Sixteen and Enslaved: Nessa's Story

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CEBU, PHILIPPINES –At 16, Nessa was trafficked into a brothel. “During my time in the [brothel], I started calling out to my God and asking him why this was happening to me. Why had I been trafficked?” she says, adding, “I kept wondering if there was any hope for me to escape this situation, or if this was the end of my life?

Nessa was ultimately rescued, but the world grew dark in a new way when she soon went blind. It took years to work through the pain and shame that haunted her and required many people coming alongside her.

The darkness has passed away, and my life today is colorful,” Nessa says, now 25 years old. 

Nessa grew up with nine siblings in the Philippines. When her father unexpectedly died from a stroke, Nessa dropped out of school after fifth grade. When two acquaintances offered her a job in a restaurant, she jumped at the chance to help her family.  

But the offer was a trap. At 16 years old, Nessa was trafficked to a brothel on another island far from home.

When I found I would not be working as a waitress, I was shocked,” Nessa remembers, “I was crying hysterically; the other girls in the casa told me there was nothing I could do about my situation because I was already there so I might as well just get to work.”

I was treated like a dog, like a puppy who is being trained and manipulated to do as the master says. I was a slave. These men, our ‘guests,’ could take whatever they wanted from me,” Nessa recalls.

Four months into the nightmare, a 6:00 a.m. knock at the door changed Nessa’s life forever.

We were all shocked to find that it was the police instead [of a customer],” she explains. “I was so happy and I thought to myself, finally, this is the time we will be rescued from this darkness.

IJM helped Philippine police rescue Nessa and eight other young women from the casa. The IJM legal team worked eight years on Nessa’s case.   

IJM social workers helped Nessa settle into a shelter for trafficking survivors. Due to a biological condition, Nessa was going blind.

IJM’s team was able to intervene and found a private aftercare home in the Philippines where Nessa could get the special care she needed. She enrolled in a school where she learned braille and spent four years there.

Nessa moved back home with her family in 2014, and she soon fell in love with one of her brother’s friends. In 2016, she became a mother, a role she describes as her life’s joy. She also chose to testify in court against the brothel owner and managers who sold her for abuse.

On March 8, 2017, the brothel owner pled guilty to two separate charges and faces 35 years in prison. (The two traffickers who had recruited Nessa and taken her to the brothel were convicted in a separate trial in November 2016.)

“I could compare my life before at the brothel to a withered flower, a tree with falling leaves. However, today I am a colorful blooming flower, in a beautiful garden,” says Nessa, adding with a smile, “All the leaves and branches are the people around me who are continually encouraging me and supporting me.”



*A pseudonym was used to protect Nessa's identity.

International Justice Mission is the world’s largest anti-trafficking organization in the world. They work to protect the poor from violence in the developing world with a vision to “rescue thousands, protect millions, and prove that justice for the poor is possible." We are proud to partner with IJM and support their life-saving work.