This is Part 1 of 2 in a series presenting the research findings of Justin Hakuta (NJ), who won a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship to the Philippines after graduating from Carnegie Mellon. At the time, Hakuta was interested in pursuing a career in human rights investigation.
I bob and weave through the sweating rush hour foot traffic following Mylene, a survivor of sex trafficking, through the moonlit urban sprawl of Manila.
The air hangs thick, saturated by a combination of tropical humidity and car exhaust. Reggaeton blasts from the booming speakers of jeepneys, the ubiquitous Philippine buses which were formerly World War II era U.S. troop transports. Their gaudy colors and neon lights cast an eerie glow over the darkness and grime of the crowded city streets.
Police sirens blare. Poorly lit huts hawking the latest pirated DVDs, computer programs and porn dot the landscape. The stench of cheap meat and grilled animal innards burns my nose. Prostitutes set up shop on street corners beckoning customers, their pimps, the majority of whom are female, hover close by like aggressive mother hens. Robbers and kidnappers hide in the shadows.
Mylene points to a rundown motel: “I was almost murdered there by a customer a few years back when I was working as a prostitute.”
This is Cubao, Manila.
Think Times Square, pre-Giuliani, in the third world; home to prostitutes, stick up kids and corrupt cops alike and one of the many homes of human trafficking in the Philippines.
In 2007 I spent 10 months on a U.S. Fulbright grant researching what non-governmental organizations in the Philippines are doing to combat human trafficking (trafficking).
The following is a glimpse of what I discovered.
DEFINING THE ISSUE
Human trafficking is modern day slavery.
The U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 defines trafficking as:
1) Sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion or in which the person induced to perform such an act is under 18, or
2) The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion, for the purpose of subjecting that person to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.
Human trafficking is an umbrella term for various forms of exploitation including, but not limited to:
I met her through the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women- Asia Pacific, one of the innovative non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that I shadowed while abroad. Like many of the trafficking victims in the Philippines, and around the world, Mylene was a young girl from the countryside when she was duped into the sex industry. At the age of 13 she made the decision to work so her younger siblings would have enough to eat and attend school.
Jobs were scarce. Her parents struggled to put food on the table. Her mom ended up in prostitution.
Mylene found a job working as a waitress at a local night club. Towards the end of her first week she was offered as a gift by the nightclub owner to a local politician. The politician beat Mylene, burned her with cigarettes and doused her with liquor before raping her.
This was Mylene’s introduction to the world of forced prostitution.
THE PEARL OF THE ORIENT
In the Philippines, trafficking predominantly takes the form of forced prostitution, forced labor and domestic slavery.
In Angeles City, a few hours bus ride from Manila, one can find stages filled with scantily clad Filipinas wearing their “licenses,” small plastic tags signifying they had passed their bi-weekly STD test at the local government-run health clinic. Customers pay anywhere from $20 to $50 US to take a girl home for the night. According to a United Nations study, unlike Thailand and other South East Asian nations, the Philippines does not yet have, at least officially, a high rate of HIV/AIDS amongst its sex workers, which attracts both locals and foreigners from the U.S., Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Australia.
The thriving illegal flesh trade is a highly lucrative business for traffickers who, unlike drugs, are able to reuse their “investments”, in this case women, over and over again resulting in enormous profits.
Although prostitution alone does not qualify as trafficking, many times the two are intertwined as young women are at first deceived and then forced into the sex trade by the initial promise of a job and the subsequent reality of rape and psychological abuse that follows.
Puerto Galera- Over icy bottles of San Miguel beer, an Australian sex tourist brags about how he has slept with no less than 2,500 Filipina prostitutes over the course of twenty some years and never caught a sexually transmitted disease. Pretending to be a sex tourist “newbie”, he giddily divulges to me which brothels to visit according to price, age, performance and the services offered by the women. At the next table an old man, American in appearance, fervently snaps pictures of a young girl in a pink tank top and mini skirt wearing too much make up as she shyly sips her drink and looks at the floor, visibly uncomfortable.