Leaving the sex industry and starting anew

Joy Maluyo

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Leaving the sex industry and starting anew
Danica, who became a sex worker at 12 years old, recalls her ordeal and how she began a new life

MANILA, Philippines – Danica, not her real name, is just one of the 60,000 to 100,000 child victims of trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation nationwide.

She did not plan on becoming a sex worker at the age of 12. She, just like any girl, had a dream.

While poverty is one of the factors why children her age are forced to work in the sex industry, there are other reasons.

“Things changed when my parents separated. I was being passed on [from one household to another] so I ran away,” said Danica.

With no food to eat and no place to stay in, she went to bars in Cagayan de Oro and gave in to her friends’ nudging.

Cagayan de Oro is one of the 3 provinces in Northern Mindanao with a high incidence of trafficking.

The Task Force Against Human Trafficking 2008 report of the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) showed that 38% of trafficking victims are from Bukidnon, 35% are from Cagayan de Oro, and 11% are from Misamis Oriental. Of the 138 cases recorded, 117 involved children. (READ: Sex at the drop of a tweet or a like)

Danica earned P5,000 the first time she engaged in prostitution.

“They say it’s easy money but it’s not. I felt dirty during that night. I felt dirty in the next months and years that I had to do that but when I started to pay for my apartment and buy good food, I could no longer stop,” she admitted. 

Her vulnerability was continuously taken advantage of by pimps. Every night, she would receive a text message from her handler, someone she only knew by an alias. She would get at least P2,000 to P3,000 every time. To ease her guilt, she turned to drugs and solvent.

Starting life anew

Fast forward to 2017 – Danica is now 16 and has just given birth to a girl. 

“My pregnancy was the last straw. I was already planning on quitting even before it happened, thanks to the patience of the volunteers of Tisaka,” she said.

SEX WORK. Danica shows text messages she received from her handler.

Tisaka or Tingog sa Kasanag is a local organization that focuses on women and children who are survivors or at risk of prostitution, trafficking, and abuse. It is one of World Vision’s partners in the implementation of the Teaching Health and Resilience to Children through Inclusive Values and Empowerment (THRIVE) project, an initiative that helps children recover from harmful and traumatic experiences, including sexual exploitation.

The project is implemented across Cagayan de Oro, Bukidnon, and Misamis Oriental, where World Vision has been doing development work for 16 years.

Danica received help through the project when she was turning 16. Staying at a temporary shelter, she underwent psychosocial interventions, counseling, and HIV and AIDS testing.

It wasn’t easy at first.

“I was in and out of the shelter. Having people genuinely care about me was something I was no longer used to. They would text me regularly and whenever I go back, they still show the same love and concern,” said Danica.

No going back

According to Connie Quebada, World Vision’s THRIVE project manager, the work is challenging.

“There are many children like Danica who are already in the shelter but would still run away and go back to the street. It’s not just because of poverty. Each girl has her reason,” she added.

World Vision is also working closely with the City Social Welfare and Development Office (CSWD) of Cagayan de Oro to further address the needs of the rescued girls.

“The different counseling sessions also showed me how badly hurt I was with my parents’ separation. I used to think that this was my revenge against them. I was too focused on my anger that I never saw other people taking advantage of that grief,” Danica said, adding that it was only recently that she started holding herself accountable for the things that happened to her.

Danica then showed her scarred hand, saying that she tried to harm herself with a blade when her parents separated.

“When I started admitting it to myself, I realized that at least it’s not yet too late. I started reconciling with my parents,” she added. 

Danica now lives with her partner’s family. In partnership with the CSWD and Community Improvement Division Office of Cagayan de Oro, they participate in the THRIVE project’s skills training and livelihood arm.

Her partner will be taking the National Certificate II exam conducted by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) in the next months. The certification will not only give him better chances of landing a good job, but also increase his chances of getting a job abroad, which he and Danica have been dreaming of.

“There are times when I watch my baby sleep and I whisper to her that she will not become like me. I already stopped doing my previous work so she’ll be proud of me,” Danica said. – Rappler.com

Joy Maluyo is an emergency communications specialist from World Vision.

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