That’s the “most difficult” hurdle that must be crossed for a victim of human trafficking to return to dignity and self-reliance.
Social worker Arianne Nadela of Good Shepherd Welcome House (GSWH) shared this insight with Camputhaw stakeholders and students of the University of the Philippines (UP) Cebu gathered for the April 20 seminar on strengthening community advocacy to fight human trafficking.
For Nadela and GSWH co-worker Lord Latonio, the process of regaining trust encompasses not just the trafficked persons but also the community that must not only protect the vulnerable, especially women and children, but also extend compassion and support for those seeking to end the exploitation.
What began as a course requirement on conducting a public information campaign became for UP Cebu students Stela Andit, Reyna Cadiz, Angel Cataluña, Ysabel Muñoz and Julius Rañoa a continuation of their volunteerism as members of Justice Advocates, a campus-based organization educating stakeholders about human trafficking.
Since January, the UP Cebu students collaborated with the GSWH to conduct and document Community Weave seminars that aim not only to educate but also to involve students, teachers, barangay workers, and entrepreneurs in preventing trafficking and aiding victims.
Cebu is at the center of domestic and international trafficking of minors, serving as a “source area, a transit point for trafficked victims, and a destination” for victims as young as three months old, observed Chief Inspector Rose Santolorin of the Police Regional Office 7’s Women and Child Protection Desk during the seminar.
Based on her experience of rescuing minors during raids conducted at cybersex dens, Santolorin told seminar participants that community vigilance is crucial for alerting authorities.
She said that in the online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC), which is increasingly becoming a common form of trafficking in Cebu, biological parents and grandparents carry out the abuse and exploitation at home.
Carried out at a young age, the abuse does not just put the victim at physical risk from unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, illegal drug and alcohol abuse. Human trafficking corrodes the self-esteem of persons, preventing them from leaving their abusers, observed Nadela.
“Why do I need help when my life is worthless?” was a question asked by a girl who was trafficked at the age of 13 and became an “entrepreneur” selling other commercial sex workers by the time she turned 16, narrated the GSWH social worker.
Recognizing the needs of trafficked persons for food, rest, and the suspension of any form of judgment, the Religious of the Good Shepherd opened GSWH in February 2007.
The drop-in shelter reaches out to sex workers that are still ambivalent about leaving their work but voluntarily participate in activities, which include talks on self-awareness and human trafficking. The sick and the pregnant are referred to clinics, hospitals and the City Health Department for hygiene checks.
When a person is ready to consider an alternative life, the GSWH workers, including peer educators who once were trafficked victims, extend shelter care. From two weeks to a month, persons are provided medicine, food, clothing, livelihood trainings and referrals to other agencies.
For long-term rehabilitation, the Good Shepherd Recovery Center provides after care, which cover trainings on “life skills,” vocational courses, formal and non-formal education, job placements, and capital assistance for income-generating projects.
By June 2013, 11 persons have returned home; 41 enrolled at job readiness trainings; five are employed full-time; 20 are enrolled at elementary, secondary, and tertiary levels; and 12 have availed of non-formal education.
Extending trust and support to help trafficked victims help themselves should inspire stakeholders facing equally daunting challenges in drug rehabilitation.