Human trafficking, slavery in our time

Fr. Shay Cullen

It’s impossible to imagine the sheer joy and exuberance of the freed victims of human bondage. When Jessica, Ruby, Angelica, Celine, and Theresa were liberated from their human traffickers, they could not believe it. That realization took some time in coming to their well-conditioned and convinced minds that they were in debt and had to work for a long time to pay it off and there was no escape.

The recruiter trafficker had given money to their parents in advance of their so-called promised wages. It was a loan to be paid off by the minors and youth working in a posh Manila hotel. That is what they were told by the human trafficker.

They were brought to Olongapo City and locked in a sex hotel where hundreds of international lusting uncouth sex tourists came to sexually abuse the young girls. Several of them were minors. Instead of a good job, they lived in fear and dread. They were the victims of human trafficking.

They were captives in debt bondage and could never get free unless all the money owed was paid to the trafficker. When in captivity, they had done everything demanded of them by the hotel owner, his staff and the “mamasan” or they would be arrested and jailed. So they were told.

They were told that their families, neighbors, and friends in their hometown would know that they worked as prostituted girls. It would be all over social media and they would live with the shame forever. It would never be erased and they would be branded for life. That fear of jail and the shame held them in check. They could not run away, they had no mobile phones, which were forbidden, and they could not call for help. Besides, they were closely guarded like prisoners of the hotel day and night.

When suddenly there was a surprise raid by police and social workers, the investigators burst into the foyer of the cheap hotel and rounded up the manager and the sex club operator and the girls. There was little explanation at first to the girls as they were taken, scared, shivering in their skimpy revealing clothes into the lounge. Then the government social workers came, sat them down, and talked with them while the police in civilian clothes stood nearby. The girls were asked their names, ages and how long they had been there and if they received wages and if they had been sexually exploited.

They all fearfully answered no and said that they were paid and were over the age of 18 years and therefore adults. That is what they were told to say by their recruiter trafficker and hotel manager if ever asked. They were shaking with fear of exposure in social media and they thought they had committed a crime. That’s why they did not want to be rescued yet they hated what they were forced to do.

Those who looked very young, Angelica and Celine, were taken aside and two women police dentists examined their teeth to determine if they were really minors. Yes they were, it was determined. There was clear evidence of a violation of the anti-trafficking law, no matter what the girls said. The manager, two staff and the “mamasan” were arrested.

Later, it was established that two were 16 and 17 and the others were 18 years of age but all were trafficking victims as they were held without free consent. The girls were then taken into care and later reunited to their families. Yet they were in need of shelter, counseling, and therapy, which the government social workers did not provide.

This is the human suffering of as many 24.5 million humans in the world today. So what we learn from this is that human trafficking is a crime against persons, whereby force or false promises, they are taken from one place to another, treated as commodities and objects without human dignity or rights and are exploited and forced to work against their will. They receive little or no pay when placed in a situation of abuse and forced servitude or slavery without the means to escape.

Human trafficking of victims into slavery has never disappeared as we see from the true story above. It has just become more sophisticated and clever. Many women in the western world are forced to work in slave-like conditions in beauty parlors, nail shops, factories and as domestic servants as in Asia and South America. They could be serving our coffee in a café. They are not paid sufficient wages, are exploited, work long hours and are controlled.

They also suffer debt bondage; they are brought on tourist visas to the western countries like Poland, Germany, and France for example, to work in the brothels and threatened with bodily harm if they refuse. Besides, their passports are taken from them. If they escape they will be illegal migrants and detained in a jail or migrant camp.

A minor can never give consent to being prostituted and even adults in debt bondage cannot be free to choose. That is the essence of being human, free choice about what is best for them as they decide, not others. Yet they are deprived of this basic human right and as Pope Francis has said, human trafficking is a crime against humanity. There is no consent or freedom of choice in modern slavery. Their life knows no peace, only fear, and intimidation.

We all need to be aware individuals with a questioning, inquiring mind and form support groups to act to protect and help the vulnerable victims. As activists defending the rights of the victims of human trafficking, we need to have a heart filled with compassion and understanding, a head filled with knowledge and wisdom. Without those virtues, we will be useless to help the victims.

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