Human Trafficking

Summer                                                             Moon of the First Harvests

9 years ago this November I went on a significant trip paid for by money inherited from my father.  It took me to Singapore where my sister, Mary, hosted me and showed me her adopted city.  After Singapore I flew Tiger Airlines to Bangkok where I spent 5 days getting acclimated to Thai culture and the particular culture of Bangkok’s China Town. My hotel there cost $17.00 a night.

(Yaowarat Road.  Bangkok’s China Town)

On the 6th day I took a flight from Bangkok’s old airport on Bangkok Air to Siem Reap, Cambodia.  We landed late at night and the customs area looked like a prison detainee facility in a bad B-movie.  At one box I applied for my visa and at one right next to it, a Cambodian official stamped in it and I was in country.

The taxi scrum had all kinds of vehicles and people, but I happened, quite by accident, on a wonderful driver, Mr. Rit.  He drove me around for the entire time I was in Siem Reap, including several trips out to Angkor, the ancient Khmer region where over 75 different temples built by many different rulers dot the landscape, among them what westerner’s call Angkor Wat, which actually means, Angkor Temple.

(Siem Reap)

Tonight I watched a movie called Trade of Innocents.  It’s a Netflix streaming movie, so it’s easily available.  The focus is human trafficking, based on real events, in the city Siem Reap.  This lovely city, deep in the Cambodian jungle, has what I guess you could say is the misfortune of being the gateway to Angkor.  As such, it has seen a hotel building boom of enormous proportions, making it possible to stay in Siem Reap at almost any price point.  My hotel was $25 a night for a room with teak furniture and a tiled complete bath.  You could pay then $500 a night at Hotel D’Angkor, the old French colonial hotel of ridiculous elegance.

(Bayon Temple.)

All this tourist traffic has apparently made Siem Reap a center for the trade in Cambodian and Vietnamese girls.  The problem gets reinforced by a culturally acceptable practice of sending a daughter into the city brothels to support her family.  This was a side of Siem Reap that was invisible to me.  I saw a small city with contradictions between rich and poor, with beautiful buildings and a friendly people, with local artisans of incredible skill, but I didn’t see the backrooms and back alleys where children, young children, were bartered and rented for an evening.

My friends Paul and Sarah Strickland have made the trafficking of girls a priority issue.  It’s easy to see why.  Girl Rising, the movie Kate and I saw earlier this month, also pleads the case for girls, a vulnerable population everywhere, vulnerable not only to human trafficking but to enforced ignorance, too.  If you have a daughter, or a granddaughter, or if you love a woman who was a daughter once, then these two movies should make you pause a moment.  And wonder how to help.