Standing between innocence and the lurking evil sometimes pays off. Other times the thin veil is simply ripped off and lives are forever changed. Nothing is more heart rending than the sexual exploitation of children and women.
For senior Arlyn Penaranda who did her eight-month internship in the Philippines, standing at the Manila port wasn't an easy thing to do. Together with social welfare employees from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the local police, Arlyn tried to find women and children far from home, mainly from the rural parts of the Philippines and other islands. The team would go to the ports and watch the ships for people who seemed disoriented and lost, talk to them and warn them about what awaited - prostitution and slavery. They would encourage them to leave and give them money to return home.
"Many women and young girls, as well as men and children, are told that they will become domestic employees (au pairs and maids) when in fact they're sold into prostitution. Sometimes, the women's parents were the ones to sell them,” said Arlyn.
Some of these victims targeted their anger at her, thinking she was there to rob them of their job prospects. The fact that she was born and lived in the Philippines for 12 years before moving to the U.S. and understood the culture made no difference.
Sometimes they were successful convincing the victims to leave the ports, but other times not. Human trafficking is difficult to control when corrupt government officials and police officers choose to look the other way.
Arlyn, who is hard of hearing and speaks Tagalog, also worked with the Visayan Forum Foundation (VFF) and other advocacy groups to provide awareness workshops on sexual abuse, domestic violence, and human trafficking which is prominent in the Philippines.
Dr. Perla Sunga Intia, her supervisor from her first internship with the National English Proficiency Program (NEPP), was instrumental in getting her second internship with DSWD. "She introduced me to many key people from various organizations, including USAID, the Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Sexual Abuse, and Peace Tech," said Arlyn.
The double major in sociology with a concentration in criminology and international government along with a minor in women’s studies were ideal disciplines for Arlyn's work with prostitutes, battered women, abused children, street children, and orphans.
Arlyn frequently visited the Bay Walk in Manila, a hangout for prostitutes and foreigners. She also visited the Baseco and Payatas dumpsite communities where many street children congregate. Over 30% of Filipino children experience sexual abuse before the age of 18. "I saw how poverty caused people to sell their young daughters' and sons' flesh to make ends meet on the street. These children are supposed to be in school, but because of the hardship of living in poverty and the need to meet ends - these things happen," said Arlyn.
With the knowledge gained from this internship, Arlyn wants to continue her advocacy work with homeless and abused youth, and hopes to eventually go to law school and work for the United Nations.