Sex Slavery and the Pandemic

Sex Slavery and the Pandemic

Prostitutes don’t sell their bodies, they rent their bodies. Housewives sell their bodies when they get married.

— Civil rights advocate Florynce Rae Kennedy

AT the youthful age of 13, Jay Ann needed to get a job. But sex slavery never crossed her mind then in looking for employment in the bustling part of Manila.

It all started with a friend. She had asked if she would be interested in working in a popular sports bar in Ermita, at the center of the city of the metropolis, as she was “young” and had a “pleasing personality.” The offer included earning enough money to support her needs as a teen and also her family.

“It was a perfect fit. I imagined I could help my parents financially and at the same time earn for myself,” Jay Ann told Maharlika TV News (MTVN).

Her unemployed parents in Caloocan were equally thrilled about the prospect of at least one of their children being employed. The other option for Jay Ann was to get married with her boyfriend and raise her own family even at a very young age.

When she arrived with her friend at the sports bar in Ermita, the establishment turned out to be a watering hole for lecherous men, mostly foreigners who wanted to have a good time with Filipina hookers.

There were other girls older than her who worked in the same restobar. All had the same story. Each dreamed of lifting their family from poverty or supporting younger siblings who needed education.

Jay Ann’s friend described to her what had to be done while at the bar. They only had to entertain customers, drink and eat with them and probably go out with any of them for a fee. Her friend also told her not to reveal her real age because it might jeopardize their livelihood. She agreed to remain silent just like the other young girls who were at the bar.

After three months, Jay Ann already knew her job so well like the back of her hand. She knew about entertaining the men but she never was offered to go out with one of those few who desired her company but only in conversation and drinking.

One night, however, the sports bar’s manager, an Italian named Stefano, told her that someone wanted to have dinner with her—a favorite customer of the establishment. She was given some money and told to go to the man’s room at a posh hotel nearby.

Going to the hotel, Jay Ann met a man in his 60s. After a few sips of wine, she was told the purpose of her visit.

He was a German expat named George Steiner who wanted to “help” poor Filipinas by giving them money in exchange for nude photos and videos of them and at times have sex. He asked Jay Ann if he could take pictures and videos of her “for a fee she could not refuse.”

“He offered me 20,000 pesos (US$500) to expose my breasts and thighs on the internet. He offered a very good sum, plus my friend-cum-manager also encouraged me to do it. She assured me no one would touch me . . . I thought of my parents . . . and how I could help them. So, I said yes.”

After a few photo shoots, she said she got used to the job. She had developed her own circle of clients who would often request her photos, videos and sex.

“After some time, I told myself it was acceptable because it was only myself that I was selling. I showed them my body and sometimes had some fun. I don’t consider myself a prostitute and consider what I’m doing as a business transaction. I give them what they want and I get paid for it,” Jay Anna explained to MTVN.

The only part that was sad was that Jay Ann learned to take drugs because at the outset, she felt uncomfortable giving her body to someone she really was not acquainted with. But when she was ‘high’ in drugs she got the courage to face the challenge and eventually she enjoyed what she was doing and even became an expert.

Until now when she’s already 22, Jay Ann does her thing but less frequently now because of the ongoing pandemic and the lessening number of foreign tourists. At times she accepted offers from her fellow Filipinos but at a drastically lesser price of PhP1,000 or even PhP500, depending on her needs at the time.

Jay Ann’s story is similar to those of many thousands of Filipino children who languish in sex slavery and there is one thread that binds them all—poverty. The Philippines has actually become a global center for online sexual exploitation of children. These crimes involve forcing children to perform sex acts for the satisfaction of paying customers in live internet broadcasts in small internet cafes, private homes and other secluded private spaces.

In 2018, the Department of Justice (DoJ) reported receiving 600,000 cyber tips of images and videos of naked, sexualized and abused children and this number shows an increase of more than 1,000 percent from the 45,645 cases recorded by the agency in 2017.

But the conviction rate in the Philippines for child exploitation is very poor with only 32 convictions for cyber-trafficking have been meted out since 2017 by the Philippines’ Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking.

What is appalling, though, is the fact that there are reports that say online sexual exploitation of children is often conducted with the involvement of parents or family members. The truth is, their participation is often indispensable in its commission.

Last year in May, during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, a 35-year-old mother was caught by authorities selling live-streamed feeds of three of her own children, aged eight to 17 years old, and their 14-year-old cousin performing sex acts for the benefit of online predators and pedophiles.

When asked by the authorities what pushed her to exploit the innocence and tenderness of her own children and nephew, she merely rationalized that what she was doing was for their welfare.

“I did it for them. They were not actually being molested . . . It’s just the Internet. The money that I got was for their education and our food,” she enthused.

Situations similar to this have sprouted like mushrooms in the dark and the Covid-19 pandemic, which has brought down crime rates according to the Philippine National Police (PNP), only fired up the online sexual exploitation of more and more children. Overall crimes in 2020 decreased by 39.58 percent but cyber crimes involving children increased exponentially.

This is clearly defined in a cautionary statement from justice secretary Menardo Guevarra: “It is a Goliath-like problem in the country. This threat must be stopped before it spreads more fear, violence and exploitation.”

Our country is home to some 36 million children or one third of the 110 million population and at least 3.3 million children aged 5 to 17 are trapped in some sort of child labor, based on 2011 data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA). Unofficially, estimates point to at least 5.5 million children who are currently working under strenuous conditions. Government figures say 2 million children, or 61.9 percent of working children, are engaged in hazardous child labor such as working in rice fields and mines.

Of the 17 regions in the country, in 14 regions 10 percent of children are engaged in manual labor with Mindanao having the highest rate at 22.1 percent. In addition, government data also reveals that working boys (62.9 percent) outnumbered working girls (37.1 percent).

With sex traffickers abounding in the internet, there is a need for parents to limit their children’s time online. Or else, parents must supervise their children while doing school work online.

But no matter what approach is taken, we all should realize that at most times hunger and poverty bring out the worst in people.

It’s unfortunate that Jay Ann is still hooked in surviving the hardships of life through her online activities and self-exploitation, and we know that there are several Jay Anns who must be boarding buses to sex slavery today and many more are continuing their servitude in the dark alleys of Manila and other cities in the archipelago. (ai/mtvn)

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