Through our partnership with IJM, we are sharing stories of their work for justice in the world. We hope these stories serve to practically undergird the truths we’ve uncovered together in days 1 through 4.
This is the story of “Cassie” (a pseudonym). Cassie is one of the brave survivors IJM has had the privilege of serving. Please note that parts of her story are graphic and difficult to comprehend. However, the overriding truth is that her story shows the goodness and redemption of a merciful God.
Cassie is the youngest of twelve siblings and refers to her home as “the mountain.” It is a remote province in the Philippines. “My life in the mountain was very hard,” Cassie says. There was no electricity, no technology, and no way to vote or participate in society in the mountain. Her father moved them to a city when Cassie was about ten years old so she could go to school. But life was still hard. “I don’t have complete (school) uniform, I don’t have notebook, pencil, and I don’t have shoes.”
The family used to grow all their food, but they needed money to pay for it. Cassie helped her mother work as a maid for another family. It was here she met A.J.
“When first I met [A.J.], he’s telling me that Manila is very nice. I wanted to go to Manila because he told me that he could help me reach all my dreams in Manila. I remember my first time in Manila. It was very happy because there’s lots of buildings. People are very free,” Cassie says. “[A.J.] starts taking care of me. I wear nice clothes, and I have nice shoes, complete uniform in school, and I have a pen, a notebook, and bag.”
School was finally a reality—but it soon became Cassie’s only refuge and the only place she felt safe. She dreaded going home to A.J.’s house.
“When I go home, there is my recruiter. He is just waiting for me, because there’s customers waiting for me.”
A.J. was running a cybersex trafficking operation out of his home. Cassie and other children were his victims. He preyed on the children of family friends and vulnerable teenage neighbors to create a fake family. He appeared to neighbors as a benevolent father figure, sending the children to good schools and posting photos of pool parties and vacations on Facebook.
“We are six victims inside of the house,” Cassie says. A.J. started grooming even younger children, including a six-year-old boy and eleven-month-old baby girl. Cassie could only dream of escape. She dared not tell anyone at school or try to communicate back home what was happening. She was terrified.
“It was really hard,” Cassie continues, her chilling words tumbling out quickly. “I was thinking, I want to die, I want to die because of this pain, but I can’t. I want to stop my breath. But, it’s always—Oh, I’m still breathing. Why can’t I die?”
She came home from school on a Friday in November of 2014, with the same pit that always dropped into her stomach on the weekends. Yet that night would be different.
Cassie woke up to loud noises and police inside the three-story house where she had suffered nearly five years of abuse that was broadcast online. “I was very scared. I was crying,” Cassie recalls. An IJM social worker was there that night, and she explained that Cassie and the younger children were not in trouble. They were being rescued.
“IJM rescued me and transferred me in my second home,” Cassie says with a smile, eager to talk about her “second home,” the beautiful aftercare shelter where she now lives. She calls the other girls her “second sisters,” and together they love dancing to YouTube choreographers and playing basketball every morning before classes begin.
IJM social workers and staff at the home are helping Cassie process the pain and betrayal she carried for so long in secret.
“At first, Cassie blamed herself for dreaming high,” says Karen, her IJM social worker. “It is hard to pen how strong and courageous Cassie has been, given the intensity of circumstances she went through and how she has found her inner strength and beauty in the process of recovery. Cassie overcame the most difficult enemy she faced, herself, when she decided to stop blaming herself for everything that has happened. She unceasingly fights for her rights and strives for the realization of her dreams.”
Cassie says, “What gives me hope is first God. Because He’s my father who is there for me always. And my family. My sisters in my second home. And the owner of this shelter. And all the people who are always there for us just to support us. They are all my strength.”
As you continue on this journey of exploring the heart of Jesus and the hope of restoration, may Cassie’s story stay with you. And may her bravery and deep trust in God be a reminder to all of us that our lives are not merely dictated by our current circumstance, but propelled by hope.