By Fr. Shay Cullen
She was a very traumatized and broken 15-year old child, continuously raped and abused by her own father until she was rescued by the Preda social workers and brought to the Preda Home for Girls. Had Gina not had a refuge free from fear and safe from her abuser, her own father, she would have run away from home and surely would have been a victim of human trafficking.
As many as 70 percent of children abused in their own home that run to the streets are picked up by pimps and traffickers and sold into the sex bars.
But Gina was saved before that happened. The weeks before June 2007, she was raped repeatedly and suffered acts of abuse by her own father. Her mother left the three children with the unemployed father while she worked as a domestic in Manila. This is the plight of many families where the mother works away from home or abroad as an overseas worker. The children are left unprotected and vulnerable at times.
In the Preda Home, Gina was welcomed, given affirmation and support and helped to feel at home and safe and secure. No further abuse would happen to her. This made her relax and cry with relief that she had been rescued and was understood and believed.
She had emotional expression therapy over several months and brought out all her anger and pain directed at her father. She had extensive counseling. She gave her life testimony and joined in the many group activities at the home. There were values training, education on children’s rights, music, art, sport, games, discussions and outings to resorts, to the beach and other positive experiences. These are all part of the Preda human development program. Legal cases for dozens of victims are on-going. Many others are archived in the court because the arrest warrants for the suspects have not been served. So justice is stymied.
The support and encouragement and care she received made her a strong person of character and instilled in her a desire for justice. She was empowered to file a legal case against her father. Her testimony regarding the acts of abuse committed against her was accepted by the court and the decision was delivered on 8 December 2016 in Balanga, Bataan. Seven years after it was filed. The father received 13 years sentence. Seven had already been served.
Seven years is a long time waiting for the decision following the deliberations and the resting of the case. Such a long delay is customary in the Philippines. It is however detrimental to the process of justice for the accused and the victim. The need to implement the constitutional right of every individual to a speedy timely trial ought to be respected and implemented. Although it took seven years, for 15-year old Gina, justice was done.
Some years ago two girls, Marlyn, 12 and Pia, 9 were found on Boracay Island with two foreign sex tourists, a German and a Dutch national. They were referred to the Preda Home for Girls. The two abusers were jailed in the Philippines but managed to escape and get out of the country. The girls were recovering at the home. It was decided that Preda would pursue a court case against the two suspect abusers. They had fled to their home countries. This writer was on a lecture tour in Germany and went to a prosecutor in Iserlohn and made a formal complaint on behalf of the two children.
After some months and follow up through the media, the case against one of the suspects was filed in the court. The judge invited the girls to go there to Iserlohn, Germany and testify in court. It was one of the very first cases against child abusing sex tourists under the German extra-territorial law ehereby child abusers can be pursued in their own countries and held accountable.
In Germany, justice was swift. Within one week of daily hearings the judge with two assisting legal advisors listened to the testimonies and to the defense and reached a decision. Guilty! However, the jail sentence was only two and a half years. It was widely reported in the German media and proposals to increase the jail terms for such crimes against children were approved.
In 2013, the raid on the sex club called the Crowbar in Calapandayan, Subic rescued several young girls, victims of human trafficking and abuse. The manager /owner was an American national and he was arrested. He is still held in Bicutan Immigration Jail. The raid was accomplished with the help of Preda social workers and retired Australian police who poised as sex tourists. They were able to gather information about the ages of the minors and identified some of the customers. There is reportedly still some working undercover in Barreto, Olongapo. The minors gave their testimony and the case still continues after three years. Justice is very slow.
Any attempt at bringing abusers and traffickers to justice will only be successful when the victims are kept safe, healed and empowered. That is what the Preda project does. It files legal cases against abusers and traffickers and empowers victims to testify against them. This helps curb impunity and serves as a deterrent against child abuse. It is a vital part of the healing process, which victims go through. They want to tell their story and be listened to and believed.
Seeking justice is an important part of healing. Some well-intentioned people and religious may attempt to persuade the child to forgive the abuser and not pursue a case. This is misguided. The abuser ought to be persuaded to repent, confess the crime and accept penance, that is, jail time. When the abuser does so, then forgiveness will likely follow. The amazing thing about the victims of abuse is their resilience. They are scarred but they can recover, be empowered, and go on to make a good life for themselves.