Crying Game

Crying Game

AnnaMaria Bruni, 2020 Finalist

“Crying Game” is a critique of the impact of U.S. military bases in the Philippines in creating prostitution and sexual violence in surrounding communities.

A portrait of Jose Maria Escrivà, a Spanish Roman Catholic priest who founded the Opus Dei organization in the church, inside a chapel at Clark.

Girls crossing the road in Angeles City. The city is known as a main source of entertainment in the Philippines. Prices for women in go-go bars vary depending on the venue.

Rosario Baluyot died from a severe infection in her cervix in May, 1987. Parts of an electronic vibrator used by the man who abused her were stuck inside her vagina for over seven months.

The Victoria Children’s Home in Subic is a therapeutic center run by the Preda Foundation, which offers comprehensive care for children who have suffered sexual exploitation and trafficking.

Girls take a nap in a hallway after lunch at the Victoria Children’s Home.

Girls taking care of each other. Most of them share similar childhood abuse.

MariJ is the ninth child of a big family. Staff from the Preda Foundation helped her get off the streets, but she still finds it difficult to control the rage she feels as a result of the abuse she suffered.

During treatment sessions known as feeling therapy, or emotional expression therapy, girls tackle the underlying pain of years of abuse.

Dealing with pain and letting it go is one of the hardest things for these little girls.

In primal therapy treatment, girls gather in a group in a padded therapy room and give themselves the right to cry, shout and punch the cushions to release their frustrations and anger.

Therapy is based on the idea that only when suppressed pain and anger are experienced and released, the child becomes whole again, and is able to cope with her future.

A love message on a door at the home.

Release therapy is exhausting for many of the girls, who have never had a chance to vent their pain in a safe environment.

At the Victoria Children’s Home, the key thing is that girls feel loved and protected again.

"Chilotte" is a survivor of sexual exploitation. At a very young age, she was sex trafficked to both locals and foreign nationals. Her biological mother was a prostitute and is currently in jail.

The youngest girl at Victoria Children’s Home is believed to be between five and seven years of age. She doesn’t know when her birthday is because her family never celebrated it.

The U.S. Naval Station at Subic Bay was one of America's largest naval bases in Asia. Today Subic is one of the top two destinations for sex tourism in the Philippines. The other is Angeles City, close to where Clark Air Base operated for more than eight decades.

A group of students chatting in the main street of Subic.

Part of the impact of U.S. military bases in the Philippines has been that the cities of Subic Olongapo and Angeles City draw the highest number of sex tourists in the country.

Many sex bars have no entrance fees, although some charge up to $10. Two thousand pesos – about $39 – is the average price having sex with one of the girls.

In the club you pretend,” one of the girls working at a bar told me. “You pretend you’re happy."

Many of the young women who work in the bars in Subic say foreign men who have moved to the city are regulars at the sex bars.

At Club Atlantis Bar in Angeles City, the club celebrates 10 years of being in business with a challenge between girls.

In Manila, members of Virlanie, a non-profit organization that works with marginalized children and communities, help local mothers fill out birth certificates for their newborns. The organization works to strengthen families and support children as a way to keep young people off the streets, where they are easy prey for pimps. An estimated 246,000 children roam the streets of major urban centers throughout the Philippines.

In the Philippines, 31.4 of children live below the poverty line. They are likely to drop out of school early, and to become involved in high-risk activities, like the sex trade.

Widespread poverty and domestic violence are some of the main reasons that children wind up on the streets, becoming easy prey for pimps.

Marlene was a sex slave for almost her entire childhood. She was rescued from the streets in 1996, when she was 12, by the Preda Foundation. Today she works for Preda, trying to save girls from a life she knows too well. She has become one of key staff members at Preda; she’s known as the right hand of founder Father Shay Cullen.

Photographer's Statement: 

Ever since the establishment of U.S. military bases in the Philippines in the late nineteenth century, the cities of Olongapo, Subic, and Angeles City have lived through a specific aftermath of the forces of conflict: in just a few years, the growing presence of soldiers turned these cities into capitals of prostitution and red light clubs.

Even after Clark Air Base near Angeles City, and the U.S. Naval Station at Subic Bay ceased operations as American military facilities, the impact of decades of a military presence left its legacy: prostitution continued to grow in these cities, which also became known as places for recruitment of minors into the sex trade. With the breakdown of legal and moral prohibitions brought on by the sex trade, sexual exploitation has grown:

Girls who run away from sexual violence at home, perpetrated by relatives and neighbors often end up living on the street, becoming easy prey for pimps who bring them into prostitution rings and sex clubs.

As the sex industry has grown, so has impunity for sex crimes.

Local officials often act as negotiators between child abusers and the parents of abused children, arranging a financial settlement, which the official takes a cut of, and which leaves the pedophile free to abuse other children.

According to a study by the Psychological Trauma Program of the University of the Philippines, prostitution has grown to account for the fourth largest source of the country’s GNP. Experts say that children who have suffered sexual abuse carry heavy emotional baggage that causes problems for them with trust towards others; expression of sexuality; and uncontrolled anger. Many girls who have suffered sexual abuse, and struggle to find self-worth, are often easily lured into the sex trade, which in turn can lead to drug and alcohol abuse to numb the pain.

One of the organizations fighting to save these girls is the Preda Foundation, founded in Olongapo in 1974 by Father Shay Cullen, an Irish priest who is one of the first activists to fight back against the sex trade that grew around the U.S. military bases. Cullen has been nominated four times for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work. The Victoria Children’s Home in Subic is a program founded by Preda, where staff members use “emotional expression therapy,” to help the girls deal with the anger and emotional wounds they carry as part of the healing process.

annamaria.bruni's picture

Born in Cagliari, Italy, in 1974, Annamaria Bruni developed a strong interest in photos from an early age, thanks to her father's passion for photography. She took her first steps in the field in Sardinia, working as a photographer’s assistant, then she moved to London, where she worked with various modeling agencies. During this period she specialized in portraits of women, which has remained her great passion. In 2004 she traveled to Egypt and fell in love with the Middle East. Since then, she has collaborated with several NGOs, traveling to the West Bank,Gaza,Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Afghanistan, Iran, Philippines, and Thailand, focusing on social issues and the aftermath of war.