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“I want to let others know how I endured my past.” - Zoey's story

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“I want to let others know how I endured my past.” - Zoey's story

Zoey* overcame child trafficking and abuse. Today, she's passionate about sharing her story to help protect more children.

Some of Zoey’s happiest childhood memories involve her family.

Although they weren’t well-off, Zoey’s parents worked hard to provide a loving home for her and her older siblings in the Philippines.

Zoey had a particularly close relationship with one of her sisters, who was eight years older than her. She fondly remembers going to the beach together to play.

But from the age of eight, Zoey’s memories with her sisters take a dark turn.

When her sisters married and moved out of the family home, they invited Zoey to visit their new houses.

Zoey didn’t dream that they would harm her. But Zoey’s sisters began sexually abusing her, while a man in Sweden paid to direct and watch the abuse online.

This happened again and again for the next four years of Zoey’s life.

When Swedish authorities arrested the offender, digital forensic evidence revealed that he was talking to multiple abusers in the Philippines – including Zoey’s sisters.

Swedish authorities coordinated with Philippine police to conduct related investigations in the Philippines. Their investigations led them to Zoey.

Zoey was brought to an aftercare shelter to keep her safe and receive vital support from IJM.

She had many mixed emotions when she first arrived at the shelter. She was accustomed to living with her parents, and the separation was a shock.

However, as Zoey started to spend more time there, she slowly began to trust the social workers and develop friendships. She still talks to some of them to this day.

“Little by little, as I spent more time in the [shelter], I started to see signs that I had potential in me, that other people were seeing and pointing out to me. That boosted my confidence,” she said.

Zoey’s IJM social worker, who supported Zoey to overcome her trauma, describes her as a courageous person:

“She is able to find her strength and to move forward with her life. I am so proud.”

When Zoey was ready to return to her hometown, she was nervous about how people would react to her.

But Zoey soon realized that she had nothing to worry about. Her circle of friends welcomed her with open arms:

“What helped me were those people who were not ashamed of what happened to me. The circle of friends who still treated me as a friend. They did not judge me based on what I went through,” she said.

Zoey started opening up about her experiences. One day, after sharing her story with her cousin, Zoey recalls,

“The weight in my chest lifted when I shared my story. You know someone is listening. It makes me feel lighter.”

Zoey was inspired to become a member of the Philippine Survivor Network, a group of survivors who are using their experience to shape and lead a movement to protect others from violence.

“I see how my story inspires others. When I think about my experiences, how I was able to overcome them, I want to let others know how I endured my past. I want to inspire others through my storytelling,” she said.

Zoey is now in her second year of college studying Psychology. She dreams of being a licensed psychologist one day.

*Pseudonym used to protect survivor's identity.

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