WARNING: The following story may be disturbing to some readers.
CASSIE* was 12 years old when she followed a family friend’s promise of new clothes, school supplies and a chance to get a good education in Manila. Eight hundred miles away from the childhood home where she had grown up without electricity or technology of any kind, Cassie soon learned that the man she had trusted was running a global cybersex trafficking ring out of his home.
For nearly five years Cassie was trapped with other young women and children— including a 2-year-old—who were subject to horrific abuse.
By day, she went to school. But at night and on weekends, she was raped and forced to perform sex acts in front of a webcam broadcast to customers located in Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands and the United States.
“It was really hard,” Cassie remembers, her words tumbling out quickly, “I was thinking, I want to die, I want to die because of this pain, but I can’t. I want to stop my breath. But, it’s always—Oh, I’m still breathing. Why can’t I die?”
Although Cassie felt completely alone, people were looking for her.
IJM worked with Philippine authorities and U.S. Homeland Security to pinpoint Cassie’s location and together we rescued her and six others from the living nightmare of exploitation. The man who profited from her abuse for so many years was arrested, imprisoned and is now standing trial.
Cassie, now 18, is safe and thriving in an aftercare home for survivors of sex trafficking. She meets regularly with her IJM social worker and is back in school. She dreams of traveling and someday becoming a tour guide.
“It is hard to pen how strong and courageous Cassie has been, given the intensity of circumstances she went through and how she has found her inner strength and beauty in the process of recovery,” wrote Cassie’s IJM social worker, Karen.
“Cassie overcame the most difficult enemy she faced, when she decided to stop blaming herself for everything that has happened.”
After five years trapped in cybersex trafficking, Cassie is now standing on her own and reaching for dreams that no longer feel impossible. Praise God! Cassie is free this Christmas!
We know rescue in and of itself does not constitute freedom. Rather, true liberation is hard-fought, lengthy and messy. While Cassie is indeed free this Christmas, her restoration is ongoing.
Your gift this Christmas will help keep 9 professional aftercare workers, like Karen, on the ground. There are currently 74 girls and boys participating in our restoration program in Cebu alone. IJM serves more than 280 such survivors of sexual exploitation across the Philippines, with the numbers forecast to grow as cybersex trafficking rescues escalate.
As the saying goes, “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.”