Empowered children win convictions of sex traffickers, abusers

by Fr. Shay Cullen

| Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

Crystal was only ten years old when, one day, her father took her into a room in their house in San Narciso, Zambales, and there he sexually assaulted her. He thought that he could rape his daughter with impunity and do what he liked to his child, having ascendancy over her. Crystal was shocked, hurt, and traumatized by the sexual abuse and cried. She ran and told her older brother Emmanuel, and he reported the abuse.

The municipal social worker referred Crystal to the Preda Foundation healing home for abused children in Subic, Zambales. She was welcomed, supported, affirmed, and encouraged in the family of 56 children, many of whom had suffered similar abuse as Crystal.

In the Emotional Release Therapy, Crystal poured out all her pain, hurt, and anger at her father. “You are supposed to protect me; instead, you abused me,” she shouted at her father in the sound-proof therapy room. After weeks of therapy, Crystal was healed, recovered, and had new self-confidence. She bravely filed her case with the prosecutor as she wanted justice.

When she was called to testify in court, Crystal spoke bravely, strongly, and clearly. Judge Maribel Mariano-Beltran of the Regional Trial Court Branch 13 in Iba, Zambales, heard it all and believed Crystal and her father could only deny the accusations. On 7 June 2024, he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

Some government authorities and lawyers frequently arrange plea bargaining for abusers, some getting probation. The reason, they say, is to spare the child testifying and avoid any re-traumatizing of the child victim. Re-traumatizing is likely every day of her life as the memory will never be erased because they get no professional therapy and healing. The child has lost her trust in people. Her self-value is diminished, and she will not be cured.

Five judges in Cebu expressed concern that there was no such protection and healing home in Cebu for victims. The victims mysteriously disappear and never get to testify; the family of the accused sees to that. The judges say a protective therapeutic home is urgently needed.

“There are millions of abuse victims who need healing and suffer in silence, never to be heard. Unicef, in their survey, said that approximately seven million children reported to them that they were sexually abused in one year alone.”

Without residential therapeutic healing centers, government social workers leave many vulnerable, abused children terrified and unprotected from the family of the abuser or the community. Almost no government, long-term protection healing centers with care, therapy, and legal assistance exist. The child victims are so traumatized they do not come to court to testify. Many are “disappeared” by relatives of the accused trafficker or abuser.

President Marcos Jr. said he wants to leave a legacy of ending child sexual abuse. A noble ambition indeed. He will not succeed for sure without the honest and true commitment and ability of the government agencies to detect online abuse, rescue victims of child abuse and human trafficking, and provide therapeutic centers with Emotional Release Therapy to heal the abused and trafficked children. We need proper therapeutic homes to heal and strengthen the child to testify and live a more normal life after justice is done.

There are millions of abuse victims who need healing and suffer in silence, never to be heard. Unicef, in their survey, said that approximately seven million children reported to them that they were sexually abused in one year alone. Undersecretary Angelo Tapales, executive director of the Council for the Welfare of Children (CWC), was reported as saying that a total of 8,948 Filipino children were reported as victims of child sex abuse in 2023 alone. What happened to them? Where did they get therapy and healing? Have they just been sent home after a day of DSWD counseling?

That figure is just the tip of a great iceberg of child abuse, most of which goes unseen and unreported. It is estimated that one in every three girl children suffer abuse and one in every five boys. They have nowhere to go to be healed and get justice. If the Philippines is the Titanic, it is sinking fast in an ocean known as a pedophile paradise.

The Preda Foundation and this writer urge Senator Risa Hontiveros and her fellow senators and congress-people to support a proposed new law to establish government-funded therapeutic homes for abused children and a special court to hear their cases in continual hearings without postponements or allowing private “out-of-court” settlements and pay-offs. This is urgently needed.

Preda therapeutic homes have healed and empowered many children to fight and win hundreds of court cases against their rapists and abusers since 1996. In recent years, children have won an average of twenty convictions against their abusers every year. By 12 June 2024, they have, with help from Preda, good prosecutors and just judges, won 12 convictions already this year. Therapeutic homes are powerful and necessary in the fight against child abuse and human trafficking.

The case of Maria and Princess is inspiring. They were 13- and 15-year-old children when they were imprisoned in their home in San Marcelino, Zambales. Maria was continually raped by her father, two brothers and an uncle. She endured this for many years and was totally traumatized, frozen by fear into total silence. Her sister, Princess, likewise, was sexually abused by her father, a brother, and a neighbor. Their mother allowed it to happen and said nothing. Princess finally got out and told a friendly family of the abuse. They were rescued and brought to the protection and care of the Preda home. There, they bravely overcame the fear and trauma with Emotional Release Therapy.

They were given all the support and help needed, and they found the courage to file complaints against their relatives and testify in court. The two brothers, father and uncle, were convicted by Judge Gemma Theresa Hilario-Logronio, a strong-minded judge who stated that the clear testimonies of the children were convincing and concise to find the accused guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Justice was done and seen to be done, and all because of the therapy and help they receive in the Preda children’s therapeutic home, without which justice for them would not be done.

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