Victims of Human Trafficking

A fourteen-year old girl who was a victim of forced prostitution wrote in a composition that she had been locked in a small room, where she received customers. One day, she began to detect a terribly disgusting smell. After she mentioned this to her captor, she realized that there was a dead body under her bed. It was the body of the victim before her who had been beaten to death because of disobedience to her captor. Even after the police came and hastily disposed of the body, she still had to lie on that bed and receive customers; otherwise, she would be forced to eat cockroaches as punishment for refusing to receive customers......

Recalling how over a decade ago she traveled island wide to rescue girls from forced prostitution, Ms. Shen Mei-Chen, a lawyer and co-founder of Taipei Women’s Rescue Foundation (TWRF), still feels outraged. Between 1986 and 1987, there was substantial media coverage on the horrific experiences of Taiwanese girls sold and forced into prostitution. The general public responded with great sympathy, and domestic sex trafficking became a prominent issue in the society. On January 10, 1987, more than thirty social activist organizations held a large-scale demonstration on Huaxi Street to denounce the evils of human trafficking as well as to condemn underage prostitution. Following the event, Ms. Shen and other activists found it was necessary to establish a formal organization devoted to the rescue and care of women trafficked into prostitution. They wanted to ensure the continued attention on this important issue even after its media coverage diminished.

In August, 1987, TWRF was established with the mission of rescuing underage prostitutes and victims of sex trafficking, and providing them with legal assistance and direct services. After the 1987 Huaxi demonstration, the government launched the “ Government Ethic Project” to crack down on illegal brothels and search for underage prostitutes. The campaign identified over eight hundred underage prostitutes but the government action soon came to a hasty halt. On January 9, 1988, one year after the Huaxi Street demonstration, TWRF summoned over fifty social activist organizations to launch a second Huaxi Street demonstration. In addition to criticizing the government’s insufficient efforts on law enforcement, the coalition called for the amendment of the Youth Welfare Law and a more aggressive approach to end underage prostitution in Taiwan.

Since then, TWRF exerted full power to directly rescue underage prostitutes, provide protection through judicial procedures, and offer follow-up shelter stay and counseling services, including legal, medical, schooling, and employment assistance, aiming to give the victims an opportunity to pursue happiness and return to the society to live a normal life.

Apart from devoting ourselves to the direct rescue, we also sought to prevent women from being forced into prostitution through social education. From the “Safe Rescue” project, which uncovered the fact that legal brothels hid illegal underage prostitutes; assisting six adults and one child in Northern Thailand to strive for freedom and go back to their hometown; to supporting prosecutors in their crackdown on trafficking rings and saving Taiwanese girls who were sold to Japan into prostitution, TWRF never forgets its mission of ending the sex trade. TWRF also set up the Lily Midway Home to provide shelter for girls immediately after they were freed from forced prostitution, while organizing series of activities on “Anti-Pornography Pollution Year,” “Anti-Pornography for Underage Prostitutes,” “Make Taipei a City of Love Instead of Sex,” and “Yellow Ribbon Movement.” We later launched the “Lily Project” to educate aboriginal girls to cherish and respect their bodies, to discover trafficking in persons, and to refuse being sold. We promoted the concepts that underage prostitution is a criminal act, and that trafficking in persons as well as coercing women into prostitution are criminal behavior and inhuman deeds.

In 1995, Child and Youth Sexual Transaction Prevention Act was promulgated and enforced. TWRF, the Garden of Hope Foundation, ECPAT Taiwan, and Mennonite Good Shepherd Center joined force to establish the Children and Youth Union in order to monitor the implementation of the law. It was time when TWRF finished its staged mission and returned the responsibility to the government. TWRF continued its close attention on relevant issues and the sex market, while campus campaigns for the general public to educate them on the value of each person and his/her body.

Underage prostitution has decreased in recent years but has never disappeared. It is just that the leading roles are now played by different people, and the operations have become more businesslike. In 2002 when Ms. Shen phoned to inquire information and data on trafficking in persons for teaching purposes, we realized that our research on this aspect was insufficient. We also discovered that more and more women of foreign nationalities, including underage girls, have gone into prostitution in Taiwan through fraudulent marriage or illegal immigration. Human trafficking has become a cross-border, organized criminal activity. Current trafficking victims are similar to the aboriginal girls who were sold into prostitution more than a decade ago, particularly in terms of the characteristics of being “exploited and controlled.” It is impossible for these women, who do not have any channel to escape or seek help on a foreign land under the control of criminal groups, to be treated in any way that complies with the spirit of human rights. To devote ourselves to rescuing the oppressed women and caring for them, TWRF’s Board of Directors made a resolution by the end of 2002 to restart our mission of tackling the sex trade and rescuing trafficking victims.