Cheered on by their friends, a group of Filipina girls launch into a flurry of kicks and punches against their trainers.
All of them are survivors of trafficking, and today they’re learning Muay Thai as part of their recovery at a shelter run by anti-trafficking NGO Visayan Forum.
“I like learning to fight because I want to protect myself and the other girls. Muay Thai will be useful when I become a police detective one day,” said 15-year-old Ash.
Some of the girls are survivors of cybersex trafficking — where victims are forced to perform sex acts, abused, or raped over webcams for global clients. It is a major problem in the Philippines, which was recently deemed the epicenter of the crime by UNICEF.
As Thomson Reuters Foundation reports, Muay Thai is helping these girls recover from their trauma:
Most of the girls arriving at the center have been rescued in police raids, found by charities or escaped from cybersex dens, brothels or homes where they were forced to work as maids.
For the girls at the shelter – many of whom have been abused, beaten and betrayed by their families – the chance to be active, creative, and even aggressive, is a welcome opportunity.
“Such activities are a very important medium for women and girls who have suffered abuse.They allow them to express their feelings, they are therapeutic, and offer the chance to learn skills for the future,” said Dolores Rubia, director of aftercare for the International Justice Mission in Manila.
About 45 girls stay at Visayan Forum’s shelter. Often going home to their families is not an option, especially when they were exploited by their own relatives. Others are involved in court cases against their traffickers.
Visayan Forum has visiting teachers come to the shelter to help the girls catch up on their education and take exams, though they also learn life skills and take part in extracurricular activities. The NGO also helps girls find jobs once they are old enough and ready to move out of the shelter.
Until then, Muay Thai instructor Olivia Cruz says she’s been impressed by her students. “At first, the girls were so awkward. But they are really strong, and they love it.”
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