really pity the girl because I know how difficult it is to be trafficked.
As told to Our Community in their report 'I Have a Voice: Trafficked Women - in their own words' by Angela Reed & Marietta Latonio