Surviving School: Survivors of childhood sexual exploitation share the struggles and joys of graduating

“I wasn’t able to focus on my studies when I was still at home – I needed to work, help put food on the table.” Myra recalled of the time when she was only 12 years old, living with her mother in the slums of Metro Manila. “I didn’t have time to do my assignments. I had to leave for work as soon as I got home from school.” By work she meant going to the club and entertaining “customers” her mother would give her. Since her so-called job took most of her time and energy, it didn’t take long for her to stop her studies. She was out of school for 4 years.

When Myra was rescued at the age of 16 and got referred to ECPAT Philippines for sheltering, she can barely read and write. She, however, immediately expressed excitement to go back to school. She was enrolled to an Alternative Learning School (ALS) shortly after her admission to the shelter.

School didn’t come easy for Myra. Being out of it for so long, let alone being sexually exploited at such a young age took a toll on her ability to catch up with her peers. She learned slower that the rest of the class. She also had difficulty having friends because she was way older than her classmates.

Same goes for Karen, 18, who was constantly bullied by classmates for being years older than them. Her reason for stopping school made her even more hesitant to make friends. “I always got asked why I stopped schooling… it was difficult to tell.” Karen was sexually abused by her uncle and became at-risk of being exploited for sex had she not been referred to ECPAT by her grandmother at the age of 15. “I was afraid they would only gossip about me, so it’s better to just be on my own.”


Families are worth the struggle

Myra and Karen did not only share similar hardships in school. They also shared similar motivations to go on – their families. While Myra’s mother was recently convicted for pimping her own daughter for years, Myra’s little brother has always been her inspiration. “I need to succeed because I want to be able to support my brother, especially now that my mother can no longer do that.” she shared.

Meanwhile, Karen’s parents passed when she was very young. She was raised by her grandmother who has occasionally worked as a domestic helper. “It felt so good to finally hand her my diploma. Everything I do is for her. I will never let her be a domestic helper forever,” Karen spoke of her grandma.

Both Myra and Karen know that entering secondary school means having to face new challenges, but they are up for it – trusting that their social workers and house parents at the shelter will always have their back. “I am grateful to them for being our mothers here at ECPAT.” Karen expressed. Thank you because despite all the times I’ve been problematic, you never stopped guiding me to the right path,” Myra added.

The ECPAT Home is a temporary welcome space for girl survivors of sexual exploitation. Assisted children are provided with holistic services that will help them heal, recover and be ready to go back into society as free and empowered individuals who have another chance at a full life.

Trauma caused by sexual abuse and exploitation seriously affects children’s cognitive development. At the ECPAT Home, children are also provided with parallel learning activities e.g. tutoring, skills training and meaningful recreational activities which aim to complement their formal studies and contribute to their overall development.