Joy’s Story: rescued from slavery

As nurses, we often see the good, the bad and the ugly of society. We chose to become nurses for many reasons and I have no doubt that one of those reasons includes making a difference in the lives of the patients and families that we meet.

There are many stories we could share that would make anyone stop in their tracks but it’s stories like these that really get me.

Stories of innocent, vulnerable children being exploited and used for another’s gain.

It saddens me that child slavery and sex slavery still exists today, hidden in a world that does not seem like my own. It saddens me that there are still people out there from my own country accessing the forced services of children.

As a paediatric nurse, I feel very strongly about my role in the local and wider community. My role is to heal those that need healing, to prevent harm and to advocate for the vulnerable.

I’m sharing this story that was shared with me recently because I think that as nurses, we can make a difference by being a loud voice for children the world over.

~ Brooke


Joy’s* name reflects her spirit: full of life, fun-loving, and warm to all who meet her. At 22, her life isn’t unlike most young women her age. She goes to the mall with her friends and studies for class. She loves to sing and dance.

But this brave young woman had to fight to get to where she is today. Forced to hide a dark secret from a young age, Joy was one of thousands of children in the Philippines trapped in a particularly cruel form of exploitation—cybersex trafficking.

Horror at the hands of “Boss”

As a young girl, Joy grew up moving from home to home, passed among various family members who resented an extra child in their care. Struggling to make ends meet, Joy’s mother had sold their family home and moved abroad for work. Her father was out of the picture. Joy describes living like a “stray dog,” separated from her brothers and sisters, living with whatever relative would take her in.

Joy’s ‘boss’ was someone she knew trusted. Her boss was also notoriously prolific in her production of live-streamed sex shows.

Joy dreamed of going to school and being a nurse. But most of all, she wished to be reunited with her family. She remembers, “My big dream for myself and for my family is what kept me alive.”

“But all of this changed when I was 10 years old,” she continues. “I remember ‘Boss’ called me together with my friends, asking us to go inside their house. Without knowing what to do while we were inside, I was surprised when she asked us to go naked, and then she said she will take pictures of us together. I was so scared, nervous and confused. I didn’t know what to do. But since we were already inside Boss’s house, we were left with no choice but to follow her instructions.”

Joy’s ‘boss’ was someone she knew trusted. Her boss was also notoriously prolific in her production of live-streamed sex shows.

Before, customers had to physically travel to the Philippines or elsewhere to sexually abuse children. Now, pedophiles and predators can search online, anonymously wire payment, and direct live sexual abuse of a child from the safety of their home.

In fact, the woman on trial for trafficking Joy has been accused of abusing dozens of other children in her neighbourhood, streaming the abuse for foreign customers who were willing to pay to watch online.

Before, customers had to physically travel to the Philippines or elsewhere to sexually abuse children. Now, pedophiles and predators can search online, anonymously wire payment, and direct live sexual abuse of a child from the safety of their home.

While customers in countries like the U.S., Australia and Germany drive the demand, traffickers like Joy’s boss record and broadcast the abuse of children in exchange for money. Reports of child exploitation online, sent to the Philippines Department of Justice, have risen dramatically in recent years, and the U.S. Government describes the scale of exploitation of children online as “catastrophic.”[1]

At the age of 10, Joy didn’t fully understand what was happening to her. The abuse continued for years, though, and as she grew older, she came to understand. As the horrible reality dawned on her, she remembers, “I wondered if a brighter future was possible for me.”

‘I understood then that I was rescued…I was free.”

What Joy didn’t know was that people were looking for her. IJM’s team in Cebu was working with Philippine law enforcement to prevent her trafficker from exploiting Joy and other children. In 2013, IJM supported police to arrest Joy’s boss and rescue 16 victims,  including Joy.

Seven years after her abuse began, police rescued Joy and arrested her boss. At first, Joy was scared and unsure of what was happening to her. But IJM’s social workers explained why she was there—that she was free from abuse at the hands of her boss.

From Healing to Healer

One thing is obvious to the IJM staff who know and love Joy: Her past is no match for her strength and resilience. As she moved into a long-term aftercare shelter, she remembered her dream of going to school: “When I was younger, I always asked God that I want to finish my education. That was my prayer. Due to my family’s financial problem, I thought it would be impossible.”

She began to work in the mornings and go to school in the afternoon. IJM connected her with a new aftercare partner who could support her education, and after graduating high school, she was given the opportunity to attend college.

In her aftercare home, Joy found the love and support she needed to heal, move forward in strength, grow in confidence and pursue her goals. But Joy didn’t stop at chasing her own dreams—she’s inspiring and encouraging others to do the same. From participating in group therapy sessions at the Reintegration Support Network—a government resource designed to serve survivors of trafficking and abuse who have returned to their home communities—to sharing her story with other children and young adults, Joy is passing her strength and courage on to others.

Joy with her IJM social worker, Jenette

She says, “I am inspired by the social workers who don’t stop helping survivors like me. I am so inspired by how they try to be strong for the clients they serve. I too have a passion to help survivors see that there is hope after rescue, and that there are people who can help us if we let them.”

Through aftercare, Joy also found the courage to testify against her trafficker in court. “Seeking justice for me is very important. It’s like freeing the heart of those being victimized. I wanted to seek justice not just for myself but to all the others whom she victimized,” Joy says.

The trial against “Boss” is ongoing, but IJM lawyers are relentless in ensuring that she is held accountable.

‘I am Brave.’


[1] U.S. Sentencing Commission

*A pseudonym has been used and her identity concealed for the protection of this IJM client.

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