This is the second installment of a two-part series. The first part, “The Crusade Against Sex Trafficking,” was published in the October 5 issue. –The Editors
Drifting down Junquera Street after nightfall with your car doors unlocked is an unwise proposition. Pimps dart out from street corners and pound on the windows of passing cars–sometimes they are so eager to provide the services of their “girls” that they pry open car doors to make a more direct appeal. Visitors who make it out of the car unscathed face another gantlet at the main entrance of Kamagayan, one of the main red-light districts in Cebu City, the Philippines. Descend past the jostling throng and the howling of the karaoke bars, and the pathway wends toward brothels and alleyways strung with dim red lights, where customers come to find the underage prostitutes that Kamagayan is notorious for providing–along with drugs and gambling opportunities. Out of plain sight, in an alleyway, is a cluster of girls with puppyish, knobby knees. Their garish makeup stands out like neon on their young faces, adding to Kamagayan’s air of desperate pageantry.
Like Cambodia and Thailand, the Philippines suffers from a significant problem with child sex exploitation. But the Philippines provides more fertile ground for US work on anti-trafficking–the majority-Catholic country is more in ideological harmony with the abolitionist attitudes that hold sway in Washington. As Jean Enriquez, executive director of the Coalition Against the Trafficking in Women-Asia Pacific, asserted, “All prostitution is forced rape”–an idea that has great ideological and political resonance in the Philippines. Enriquez’s group is one of the main anti-trafficking organizers in the Philippines and a beneficiary of US government funds on the issue; the organization also helped draft the Philippines’ anti-trafficking legislation.
In the Philippines the International Justice Mission found a hospitable home for its work. IJM draws on the services of evangelical lawyers, law-enforcement officers and social workers, who enlist local counterparts and police to combat human rights abuses in the developing world. In the Philippines, as in India, Cambodia and, in the past, Thailand, IJM conducts “brothel raids”–its most controversial and best-known work–by providing evidence of trafficking to local police, collaborating on “interventions” to remove victims from the establishments and working to ensure the arrest and prosecution of their abusers.