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Prostitution in the Philippines – a time for change

July 30, 2012 ·  By Fr James McTavish, FMVD


More than ever before, prostitution has become institutionalized, organized, and globalized (i.e. through trafficking and the internet). If we look at the streets around us we see the explosion in budget hotels which are so clean but not so good, the all pervasive sight of girly bars and the numerous high class clubs and establishments that seem to cater for so many well to do clientele. Different forms of prostitution thus exist: street prostitution, bars, brothels, akyat-barko, “massage parlors,” escort services, sex tourism, cybersex, local & international sex trafficking. Prostitution in the Philippines has become a de facto legal industry.6  How many are involved in prostitution?

 Even back in the summer of 1982, Manila was depressingly tagged at the biggest brothel in Asia. There were 50,000 registered hospitality girls in the tourist entertainment in the early 70’s, and in 1987 there were 300,000 bar girls not to mention the unlicensed ones who were estimated to number about ? of the national figure then.7 In 1998 it was estimated that there were at least 400,000 to 500,000 prostituted persons in the Philippines with 75,000 of these being children.8 In her “Anti-Prostitution Act” (Senate Bill No. 2341) Senator Pia S. Cayetano cites the number of women being exploited in prostitution in the Philippines now ballooning to 800,000.9

What drives a person into prostitution?

In one survey of those engaged in prostitution along Quezon Avenue in Quezon city, the main reasons given by the respondents for being involved were:10 1. Poverty  . Prostitution is officially illegal in the Philippines. However, it is also “regulated” in some ways.  For example, women in establishments are required to get regular health certificates to prove they are free of diseases.

Other factors cited by NGO’s involved in anti-prostitution work include coming from dysfunctional homes, deception by recruiters, pornography, tourism that capitalizes on Filipino women and a general apathy of the society and Church towards this reality.11 It is important to be aware of these so-called “push-pull” factors. People who work in ministries seeking to rescue and rehabilitate prostituted women will tell you that they have never met a woman who wanted to be a prostitute. Instead they will recount countless stories of young women, coming from poor backgrounds that often have a long history of prior physical and sexual abuse.12 Many young women are deceived by recruiters to leave the province, where work opportunities may be few and far between, to come to the big city with the promise of decent work. Arriving there, the vulnerable person is often tricked or even coerced into working in the sex industry.

Short shelf life of women involved in Prostitution.  In a study of prostitution along Quezon Avenue 243 prostituted women (PW) were interviewed.13 Of the 243 PW, 45% were aged between 18-22 years old, 30% between 23-27 years old and 11% between 28-32 years old. The relatively young age of the prostituted women reflects what is called “the short shelf life” of a women forced into prostitution – the life is so inhuman and degrading that before long untold physical and psychological harm is incurred. As Melissa Farley clearly documents, prostitution is bad for the body and bad for the heart.14 She states that “throughout history, regardless of its legal status, prostitution has had a devastating impact on women’s health.”15 This can be seen in the many physical and psychological consequences of this destructive lifestyle which have begun to be more clearly documented in the last two decades. Some findings include:16 ? Sexual violence and physical assault are the norm for women in all types of prostitution……

Worldwide the prostitution business is linked to the market in human trafficking. Trafficking ensures that the demand for various shapes and sizes of women’s bodies is met. Trafficking is now estimated to be a $57 billion global industry. Prostitution is not only linked to trafficking but also to internet pornography. As a social worker involved in helping rehabilitate prostituted women told me “internet pornography is the theory; prostitution is the practice.” This chilling remark opens our eyes to the devastating effects of internet pornography which is flooding our society….

 Hidden in plain sight

We have made prostitution “hidden in plain sight.”23 It is everywhere but we try to ignore it. The US Ambassador Harry Thomas drew attention to the problem when he commented that 40 percent of male tourists come to the Philippines for sex. Many senators were livid and asked him to produce evidence to support his claim.24 The senators were obviously desperate to protect the good name and reputation of their country. It would be just and fitting if they had the same zeal to protect the good name and dignity of many women who are involved in the sex trade here in Philippines. It should not be naively thought either that only foreign males go to Filipina prostitutes. In fact, Filipino males are the main users of Filipinas in prostitution.

(complete article availble on /research)



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