The toll of trafficking?
Stars and Stripes June 20, 2007
She told a story common among Filipinas who leave their country to work elsewhere: She needed money for her family back home.
In Hazel’s case, she said she came to Japan to make money for her twin sister’s operation back in the Philippines.
Instead, Hazel (not her real name) says she found herself the victim of a brutal rape on just her third night on Okinawa. Activists in combating global human trafficking say she’s one of countless women brought to Japan under false pretenses and forced into prostitution.
The 22-year-old said she was raped in an Okinawa City hotel room Feb. 18 by a soldier, later identified as Sgt. Ronald Hopstock Jr., 25, assigned to Kadena Air Base. Okinawa prosecutors did not indict Hopstock, who is currently restricted to Kadena Air Base pending an investigation into the alleged rape.
Okinawa police said he claimed he paid a bartender to have sex with her.
Hazel denies receiving any money and claims she would never prostitute herself. Whatever the circumstances, the encounter at the Hotel New Century in Okinawa City resulted in massive genital bleeding, and Hazel spent a week in the hospital.
"The doctors told me that if she had been delayed much longer in getting help, she could have bled to death, the wound was so bad," said Father Rommel Cruz, the priest of the Yomitan Catholic Church, which has taken up Hazel’s case.
"I am convinced this is the result of human trafficking," Cruz said recently at his small church near Torii Station. "This is much more than a simple rape case."
Cruz described Hazel as a "naive country girl" from the Philippines province of Palawan. During a two-hour interview, she sat quietly on a metal folding chair in Cruz’s church, answering questions softly in Tagalog while the priest translated.
Dressed in a white polo shirt and beige pants, she held her hands tightly in front of her. Her straight hair was tied in the back with a rubber band. She turned 22 this month, but at barely 5 feet tall and weighing about 100 pounds, she looks much younger.
"I moved to Manila in 2006 from my hometown of Palawan to work and raise money for my twin sister," Hazel, the eldest of six girls, said.
"My sister needed a second surgery for injuries she sustained in a traffic accident two years ago," she said. "In Manila, I worked on a sales promotion staff for a credit company. I was paid about $300 a month, which was not enough to help my sister’s medical costs for the operation."
Early this year, a distant relative told her about an opportunity to work as a dancer in Japan for $2,000 a month.
"I went to a hiring agency to find out about the job," she said. "I had no experience but the lady at the employment agency told me that I would get training in Japan after I got there."
She said she was promised a three-month contract and $6,000 after she returned to Manila.
It took a while for Hazel to realize it might be too good to be true. Before she and a group of other girls left Manila on Feb. 15, a woman from the agency told the Filipinas to throw away all the documentation they had been given, including certificates stating they were "professional dancers."
Instead, they were told to memorize the correct responses to questions that might be asked by immigration officials when they arrived on Okinawa.
"I was not really suspicious yet, because the agency lady seemed to be very nice and I trusted her words," Hazel said. "As soon as we arrived at Naha and went through immigration, a Filipino broker met with us at the airport. He took away our passports."
But she had been told the documents were to be held in safekeeping until her return trip home.
She was taken directly to the Mermaid, a club on Okinawa City’s Park Avenue, a popular entertainment district. She was told to change clothes and mingle with the customers. It was there she began to worry something was amiss.
"I was quite disturbed," she said. "According to the contract, I was not supposed to entertain customers. I was beginning to wonder why I was entertaining customers instead of dancing."
She worked until 3 a.m. and then was taken to a four-bedroom house in Awase, which she shared with 15 other women. They slept in bunk beds, Hazel said.
On the second evening, she was again told to sit and entertain customers with three other Filipinas.
"In the middle of the evening, a red light attached to a wall in the club suddenly started flashing with alarming sound," she said, twirling her index finger. "Then papa-san (the manager) told us to hide in the back room. Later, I saw a note posted on the wall of the club, saying in English that dancers are not allowed to sit with customers.
"I started to become very nervous," she said. "I asked myself what made me place myself in this situation."
Because the contract stipulated she would not be paid until she returned to the Philippines, Hazel had no spending money. But she did not think she’d have to turn to prostitution.
"I thought I could borrow some money from my fellow workers or the club owner," she explained.
Cruz said this is a general practice in the Philippines.
"It is very common among neighbors to borrow rice or money or anything you run short of. We all help each other," he said.
On Feb. 17, her third day on Okinawa, Hazel was given her first dancing assignment. "I was relieved to know that I was doing what I came here for," she said. But she became worried about what was happening.
"I asked some of my co-workers, who have been here already for a few weeks, about the situation and they said that they, too, had not expected to have to sit with the customers," she said. "They informed me about the reality that we have to greet and entertain customers.
"Then they told me about ‘bar fine,’ in which a customer is expected to pay the club in order to take an employee out to eat or just to keep company before the club closes," she said. "That’s all they told me. They did not tell me anything more than that."
That night, her third on Okinawa, Hazel left the club with Hopstock, five other Filipinas and five other servicemembers. The others went directly to the Hotel New Century, but she agreed to split off with the soldier and go to a karaoke bar.
Later that night, when they got to the hotel, she called the other women in order to join the group, but was told the room was full.
It was late and Hopstock seemed like a gentle guy, Hazel thought. "At the karaoke place, he had been so nice," she said. "He did not seem to be a person that would harm me."
Hopstock paid for a room, she said. They talked for a while and then laid down in separate beds, fully clothed and she went to sleep. She said she awoke with him forcing himself on her.
Hazel did not want to talk about the details of the alleged rape. She is now staying with Japanese nuns in a church on the island and visits Cruz about once a week.
She said she was upset when Japanese prosecutors decided in April not to indict Hopstock, saying there was not enough evidence to go forward with a trial. She is anxiously awaiting the outcome of the Army’s investigation.
The incident continues to torment her.
"I can’t think of my future," she said as teardrops trickled down her face.
"The only way for me to go back to a normal life is to get justice."
Said Cruz: "Her only fault was that she is so naïve and she trusts people so easily."
However, something good has come out of her travails.
"After this tragic event on Okinawa was reported," Cruz said. "the Philippines media, TV stations and newspaper companies jointly offered money to cover the operation costs for her sister."