Bay Area Non-profit Supports Victims of Sex Trade in Asia

By
October 28, 2004

Srey Mom, a 14-year-old girl from Cambodia, had a turbulent
relationship with her mother and, after a heated argument, she ran
away from home. Soon into her flight from home, a woman approached
Srey Mom at a bus stop, and the two became acquainted. A few days
later, the woman turned Srey Mom over to a brothel in Poi Pet,
Cambodia, 220 miles from the capital of Phnom Penh. The brothel
owner rubbed Srey Mom with pineapple juice, believed to lighten the
skin, and sold her virginity to a businessman. Srey Mom found
herself entangled in the frightening world of human sex
trafficking. In the beginning, she was being sold to men—a
lot of them American—for $27, and now, four years later, she
is being sold for $3.

Srey Mom’s story, reported by Nicholas D. Kristoff in a
controversial New York Times op/ed piece last January, is similar
to an estimated 30,000 children in Cambodia, and an estimated
700,000 people worldwide, according to Cambodia’s minister of
women’s affairs. Human trafficking—specifically human
sex trafficking—is the fastest growing and third largest
criminal industry in the world, behind drug and illegal weapon
trafficking, according to U.S. Department of State. Many people are
rising up to fight this problem, including groups in the Bay Area
and students at Mills.

The sex trafficking industry is very prominent in some
countries, including Cambodia, and targets women and girls as young
as five years old that come from impoverished families, and are
usually illiterate and uneducated. Children are sometimes sold by
family members or friends made desperate by economic conditions in
Cambodia. Young women are told they are going to work in cafes,
massage parlors or shops to help their families earn a living, but
soon realize they have been entrapped as sex slaves, sold to men to
perform a range of sexual acts.

As Kristoff found out, the trafficking industry is extremely
complicated. While reporting in Cambodia, he bought the freedom of
both Srey Mom and another sex slave, Srey Neth and returned both
girls to their families. Srey Neth, a slave for only two months, is
still living at home and currently collecting supplies and money to
start her own shop. But Srey Mom, after two days back at home, had
a fight with her mother and returned to the brothel in Poi Pet.

There are numerous agencies and organizations working for
exposure of the sex trade and freedom for women. Outer Voices is a
small, non-profit group, based in the Bay Area. An independent
media association, they aim to give women’s groups in the
Pacific Rim access to media outlets they wouldn’t normally
have.

Stephanie Guyer-Stevens founded Outer Voices after she attended
a conference held by War Resisters International in Thailand 12
years ago. One of the few Americans in attendance, she was able to
gain a lot of insight into what the United States could be doing to
help women in Asia. “Grassroots women organizations in Asia
need more media attention to bring more policy changes. Then,
hopefully, with the media attention will come more money and more
bodies to support their work,” said Guyer-Stevens.

The current project is looking at sex trafficking in Cambodia.
The culmination of the project will be a public radio documentary
about the sex trade. Guyer-Stevens said, “Radio is a perfect
medium because it’s anonymous and everyone has a
radio.”

The documentary will educate Americans about the issue,
specifically in Cambodia. “The sex industry is not new news
in Asia, it’s an age old industry,” said Guyer-Stevens.
“Cambodia has seen outrageous decades of genocide and
poverty, there is no tourism and no economy. Their great resource
is their people and the sellable ones are the girls. So basically,
Cambodia’s economy is rebuilding itself on the bodies of
little girls. Westerners have been amongst the biggest buyers, they
actually proliferate the sex industry.”

The Bush administration has played a large role in sending aid
to Cambodia to stop the sex trade and bring to justice those who
participate in the exploitation of women and children. Secretary of
State Colin Powell is leading the government’s efforts to
derail human sex trafficking, and has set up an office to deal with
the problem. Asked by MSNBC’s Chris Hanson why sex
trafficking has become such a large issue for the current
administration, Powell said, “Because it’s the worst
kind of human exploitation imaginable.  Can you imagine young
children, learning their ABCs or whatever the equivalent is in
their language, being used as sexual slaves for
predators?”

Guyer-Stevens said she’s skeptical of the efforts.
“I don’t think its being done out of good intentions. I
see a lot of money [from the Bush Administration] going towards
Christian groups that are working in Cambodia. It’s hard to
say what the intentions are of any fundamentalist Christian
group,” she said. “In international groups they focus
on conversion to the religion and it might be that the churches are
able to use their work to get more support here in the United
States.”

Karoline Kemp, a senior at Mills in the Institute for Civic
Leadership, is interning with Outer Voices this semester. Kemp
said, “We hope to create an awareness among the women here of
this huge issue among women in Cambodia [and] broaden women’s
views of the situation.”

“I personally hope to gain experiences working with
grassroots women’s organizations in developing
nations,” Kemp said, “I also hope to further the cause
of women’s groups to work for social change for
themselves.”

In January three Outer Voices members will go to Cambodia to
interview the women and groups fighting against the sex trade
there. Kemp is currently looking for grants in order to join the
women on their excursion to Cambodia.

“It’s important for Mills students, and any students
really, to forge and develop an awareness of international policy
making and what America’s role is in that,”
Guyer-Stevens said.


Bay Area Non-profit Supports Victims of Sex Trade in Asia was published on October 28, 2004 in Features

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