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Prostitution In the Philippines: A time for Change

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
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 70s,
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
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
Other factors cited by NGOs 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 womens 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 womens 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

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.