Wednesday, August 20, 2008


There aren't going to be any pictures in this post, because I'm going to tell the stories of the trafficking victims I have met, and I want to protect their identities.

Here is the generic story: A girl from a very poor family is taken out of school in the second or third grade to work in the fields. For one of many reasons - accelerated by a general lack of education and economic need - the family sells the girl to a trafficker for about $500 (or less), or slightly less than the annual GDP. The girl is taken illegally upriver into Cambodia and is put to work for a pimp in a casino, hotel or brothel. She may work there for several years, during which time she is totally isolated. If she is lucky, she escapes, sometimes after many years of slavery.

And, they can't go home. Stigma aside, if your family sold you into the sex trade when you were 12, they are very likely to do it again. Returnees are at the highest risk for re-trafficking: they lack life skills, literacy and general education, so getting a job is very difficult. They lack a social network to support them and doctors who are willing to treat them, because they are underage. The government will happily house them - with drug addicts and prostitutes who have been taken off the street. They are mostly unaware of sexually transmitted infections, even if they have them.

So Adapt opened an group home, to give returnees a safe haven where they get educational and vocational support, mental and physical healthcare, life skills training (because pimps don't teach their sex slaves how to balance a check book), and reintegration support. And they often hang out here.

Cathy tutors two of the girls from the Open House every night. I will call them Laverne and Shirley. Laverne is 21, but looks 13. She's very sweet, and you would never guess that she was a sex worker for two years. Shes also very bright smart, but behind on her reading and writing. She's great at helping Shirley, who is 19 and hasn't been in school since the 1st grade. Shirley's learning to read and write for the first time, and to count past ten. She is very stylish.

There is also a pair of twins who randomly wander and cook for us - (I think because they love Chi Thao, who runs the Open House, and lives here). They were trafficked to Malaysia in the 10th grade and managed to escape. When they returned, were placed in a home since their mother is in jail in Cambodia, but they were both such exceptional students that they were put in a boarding school and spend their summers here. Almost three years after being trafficked, they are in the 11th grade, and are considered a miraculous story of keeping your shit together.

The mood in the office is very communal, family-like and safe. Its all women, we all live here. The twins made dinner the other night, and we watched kung fu panda. I was sitting there over dinner and looking across at the girls from the open house. Its real cognitive dissonance, to be joking around with these girls and think that at 13, they had their first sexual experience in captivity with a stranger. That they lived in slavery. The fact that they can still crack a joke, is a testament to human resilience.

No comments: