Longtime Philippine International Aid supporter Cora Tellez of Sterling Health Services recently visited her sponsored children in the Off the Streets-Off to School Program. “One of my students has been with me since grade one. She’s now a second-year college student. I am so happy for her and for the rest of the kids.” says Tellez
The lower chamber of the Philippine Congress is going to approve the lowering of the minimum age of criminal liability of a child from the present 15 years-of-age to 12-years-of-age. They really want to reduce it to 9, but public outcry forced the politicians to change. Yet, 12 years old is too young to impute criminal liability. What knowledge and discernment do uneducated, impoverished, hungry street children at 12 years old know and understand?
The Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act is a good law if it were to be implemented. But it is not. Out of more than a hundred highly-urbanized cities and provinces that are supposed to build homes for the children, only 40 have done it. Unfortunately, some of these purported homes for children called Bahay Pag-asa are, in reality, jails for children where thousands now languish hungry, underfed and abused.
At present, these are cruel detention centers where the children are mostly treated as criminals held for weeks and months behind steel bars. Practically no activities, exercise, entertainment or education are provided in most places. Many of the children suffer bullying and sexual and physical abuse by the older detainees. If the minimum age of criminal liability is lowered to nine or 12, even more will be added to these numbers.
This we know since our work at the Preda Foundation for the past 45 years has been to rescue them and give them a happy home in an open center without guards, gates or fences. We give them freedom of choice to decide to stay and get educated, and 95 percent choose to stay. They are not criminal pawns of criminal syndicates as Congress people assert.
This is the present reality of child detention centers, with only a few encouraging exceptions. Thousands of small children are in fact behind bars in subhuman conditions, their rights violated day and night. It is a horrific disgrace for the proud Filipino people.
This law is not being implemented to this day. The small children, some as young as ten, are in fact locked up in these overcrowded cells, in stinking, sub-human conditions. The Philippine Congress, in its lack of understanding and knowledge about this reality, will condemn many children as young as 12 to rot in jails where they will be sexually and physically abused. That will be on their conscience.
They should make it mandatory for each local government to build a real home for children under the direction of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council (JJWC) and to mandatorily fund its operation every year. Local governments must not put children behind bars. The congressmen and senators will not call child victims of these horrid cells to testify before them. They might hear the truth if they did. They have never visited the child detention centers and they know nothing about human suffering.
It is untrue and a wild fantasy of Congress people that children have recovery, therapy, values formation, medical care, education in “nice” children’s homes run by a “caring, benevolent” local government. It is the opposite: the children are treated as criminals and suffer hardship, hunger and are devastated as human beings that do not even have hope of anything better.
Millions of pesos have been provided to the Juvenile Justice Welfare Council to oversee the implementation of the Republic Act 9344 or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act, but much of the money has gone unused. Local mayors do not listen or follow the advice of the Council. The JJWC has no power to compel compliance with the law.
The local government officials are not interested in building a nice, clean well-managed home for abandoned children who are at risk or in dire circumstances or in conflict with the law. The politicians consider the ragged, hungry, homeless, abused street children, not as children in need of help, but as vermin, pests, undeserving poor, throwaway creatures, useless and not even human. “They have criminal minds,” one top official said about street children.
If a nation is judged on its reputation as morally upright and dignified by the way it treats its poor and neglected children, then the Philippines gets a very low score if any at all. The national pride of the Philippine nation suffers when it comes to the plight of its neglected street children. National dignity is sullied and it is nowhere to be found.
Officials and politicians, many of them uncaring rich elite, having never been deprived of anything, unjustly and wrongly call the thousands of hungry children criminals and accuse them of working for crime syndicates as drug delivery boys and girls. But there is no sound, proven information or evidence to back up that reckless assertion and false accusation.
Look at the facts: Out of all recorded crimes, 98 percent are done by adults and only 2 percent by minors. Out of all alleged wrongdoing by minors, only 2 percent are allegedly committed by children less than nine years of age. Children 9 to 11 years of age are responsible for only 7 percent of all wrongdoing by minors. Minors 12 to 15 years of age are responsible for 43 percent of wrongdoing by minors; whereas youth 15 to 18 years of age are responsible for 48 percent of alleged wrongdoing committed by minors.
It is clear that the 2 percent of crimes committed by minors is miniscule and do not deserve harsh treatment and punishment. Child detention in the Philippines today is a horrific, unjust, undeserved punishment that is detrimental and destructive to the child.
The children see that some of the rich politicians get away with massive crimes of plunder and wallow in putrid corruption, creating poverty and homelessness. Many children struggle to survive and eat one scant meal a day.
Preda Foundation was founded 45 years ago to help children at risk and in conflict with the law and those falsely accused and abused and jailed without evidence. The many children rescued have the given testimony of what they suffered. They were saved and started a new happier life at the Preda open center of freedom and dignity.
In the first part of an investigation into the online streaming of child sex abuse, we explore the nature of this emerging crime in the Philippines, where thousands of youngsters are seen to be at risk.
MANILA: Victor Lorenzo has spent much of his life chasing down criminals and helping their victims. For a law enforcer with years of experience, much of what he does is now routine.
Yet there is one type of crime which the veteran chief of the Philippines’ cyber investigation unit has difficulty coming to terms with.
“Every case is shocking,” Lorenzo said, in his office at the Cybercrime Division of the National Bureau of Investigation on Taft Avenue. A shiny figurine of Batman gleams amid piles of documents on his desk. Another busy day. Another suspect. More crimes.
“No matter how hard you try to shield yourself from emotions, you just can’t. It’s very painful on our part as a human being whenever we see children performing live in front of a camera.”
Lorenzo was referring to the growing number of child cybersex cases, where paedophiles based overseas pay local traffickers to molest children and live-stream the abuse.
Despite numerous crackdowns, the sophistication and lucrativeness of the cybersex industry continues to enable its proliferation in the Philippines. According to the International Justice Mission (IJM), the number of rescue and arrest operations related to the cybersex trade in the Philippines went up from 17 in 2015 to 51 in the first nine months of 2018. At the same time, the age of the victims is going down. Most of them are 12 years old or younger, and one in ten are boys.
“Girls and boys are forced to perform sex acts on themselves or each other, molested by an adult, or are abused in other degrading ways,” said Sam Inocencio, the national director of IJM Philippines. His agency has helped the country fight cybersex trafficking since 2016, enabling police to detain nearly 100 suspects and rescue more than 370 victims.
“The youngest victim IJM has rescued is a three-month-old baby,” he said.
CHILD CYBERSEX TOURISM
Cybersex trafficking is also known as online sexual exploitation of children – a relatively new crime in the digital age.
As the Internet penetrates more parts of the world, sex predators can gain easier access to more children. They no longer have to physically travel to meet a child for sexual exploitation to occur. Advanced cyber technology enables them to recruit local traffickers, select children, view and direct the long-distance abuse in real time from anywhere in the world, while remaining invisible under the cloak of cyber anonymity.
Today, the country is “the epicentre” of the live-stream sexual abuse trade and the “number one global source of child pornography”, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Every month, the Philippine Justice Department receives more than 3,000 reports from overseas of possible cybersex trafficking cases.
“The main perpetrators are family members. Many of them use the ‘non-physical contact’ as an excuse, saying the perpetrators don’t touch their child, therefore it’s okay,” said Lotta Sylwander from UNICEF Philippines.
Of course, it’s not correct. It’s not a childlike behaviour to undress in front of an anonymous camera and, on top of that, actually perform sexual activities.
ABUSE BY PARENTS
Locally known as a ‘show’, child cybersex abuse in the Philippines takes place on various platforms – from social networks to dating sites and chat rooms. IJM estimates that in more than 70 per cent of cases, abuse is carried out by traffickers known to the victims. Half of them are the parents of the children themselves.
As victims are young, sex predators often use people the children trust, such as parents, older siblings, relatives and neighbours, to facilitate the exploitation.
At any given moment, an estimated 750,000 adults are seeking to abuse children in some 40,000 public chat rooms worldwide, reported international children’s rights organisation Terre des Hommes, citing data from the United Nations and US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
Degrees of abuse vary from posing in front of a camera to having sexual contact with another juvenile – often a sibling – or an adult. As the crime proliferates, the severity of sexual abuse increases.
“We can see a trend where the children get younger and younger and there is more and more torture going on,” Sylwander said.
In the Philippines, child cybersex crime mostly operates as a family business, but there have been incidents showing it can also transform into an organised syndicate.
In 2015, Australian national Peter Scully was arrested in Malaybalay City for trafficking and sexually assaulting Filipino children, with the youngest being an 18-month-old baby girl. Assisted by two Philippine female accomplices, Scully filmed the abuse for his cyber pornography trade catering to an international paedophile ring. He was later sentenced to life imprisonment.
As authorities chase down the criminals, cybersex trafficking migrates. Investigators first noticed its concentration in the central Visayas region before a spread to Mindanao in the south. Recently, incidents have begun to emerge in the north of the country.
On par with its proliferation is the wider use of peer-to-peer (P2P) mobile applications among perpetrators in sharing pornographic content with paedophiles overseas. P2P file sharing allows users to exchange digital resources without going through a central server. As a result, it creates a direct one-to-one connection between local traffickers and sex predators abroad, making the abuse more private and detection more difficult.
“You can directly transmit all those performances with live streaming,” Lorenzo said. “Many P2P applications are commercially available. Some are even free.”
THE DARK WEB AND UGLY SECRETS
Last year, UNICEF stated peer-to-peer file sharing has transformed and expanded the distribution of child pornography on the Internet. The circulation is not only limited to the Surface web – the part of the Internet where the likes of Google, YouTube and Facebook operate – but also on the Deep web, an extensive online territory unindexed by search engines.
Within the Deep web lies the ‘dark web’ – a part of the Internet where criminal activity, child pornography and other illegal content proliferates. This territory is invisible to most users, including law enforcement officers, as access requires special permission or special software.
“It takes some degree of skills to get there and, unfortunately, paedophiles who want to access images of children need to submit a new video or a new picture themselves to show they’re real,” said Sylwander.
“Interpol or the police could never do that.”
One of the most common types of advertisements on the dark web is for live-streaming sexual abuse, according to the Financial Coalition Against Child Pornography and the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children. Their 2017 report ‘Cryptocurrency and the BlockChain’ revealed that abusers would schedule and market “live sessions” ahead of time. Customers are required to pre-pay for a link or access code in order to watch the abuse.
“The role of ‘director’ is auctioned off or charged at a significant premium, giving one user the right to ‘control the action’,” the report said.
Driving the proliferation of live-streaming child sexual abuse is the increasing use of encrypted payment systems – cryptocurrencies. Bitcoin, for example, is an accepted payment method in the unregulated sphere of the dark web. As of March 2017, the report said it cost 10 bitcoins – then worth about US$10,000 – to direct live abuse and 1 bitcoin to view it.
“Online sexual abuse of children is a huge business,” Sylwander said. “At least half of all crimes on the dark web are in and around child pornography and child sexual abuse.”
EASY ABUSE, EASY MONEY
Offenders convicted of human trafficking face severe punishment in the Philippines. If they are parents, siblings or guardians of the trafficked persons, the sentence is life imprisonment and a fine of no less than 2 million pesos (US$37,000). Still, local perpetrators – mostly from impoverished communities – are attracted to the lucrative industry.
“There is no fixed price. Sometimes they base it on the age of the victim – from 5,000 pesos (US$92) to 15,000 pesos (US$276) per ‘show’. Each can last 3-4 hours,” Lorenzo said.
The younger the performer, the higher the going rate.
Payments are often made through remittance companies, which are abundant in the Philippines. Perpetrators can withdraw money from various locations, making it hard for authorities to trace the money trail. Between 2015 and September this year, the country recorded 136 rescue and arrest operations related to online sexual exploitation of children.
Globally, Interpol’s database has identified more than 14,200 children as victims of child pornography. The number does not include data linked to “numerous unidentified victims”, whose cases are yet to be investigated.
The recorded numbers of cybersex offenders and victims are believed to be just a fraction of the real picture. According to UNICEF, very few perpetrators are convicted and more abuse continues unreported.
“The evidence building can be very difficult, especially in webcam child sex, because the act is often not recorded. As soon as it’s done, it’s over. The only thing you have left is the story the child can tell,” Sylwander said.
To reflect the magnitude of the crime, Amsterdam-based Terre des Hommes developed an Internet avatar in 2013 to identify cybersex predators. Computer engineers created a 10-year-old virtual Filipino girl named Sweetie, who moved and talked like a real human.
As soon as Sweetie joined public chat rooms, she was swarmed by paedophiles. Most of them came from wealthier countries, including Australia, Canada, Germany and Britain. In just two months, Sweetie helped identify 1,000 sex predators from 71 nations. Over the course of ten weeks, 20,172 paedophiles in 19 chat rooms had approached her.
“Sweetie really sounded the alarm. It’s a very big issue and the problem is potentially growing very fast,” said Terre des Hommes’ Asia representative Eric van der Lee.
“People who approached Sweetie is only the tip of the iceberg. There are so many more people out there who are actually looking for online contact with young children.”
In the Philippines alone, tens of thousands of children are exploited in the long-distance abuse online, according to Terre des Hommes. Unlike most Southeast Asian countries, the island nation has several characteristics that drives the growth of cybersex trafficking. Widespread poverty, accessible Internet, ease of receiving money from overseas and fluency in English make it an attractive target for paedophiles.
CHATBOTS, CYBERTIPS, ARRESTS
As sex predators become smarter in avoiding arrest, law enforcement officers are exploring more ways to stop cybercrime. Chatbots are employed to catch paedophiles, and new technologies are being developed to identify perpetrators as well as their victims with sophisticated image analysis.
In the Philippines, cybertips from overseas are one of the most powerful weapons for local investigators to detect suspects of cybersex trafficking. They also work with banks, money remittance firms and Internet service providers in tracking down the sources of child pornography material.
“The Internet is so vast and that’s why public awareness is a very powerful tool to suppress child pornography,” Lorenzo said, knowing the crime is likely to grow even further.
“Every case is painful but at the same time it strengthens us to the point that it gives us determination to address this issue.”
Philippine International Aid hosted a forum with Dr. Dolores Alforte, Executive Director of ECPAT Philippines, at the Manilatown Heritage Foundation. Before a full house of participants from the San Francisco Bay Area community, she presented the current state of sexual trafficking worldwide and how many underprivileged Filipino children are affected. The event enlightened community members who now want to take action to protect victims of sexual trafficking.
The money donated comes from the donations of alumni of U.P.High School batch 66. The funds support a variety of education projects, scholarships, equipment. The funds are held in a non profit set up by the late parents of Dr. Socrates who were UP High faculty, called Works of Mercy.
PIA Board member Dr. Elaine Serina, together with her family went to visit the Philippines last July 2018.
Part of their trip was to visit Kanlungan sa Erma Ministry in Manila and meet their sponsored PIA children. Dr. Serina has 10 children that she sends to school.
Her parents, Dr. Eliseo & Mrs. Norma Serina, sponsor 9 children.
Her sister, Dr. Enna Serina, sends 2 children to school. They have a total of 21 sponsored children.
They invited these children and PAAFI staff for lunch and the children were very happy.
According to Dr. Serina “It was special to meet and visit with the children. The trip reinforced why what PIA does is so important!”
The Serina-Chiang family have been sponsoring these children for several years now. It is people like Dr. Serina and her family that makes the lives of many disadvantaged children in the Philippines better. Mabuhay kayo!
Kanlungan sa Er-Ma Ministry supports 50 children at the drop-in center of the Ministry which is geared towards the holistic development of children in need of special protection. Services include advocacy, income-generating projects, farm training, learning and development projects.
This year, Philippine International Aid donated $10,000 to Kanlungan sa Er-Ma Ministry.
For more information on how to sponsor a child, please visit this link:
Angeline is just one of millions of children who are scared and intimidated to run and tell that they had been raped, abused or sexually assaulted. “Telling was the hardest thing, I was frightened,” she said. “He threatened to kill my mother and burn our house down if I told, I had no one to trust, no one who could protect me from my abuser, he was my father.”
She was only 13 years old when it first happened and she hid it out of fear. Angeline was saved when her abusive father took a neighbor’s eight-year-old girl into a beach house and Juanito, a neighborhood boy crept up to the open window. When he saw the abuse happening he fearlessly and instinctively shouted out “stop!” and threw stones on the roof of the beach house.
The father of Angeline was arrested and jailed and put on trial. It was only then that Angeline was able to tell of her terrible experience of being raped by her own father. Worldwide, incest is a word of shame, a word most people will not utter, talk about or even think about. It is as if humans don’t want to admit the barbarity of the abusive human being and call them “animals” or “beasts.” But they are humans with reason, knowledge of right and wrong and free will. When one in every three girls suffer abuse, mostly in their own family, is it any wonder that sexual assault is as common as blinking your eyes?
The world is blind and dumb, asleep to the extent of this terrible human vice, terrible for the abused children, a crime that mostly goes unchallenged, unpunished. The sexual abuse of women is perhaps even more frequent. A woman is raped every minute, some studies say. It is a horrid thing but millions of children endure abuse by their own biological father or by a stepfather or live-in partner of their mother or grandfather.
Most people are not Juanitos, they are more like Angeline. They are scared, frozen, numb, silenced with fear of what might happen if they cried out and accused another of wrongdoing. They are conditioned to stay silent, say nothing, do nothing.
What is wrong with the human species that humans abuse their own offspring and kill with impunity while others see and know what is being done and yet turn the other way. Most people fail to be outraged enough to act and take a stand and speak out to defend the suffering child or adult. They abandon the higher value to help the wounded, save the victim and to act in a just morally right way based on values of defending human dignity and innocent victims.
Adults are paralyzed by fear of what others will say, that they will not be believed, they will be vilified and that there will be retaliation against them. They have been conditioned by a culture of cover up and silence to abuse, trained by the leaders of church and society to shut up and say nothing. The old saying “Silence is golden” should never have been coined. The millions of ordinary people- priests, laity and citizens are shamed and intimidated by the power and the impunity of those leaders that cover up abuse in their name.
Sexual abuse of children or adults is about power, domination and control, oppressing others and seeking at the same time satisfaction of an insatiable urge for sexual relief, pleasure and satisfaction. But it is the moral duty for all decent human beings to oppose and speak against such lust for power and satisfaction. It is the total secularization and dehumanization of society that has robbed people of their sense of the spiritual value of life and human dignity.
Commercialization of humans and making marketable commodities of children for the sexual gratifications of adults for cash has desensitized societies and cultures. The sex-for-sale industry, sex tourism that is allowed and licensed by government and fueled by Internet pornography is an indication of how morally low society has sunk. Blessed are those who join rallies against it. Not to act allows it to continue unabated and creates a culture of silence.
That is what is happening in our societies and our cultures and institutions. Even if the child is abused before our eyes- innocent youth, suspects- are shot dead and many choose to see no evil, hear no evil and never to speak out about evil. That is why one in every three girls is sexually abused and there are 23,000 dead.
It is that institutional silence that is rightly condemned when it occurs all too frequently in churches, colleges, the military, the government, the movie industry and now more recently in the development aid industry. The leaders of charities and some members are accused of knowing about sexual abuse of vulnerable women and children. Many are victims of disasters and abused by personnel in their organizations. “MPs accuse aid groups of ‘abject failure’ in tackling sexual abuse,” reads The Guardian headline. It quotes: “Charities have shown “complacency verging on complicity” in responding to sexual abuse that is endemic across the sector, according to a damning report by MPs.”
This has befallen the Catholic Church and other church denominations also. They cover up the crimes of child abuse by some clergy or members of their organizations to avoid shame, embarrassment and scandal, loss of support and funds and to continue to roject a false reputation of sanctity and humanitarian concern. In fact, they are accessories to the crimes against children.
Yet the greatest crimes are in families, perhaps someone you know. Perhaps there is an awakening, a glimmer of hope as more suspects are being challenged by the Juanitos of this world and are being held accountable.
The Preda Foundation is thankful to the Philippine International Aid for its continuous support for the needs of the Preda children and scholars. April is one of them. She graduated earlier this month and is reintegrated with her family. We will continue to send her to high school through its aftercare educational assistance. Aside from Kristine, other Preda children- Ara, Rhoda, Elizabeth and Kristine, also received academic excellence awards during the school yearend activities. These children would not have been able to study without your help but thanks to our supporters they can look forward to a better future and to a life of freedom and dignity free from abuse and exploitation.
Police in many nations that are fighting back against the pedophiles who sexually exploit children online are having remarkable success. Pedophiles and child pornographers despite hiding on the dark web and using encryption software are being caught in increasing numbers. They abuse children online and send thousands of pictures of these children to each other over the internet. This incites and arouses pedophiles to go out into the real world in their own country and abroad and look for more children to sexually abuse.
The Filipino children were only six or seven years old and brought to an internet cybersex den where they were sexually abused on live camera for the pleasure and satisfaction of 53-year old Dwayne Stinsion, a US national from the eastern district of Virginia. He paid women by electronic money transfer to abuse the children. He has pleaded guilty to the crime of making child pornography taking screen photos of the abuse and saving them on his computer. He will be sentenced in August this year. The Philippine police did not find the women. They are operating in a highly sexualized society where sex bars and cybersex dens are operating with impunity and government licenses.
Arrested and jailed earlier this year was 26-year old Irishman Matthew Horan of St. John’s Estate, Clondalkin, Dublin. Horan is a convicted pedophile who sexually exploited young Irish and American girls over the internet some as young as nine years old. Thousands of images of children being sexually abused were found in his home. He was sentenced to seven and a half years with two years suspended if he abides by certain court instructions. In the future, the instructions will hopefully include a ban on travel abroad if the new amendments to the Irish Sexual Offenses Law are enacted.
In the Philippines, a US national pleaded guilty to child abuse charges and human trafficking after he was arrested and brought to court four and a half years ago. Preda Foundation assisted the victims to get justice. He may be charged in the United States under the US extraterritorial law.
Last December 2017, as many as 200 pedophiles abusing children online were arrested by the UK National Crime Agency (NCA). There were 250 victims identified and they were being groomed and trapped by the pedophiles who posed online as teenagers. They enticed their teenage victims to send them sexually explicit photos of themselves and the pedophiles used them to get more and blackmailed the children threatening to post the images on Facebook or elsewhere.
Last September, Paul Leighton 32, from Seaham, County Durham, was sentenced to 16 years for child rape that happened thousands of miles away. He tricked one 14-year old boy into sending naked photos of himself and then he blackmailed the boy into repeatedly sexually abusing his one-year old niece online. The boy was charged by the police. Leighton told police that he enjoyed the total power he had over his victims of which there were many more in Australia, Canada, the US and the UK.
According to the National Crime Agency Director Will Kerr, as many as 400 suspects are arrested every month for sending child pornography images over the internet. Civilian child protectors are using the tactics of the pedophiles against them that is leading to more arrests. Some police forces are accepting the evidence gathered by civilian “pedophile hunters” who use a decoy and poise as young teenagers online and lure pedophiles to engage in grooming them. Then, they turn the recorded evidence of a crime be it an e-mail or chats or other gathered information to the police. In the UK, a research by the BBC learned that 150 suspects were investigated by police using information provided by the ‘hunters.” Police are increasingly using the information to make their own investigations and make arrests.
However, some of the hunters are more aggressive and they identify the suspects themselves and confront them face-to-face and expose them on Facebook Live. This is very dangerous and risky. The suspect when confronted may become violent and such encounters ought to be left to the police. Parents are careless also in photographing their own children in the bathtub or naked on the beach or by the pool and posting them on the social media for all to see. Pedophiles will have access to these pictures and might even target them. Children should have the right to their privacy, too.
It is prevention that will prove most effective to curb child abuse over the internet. Parents above all must be vigilant to protect the rights and dignity of their children online. They must teach their children never to start a relationship online that they cannot physically or otherwise verify the identity of the person.
They should never send photographs of themselves to any stranger they meet online or ever meet with them alone. Many young people are compromised and extortion follows threats to expose them on social media. Some have committed suicide. Young people and parents ought to have trust and share information and report suspects to the police.
Jessica was a lost child wandering the streets of a Philippine city, picked up by a human trafficker and brought to different places where she was sold as a commodity to foreign sex tourists to be abused. She didn’t know what was happening to her at 14-years of age. She was raped, exploited and robbed of her virginity. She became angry at the world and felt she was nothing and had nothing. She felt she has no future, no present and no past life. All was hopeless and when rescued and placed in government shelters, she escaped several times and rebelled as an aggressive and angry young, uneducated teenager filled with hatred and pain.
In desperation, the social workers brought her to the Preda girls home, an open home where there are no guards, fences or high walls. The children are free to leave but almost all choose to stay and try a life in a happy community. So Jessica stayed by her free choice because she was given that free human choice with respect, affirmation, dignity and the importance and rights that are her due. She found hope, encouragement and support.
Then she volunteered for Emotional Expression Therapy and there in the cushioned room, she cried and shouted out all the pain, hurt, frustration and hatred she carried deep within her since early childhood and when she was cruelly raped and abused.
Then, after weeks she began to change in self-awareness and self-knowledge and grew self-confident and found within herself the courage to file charges against her abusers and find justice. She was by then a strong and empowered young lady. It was suffering, death to the past life and the beginning of new life. It was a kind of resurrection for Jessica, a coming to life from a dark, pain-filled existence to a bright, hope-filled future with exciting new possibilities of friendship and education and a life of fulfillment.
So it is with hope that change is possible and that change can be in individual lives like that of Jessica and so with thousands of lives in society. From the darkness of social evil, injustice and all the pain and suffering, hope brings change and makes healing possible. The cruel dictator can be thrown down from his thrown of arrogance and the trampled upon can recover and stand up to live again.
That is the message of the Gospel story of the man from Nazareth that was so rejected by the leaders, the elders and the mob that he, a good person of absolute integrity, was falsely accused, framed up, charged, and made to suffer the death penalty. He spoke about truth, justice, human dignity and the rights of all and especially of children and women. He preached equality and sharing and he denounced hypocrisy, exploitation and oppression and he called for change and injustice to end. Yet having lived a good life caring for others, healing and supporting the weak and the poor and the needy, forgiving those who needed forgiveness, he was judged and condemned as a criminal and nailed to an instrument of cruel barbaric death.
But after such apparent total failure of his work, the scattering of his followers, the collapse of his mission, then what appeared to all to be an end of change in the world, hope lived on. He was alive and lived on in the thoughts, imaginations, feelings and in the belief of his followers. His powerful intoxicating words promising a happier life if we loved each other instead of killing, maiming and hurting each other was possible. A life of equality and dignity for all was still possible like snowdrops emerging in the depth of winter.
Jessica shared in that same hope and experienced that new life because she came to believe in herself because others inspired by the values of the Man from Nazareth gave her courage, support, care, friendship and comfort in her darkest hours.