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2015 (Narrative date)

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.

Rosanna travelled to Cebu City under the false pretences of working in a convenience shop, but was instead sexually exploited for a year and a half before she was able to leave the situation.

My father died even before I was born and seven months after my birth my mother also died. I was cared for then by my father’s daughter, whom I fondly called Mamay.

My mother was a mistress. Due to circumstances, my Mamay went to Manila and I was left under the care of my father’s first wife. She treated me badly, and she would often introduce me to her friends as the daughter of a sinful woman. When I was growing up, I felt shame and bad about myself. 

I was 18 when I ran away from home and stayed with my friend who introduced me to an old woman who was responsible for buying my boat ticket to Cebu City. This woman told me that I would be working in a sari-sari store [a small convenience outlet]. I met her in the morning and that night she and I boarded a big boat bound for Cebu City. Before we left she gave me PHP500 which I used to buy things for me.

I was a little bit puzzled that my acceptance as a store keeper had been so easy and I thought maybe the store owner was not good and other negative thoughts came into my mind. On the other hand, I told myself that it was a good opportunity for me. During the boat trip, the old woman told me some of the names of girls who came from my town whom she had also brought to Cebu City. I knew some of the girls and I thought their work must be good because when they came home, they were transformed into beautiful women and looked wealthy. 

Upon arriving at the seaport, I was bought breakfast and after, we boarded a taxi and went to the place where I would have to work. The place was congested with many houses. We came up into a big house which I noticed had plenty of small rooms but no store. Inside the house were plenty of women who were sleeping like the dead. I made friends with some of the girls in that house and they explained to me that later in the evening I had to take a shower and change to new clothes. I wondered why. However, in one of the corners of the house I saw a small space where bottles of beers were sold. I thought that must be the store.

That evening, I observed that the girls had their showers and were in good form already. They wore skimpy dresses and make-up. A few moments later I saw the girls were engaged in small talk with men who came to the house. They would go inside the room and after a while they came out again.

I said to myself, “I don’t understand what is going on.” Then some of my friends asked whether I was not told that I was in Kamagayan [the red light district of Cebu City]. I did not know the place. So they told me that it was a place where paid sex was done and pimps would come to bring customers. Every customer would do business with the pimp, and the pimp would give us PHP50 for every customer we served.

I was shocked. I discovered later that the old woman was the owner of the house and her children were her assistants. They took turns watching over us because they were the ones who collected the money from the patrons whom the girls had served.

That first night, I was assigned to a customer. I cried a lot. When I was entertaining the customer I asked myself, “Is this really my fate, my destiny, to be like this?” When I came out of the room, I was still crying and the gay son of the old woman scolded me and sent me upstairs to sleep. The next day was again the same, we slept and in the afternoon entertained customers. My friend told me that she was able to entertain 20 customers on the previous night. I said, “What kind of life is this? But since I am already here, I have to embrace it because this is my destiny.”

Every night plenty of customers came, one after the other without rest. Each time, I went inside the comfort room and washed and served again a new customer. It was tiresome, so all the time I used shabu [methamphetamine] to ease my emotional pain. It was not the physical aspects that caused me so much pain but the emotional. Sometimes I would make jokes with the customers just to ease the pain. I could entertain at least 15 in one night. Sometimes, customers would demand that I do good service because they paid extra money or gave a ‘tip’ to the watchers. The watchers got the ‘tip’, not me. 

The agreement with the owner was that for every customer I would get PHP50. However, this amount was not paid to me immediately. It would come to me at the end of the week after calculation of my food, drugs and other things they had given me. Sometimes I ended up with no money collected and I even incurred a debt – practically, I got no cash pay for one week’s work. The shabu was charged at PHP300 per pack and they made us take at least two packs of it every night.

Because I would get no money at the end of the week, the owner would at times offer me a cash advance. These cash advances piled up and I ended up with heaps of debt.

I often times got penalties because of some actions that I made. These included not doing good service for PHP500; if I quarrelled with customers that would be another PHP500; if I did not display myself very well, another PHP500; and so on and so forth. All of these penalties compounded my debts to the employer.

One day, I thought that I would need to be clever in order to get money. From then on, when a customer demanded to play with my breast, I charged him PHP50 for each so I could get extra money. I told my customers that they paid for sex, not for playing with my breasts. That strategy made me laugh. Another clever trick that I did with my customers, especially those I sensed were first timers or students, was I would tell them I would have sex with them with my shirt on because they had paid only for my vagina. If they wanted to play with the upper parts of my body, I charged them PHP500, and an additional PHP500 if I led. My customers varied from office workers to labourers to butchers, to men from the rural areas to students, but I didn’t like foreigners.

As time went by, I made many regular customers. They would line up until I was done serving the person who had come in earlier. Often these customers would say, “I’m next.” I just laughed at them. To me it was not good but I accepted my destiny. Sometimes I used shabu [methamphetamine] even if I was serving a customer. I cried a lot.

Usually I served one customer at a time but there was one instance that six of them came into the room. Only one had sex with me but my hands were grabbed to hold another one’s penis and others were touching me. It was horrible. I did not know who I was that time. I really pitied and felt very sorry for myself but I could not do anything.

I should say that those regular customers came for sex, not because they wanted to see me or cared for me. There was even one time when my dress was stained with blood because the customer just came from his job as a butcher – his body still had pig’s blood on it – while others dropped by before going to the Carbon Market [Cebu’s largest farmers’ market] with baskets in their hands. 

One time I felt so abused that I quarrelled with my customer but instead of protecting me, the owner scolded me. I said to her, “How come you favour the customer when I am the one who makes you live, I am your source of money? You get half of my earnings and yet you are not the one who is prostituted, it’s me who provides the service, if I do not work, you cannot eat.” I said, “If I have some responsibilities towards you, you have also some responsibilities towards me, because you said when you recruited me that I would work in a decent place but you deceived me and brought me here.” 

I was also penalised when I served a customer for more than 10 minutes. If the customer still had money he would be charged for the extension, but if he had none, then it would be charged against my pay at the end of the week. I told the owner, “You are good only at collecting the money. You did not care what happened to me inside the room, I was treated like a pig.” After our quarrel, the owner’s blood pressure got high. “Good for her,” I said.

I was in the red light district for a year and a half. It is not true that prostituted women like sex and that that is why they do that work. I was in that place because I felt no one loved me and I had nowhere to go, and because I was so addicted to shabu [methamphetamine].

As told to Our Community  in their report  'I Have a Voice: Trafficked Women - in their own words' by Angela Reed & Marietta Latonio