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.
Jovie managed to escape her situation of sex slavery, but remained in prostitution making her own money. She explains that she wants to leave sex work altogether but, because of an addiction to the drugs that she was encouraged to use when she was enslaved, “it’s very hard to get out.”
My name is Jovie and I grew up in a mountainous area of the Philippines with very few neighbours. I am the only girl in my family and I was adopted. I have three brothers in my adoptive family and they were very abusive towards me. When I was young I can remember that sometimes my brother would spank me and then I was not very happy, especially when my adoptive mother transferred out of the house for work.
When I first learned that I was adopted I was very sad and I realised why I was not close with my brothers. I asked myself, “Why did my real mother give me to another person?” I thought that maybe there were plenty of brothers and sisters and there was no money to buy milk for all of us and that is why I was placed in a banana plantation for other people to find me.
My adoptive father worked in the sugar cane industry and this provided for our food and some education. I only attended school until the end of elementary. My father and I and my three brothers mostly lived together as my mother was relocated due to her work. When I would return home from school there was only my brothers and me and they would get mad at me and beat me up. So I used to run away and my father would come looking for me and bring me home.
I can remember an event at night when I was a child. I was home alone with my brother, who tended to be mentally challenged, maybe because of drugs. This night he came into the room I was sleeping in and he turned off the kerosene lamp and then he tried to rape me. I was shocked and fearful and eventually I told my adoptive parents and my cousin and they explained that he is mentally challenged. From then on I did not want to be close to him and I always locked my room and I was so fearful. Many times I saw him peeping at me.
Another time when I ran away because of my brothers I went to a beach area and there was a man there who stalked me and touched my body. I found a place where there were plenty of people but I was still fearful.
At 12 years old I started drinking alcohol. My friends and I mixed Coke and other soft drinks and gin. Once I ran away and got drunk and nearly drowned. It was good that my mother found me. I was punished badly for that. My older brother slapped me so hard I had a nose bleed. After that time I found a boyfriend and we always drank and had sex.
When I was 16 I ran away from home. I went to a small hut along the sea shore and I didn’t know that there were gangs of young boys. There were two gangs of boys and one of them came to the hut where I stayed, and I was nearly raped by them. But the other gang helped me so that I was not raped.
When I was 17 I ran away to Cebu City where I just wandered around the streets. A woman told me that I couldn’t stay in one place like a bystander because there were plenty of people with bad intentions who would take advantage of me. Later that woman told me that if I really wanted to work she could take me to Kamagayan [the red light district of Cebu City]. She found me a customer and we were accommodated in one of the hotels there. It was the first time I had been with a customer and I was very apprehensive and of course I didn’t like it but I just gave in.
In Kamagayan I was given a pimp. I didn’t like the place at first as I was not very accustomed to it but later, as days passed, I started to like the place. I really thought I liked Kamagayan. I had nowhere to go, no one to feed me, no one to give me money – it’s for those reasons that I liked Kamagayan.
The arrangement with the one who recruited me was that if I had a customer, my share would be 50 per cent. The procedure was that the customer would pay the manager and the manager would give me 50 per cent. I lived in the manager’s house and I was given food. Within a month of living there I started to use shabu [methamphetamine] because some relatives of the manager showed me how to use it.
They told me that the customers preferred women who knew how to use shabu and who drank alcohol and they told me that I would not be shy anymore.
My attitude was that I was there already and I had to accept it, whatever happened to me with the boys or with drugs. I considered myself strong. I didn’t have any relatives there and so I had to be strong to face the problems because it was my work and I could not work in settings other than in Kamagayan. I just had to cling to the day-to-day reality.
I was in Kamagayan for three months and then I was recruited to go to Manila. I was really forced to go to Manila because I didn’t want the friends of my older brother to see me and I didn’t want my family to know that I was in Kamagayan. So I took the chance to go to Manila and I worked in a bar.
I had a couple as my managers, whom I lived with. At night time, I would go into the bar and dress up. Sometimes I danced and sometimes I would just entertain customers. I was paid each Sunday, 50 per cent was for me and 50 per cent was for my managers. From my 50 per cent, they deducted money for my food, my dresses and my cosmetics. Most of the time this left me in debt to my managers. In the house we were living in there was always a guard who kept watch over us. There was an instance where one of the women there eloped with a boyfriend; that made our manager even stricter. We were forced to take our meals up inside the house and we could not go outside. The only time the house was opened was at 6pm to allow us to enter the bar, otherwise it was always locked.
After five months in the bar, a friend and I escaped. We tricked our guard, pretending that we were going to buy juice. Instead we rode on a tricycle and then transferred into a jeepney [a common form of public transport] until we came to another place in Manila. We pawned a necklace for PHP2000, rented a house and then continued to take customers. We did not have bosses there. We had money but we just spent it on drugs and alcohol. Then we had boyfriends who became our live-in partners.
I think trafficking happens because of the many problems that the women have, family problems that mean they do not want to go home so they just decide to stay there like I did. I think one of the factors that contributed to my being trafficked was that I was not very close to my family and also those things that happened to me like nearly being raped and having sex with others.
I don’t think I will go back to my hometown because of the many problems with my family. I can’t be at peace with my brother and my father has died and my mother is so sick. So, I think I will just stay here in Cebu forever.
In the future I can see myself having a partner, a man who can accept my past, and I will not be engaged in prostitution. I will stop. I plan to stop when I can find a man who loves me and accepts me but right now, I don’t have any plan. I am not very confident yet to recover. I don’t know what causes me to go out but I do know that every time I have a problem I run away. So when I have conflicts inside, I go out just as I did when I was very young. Every time I have a problem I run away. I am looking for peace. I want a family who can care for me, and I can care for; a small family. If I can establish a family of my own I will be happy.
If I had the opportunity, I would tell those women and girls who have not been in this situation, please refrain from being trafficked because it’s not good to be in this situation. If you are prostituted you will drink alcohol and use drugs and it’s very hard to get out. To be trafficked is a very difficult situation.
I would also like to tell the people, the general public, that they should not go to Kamagayan, especially the males. That way there would be no demand. Parents should guide their children so that these children will not go to Kamagayan.
Right now, I cannot understand my life. I want to surrender, I want to stop. These days I go out Friday, Saturday and Sunday and make money, but the money I get is spent on drugs and alcohol, so I really don’t have money. I want to change, maybe there are things that I cannot change, but I really want to change my life. I need to have a family, a peaceful family, and to find meaning in my life.
As told to Our Community in their report 'I Have a Voice: Trafficked Women - in their own words' by Angela Reed & Marietta Latonio