When Ruth, 17, arrived at Tahanan Sta. Luisa, a crisis intervention center for abused and exploited girls, it was evident that dealing with her would be quite a challenge. She had long, dirty nails, hair with lice, yellowish teeth, strong body odor, and tattered, filthy clothes. She was rude, irritable, defensive, sarcastic, hard-headed, and an attention-seeker. She spoke loudly, picked fights with everyone, refused to do household chores, bullied the other girls, and flirted with male visitors and volunteers.
Ruth is the eighth child in a brood of eleven. They had very little—they lived in a one-room shack and barely had enough to eat. When her mother started having an affair with a married man, her father became extremely violent and controlling, taking out his anger and frustration with his wife on his children. "He forced me and my siblings to sell sampaguita in the streets," Ruth says. "We would come home tired and hungry at the end of the day, and he would beat us up when we did not earn as much as he expected. He used the money to buy alcohol for himself, and when he was drunk, he became even more violent and hit us harder." For years, Ruth suffered physical and verbal abuse from her father, and emotional and moral neglect from her mother.
A strong contrast to Ruth is Carol*, a quiet, withdrawn 16-year-old. "My father died when I was very young and my mother disappeared shortly after," she says. "I was left under the care of my uncle and two older brothers, who constantly molested me and beat me up." In an attempt to escape from her abusive home environment, she ran away from home and met three other teenaged girls who encouraged her to become a prostitute.
For several months, she rode in cabs and gave "service" to the drivers, who paid her P50 to P200, depending on how far she was willing to go. She used the money she earned to buy rugby and shabu for herself and her friends. "I needed the drugs to help me become less inhibited and more aggressive," she admits. In the time she spent as a prostitute, she had a boyfriend, got pregnant, had an abortion, and repeatedly tried to kill herself by slashing her wrists. A social worker found her in the area where taxi drivers would pick her up, and immediately brought her to the National Center for Mental Health for evaluation. She would later be referred to Tahanan Sta. Luisa for treatment and rehabilitation.
Wendy*, 16, used to roam the streets of Manila, begging for money. She was a member of a fraternity and often got into dangerous brawls with other groups. "My mother died when I was 13, and for reasons I never discovered, my father attempted to kill me when I was four," she says. "After my mother's death, I was entrusted to my sister and her husband. I didn't like them, so I often went out with my friends and came home late at night. Sometimes, when I was lucky, she would already be asleep. But on most nights, she'd still be awake, and would get mad at me for staying out. We would start yelling at each other, and she would often beat me up.
"My sister's husband is mentally ill. He would rape me whenever we were alone in the house. At first, I would only confide in my friends. They urged me to tell my sister, but I refused to do it because I was scared she would hit me again and things would only get worse. After a few months, I finally worked up the courage to talk to her. She didn't believe me. I ran away from home and stayed at a friend's house. A social worker found me there in August 2006 and brought me to Tahanan Sta. Luisa."