Long, hard road to freedomBy Jessa Chrisna Marie J. Agua
Cebu Daily News
From their looks and disposition, one would not have guessed that “Emma” and “Michelle” once worked in the underbelly of prostitution.
When they were presented at a Cebu City forum on June 12, the two women spoke calmly about being holed up in a red house, of going hungry on lean days when they couldn’t find a customer to entertain.
The two women now work with a non-government organization (NGO) to combat human trafficking.
“Emma” and “Michelle” are “experiential advocates” against trafficking, said Brother Paul, an SVD missionary.
“They are the ones who can really talk about human trafficking because they know how it feels to be victims.”
He said the Independence Day forum was timely because the two women were liberated from sexual slavery.
Human trafficking, as defined by Republic Act 9208 or the Anti-Human Trafficking Act is the “recruitment, transportation, transfer or harboring, or receipt of persons with or without the victim’s consent for prostitution and exploitation.”
Emma told reporters she was 16 when she left northern Mindanao for a job offer in Cebu promised by an acquaintance.
“I wanted to prove to my mother who left me in an orphanage that I can stand on my own,” she said. Emma was sent to a shelter after witnessing her stepfather molesting her younger sister.
When the orphanage closed because the missionary died, she had nowhere to go.
From the pier, the recruiter turned her over to another woman in a house full of girls. The place turned out to be a “casa” (prostitution den) in barangay Kamagayan, Cebu City’s red light district.
When Emma asked a woman where they were, she was told “You don’t know your new job? We will make money tonight.”
For over five years, Emma said she was forced to work as a prostitute at night and was locked in the casa during daytime.
“If we didn’t get a customer the night before, we wouldn’t be allowed to eat the next day,” she said.
Michelle, born and raised in Cebu, said prostitution was a matter of survival.
“When my father died, I was forced to feed myself. My mother had no work,” she said.
Alochol and drugs were part of her job as a club dancer.
“I had to use drugs so that I wouldn’t feel anything in order to be able to work,” Emma said.
Both women said they had no choice back then.
“I didn’t want to enter this dirty job,” Michelle said. They were given a way out by an NGO.
The road to a new life, giving up alochol and drugs, wasn’t easy though.
“It was very hard. For a long time you’ve been doing it. It’s hard to let go. But after a long process, I was able to stay sober,” Emma said.
Michelle had similar difficulty.
“I was in and out of the center. I didn’t embrace the help around me right away because I did not understand. Now, I am one of them in battling human trafficking,” Michelle said.
“A lot has changed. We believe that life is still valuable after everything,” Emma said.