They were only fourteen years old and intrigued with the teenage urge to know and experience everything. They fell for the bait of the trafficker. He was able to give them money and gifts and one by one he had them join a “fraternity,” a group of girls whom he abused in his private house. He gave them a taste for drugs and they became dependent on him.
Then he invited his friends over and they too sexually abused the girls and he gave the girls drugs and money. It was by then no longer an experimental teenage romp but they were being commercially sexually exploited. Soon they came to depend on the money and frequently went to the house of the trafficker and stayed over for some days and were sexually exploited by customers. He made money out of them. In effect, it was a private brothel.
The federal police were alerted and followed up a tip-off and discovered the trafficking operation that was going on. The municipal social worker was called in during the raid of the private brothel and six girls were rescued and referred to the Preda Home for Girls. The medico-legal check up revealed that all had been sexually abused many times. The suspect is in jail and his customers are under investigation.
We can expect a counter-attack from the suspected abusers. They have vilified Preda on the internet or may make legal counter-charges and false allegations against us as happened in the past. This is normal for human rights defenders of abused children. Foreigners who are arrested or charged with child abuse are the most revengeful and post evil and baseless allegations. Some are filled with anger, hatred, and desire to get revenge against us for exposing their dirty acts of human trafficking and child abuse.
When we at Preda rescue an abused child from the abuser’s home or from a sex bar, some of those foreigners accused or put on trial by the authorities will file kidnapping charges. As human rights advocates, we have been charged with libel and slander. When we campaigned to end the Davao Death Squad in 1999 we were charged by the Mayor with libel. All the charges were eventually dismissed, manufactured and proven false. That is the risk we take in defending the exploited, abused victims of human trafficking.
One American suspect who made false allegations against Preda staff went to the point of falsely charging a good prosecutor. He was convicted in court of making false allegations and was sentenced to two years in jail. But by some legal maneuvering, he has not yet served the two years in jail. He may still be behind the campaign vilifying our work with manufactured allegations and working through others on the internet to get revenge. His failure to serve sentence ought to be investigated. It’s time to reopen the case.
Even some of the children rescued from the traffickers are not happy to be rescued. They are dependent and have been “bonded” by debts, gifts and drugs to the trafficker. They see him or her as their “best friend” even as a sex partner. They don’t want to admit they were abused by him and others and will not, at first, file a complaint against the trafficker. But that has changed.
At first, they don’t want to stay at the Preda Center and get help. They don’t see that they need help and want to run back to their trafficker. They want to get drugs to deal with the trauma of having been found and rescued as commercially sexually exploited children. They need to cover up their shame from their parents, brothers, sisters, friends and relatives.
They did not at first accept that they were being exploited. They were friends with their trafficker and pimp and they wanted the money. Preda social workers have counseled them and took them through the reality of their lives in the emotional expression therapy. There in the padded therapy room, they released a lot of anger and pent up emotions.
They had anger to their parents for abandoning them or misunderstanding them or scolding them. They became rebellious teenagers out of control of their parents. After therapy sessions, they have now calmed down. They released day after day their anger at themselves, their abusers and their parents. They have moved from the feelings stage to the thinking stage and are listening and have changed their attitude and realized their worth as persons and with rights and dignity. This is a profound shift in a human person- from a willing victim to an empowered youth looking for justice.
The Preda social worker contacted their parents. They have begun family therapy with them to bring understanding, support for the girls and reconciliation. They can look forward to a brighter future and the suspect is in the jail and facing charges of human trafficking.
In another case where a father abandoned the family and then the mother abandoned the children and left them in the care of a distant relevant, the children were sexually abused. They were rescued and brought to the protection and care of the Preda Children’s Home. But the accused went to get the child out to stop them from filing charges and testifying against him. The accused influenced the mother so she filed a case against Preda, a Habeas Corpus case, to get the children back into her custody. But this will not succeed and we are counseling her to care and love her children and resist the pressure of the abuser.
The fight for justice for children and for Preda goes on. Those vilifying Preda and the children, one day, will be brought to justice. May it be soon.
Fr. Shay Cullen is a co-founder of PREDA.org -- a nonprofit dedicated to protecting vulnerable children.