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Archive for the category “Trafficking”

Virginity for sale: Cambodia

Abigail Haworth writes for The Guardian:

Cambodia: Virgin tradeThree years ago, when Vannith Uy arrived in Phnom Penh from the countryside, she wanted to open a hair and beauty salon on proper premises in the Cambodian capital. “But my family could find only dirty jobs,” she says. “I wanted a place where my daughter and I could work together.” So Uy did something she describes as her “only choice”: she sold her 18-year-old daughter Chamnan’s virginity to a wealthy local man for £900.

The man was a police general who frequented the beer garden where Uy worked as a kitchen help, she says. He bought Chamnan for six days and nights. He installed her in a hotel room on Phnom Penh’s outskirts and visited her many times to have sex. She was allowed to call her mother once a day. By the third day, Uy recalls, Chamnan was so weak and distressed that the man summoned a doctor on his payroll to give her painkillers and a vitamin shot “so she had the strength to keep going until the end of the week”.

Uy received cash payment in full, but her planned salon never materialised. The money that had represented a life-changing sum – equivalent to around five years’ salary in her home village in Kandal province – soon trickled away. After she’d paid her sick husband’s medical bills, given cash to her ageing parents and bought Chamnan a gold necklace to “raise her spirits”, there wasn’t much left. Uy had greatly underestimated the task of clawing her way out of hardship; her stricken expression as she talks suggests she also miscalculated the personal costs of selling her daughter’s body to try.

Where to begin unravelling the shadowy, painful layers of Uy and Chamnan’s story? It is not straightforward. Often overlooked by more dramatic tales of enslavement in brothels, the trade in virgins is one of the most endemic forms of sexual exploitation in Cambodia. It is a market sustained by severe poverty and ingrained gender inequality. Its clients are influential Cambodian men and other members of Asia’s elite who enjoy total impunity from a corrupt justice system. Most misunderstood of all, many of those involved in the transactions are not hardcore criminals. They are mothers, fathers, friends and neighbours.

Cambodia is far from the only place where women and girls are treated as commodities. But in this country of 15 million people, the demand for virgins is big business that thrives due to cultural myth and other local factors. “Many Asian men, especially those over 50, believe sex with virgins gives them magical powers to stay young and ward off illness,” says Chhiv Kek Pung, president of Cambodia’s leading human rights organisation, Licadho. “There’s a steady supply of destitute families for the trade to prey on here, and the rule of law is very weak.”

Read the rest of this revealing article by clicking here.

In Thailand’s red light districts

redlight

Kate Weatherly is a multimedia producer living in Asia. The following story is the first of three installments of Kate’s personal account of what she felt, heard and witnessed as she traveled to one of the largest cities in Thailand to photograph women lured into the sex industry. Click here to see AsiaStories’ Part 2 and Part 3.


Day One


My midday flight landed in the city of nearly 7 million people. After settling into my hotel room, I met with friends who were attending a small retreat for Christian women. The city was bustling in the afternoon heat as vendors sold their wares to hundreds of tourists. My friends and I ventured out for Thai massages and dinner.

Several months had passed since we last saw each other so we talked, laughed and caught up with each other’s lives. One friend teaches in a neighboring country and the other was a teacher at a local university in a different part of the city. I shared with them my assignment: capture scenes of the sex industry. The real work would begin tomorrow, but I needed to get a feel for the area so they decided to accompany me on my search for nightlife.

Our taxi driver had some difficulty getting us to our destination — trying to navigate four lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic based on directions three foreigners who had never visited the city.

We finally exited the taxi close to where we thought we wanted to go. One friend ran inside a convenience store to put credit on her phone, I double-checked my camera’s settings and cleaned the lens. As I waited, an Asian woman in a tan and black dress downed an energy drink near the store. Her dress was tight enough to see every curve, and upon observing her posture and mid-section, I wondered if she was in the early stages of pregnancy. We were getting closer.

My friends exited the store. I didn’t know which direction to go, so I followed the woman as she walked carefully down the step in her platform shoes. She was beautiful, but her face seemed lifeless as her hair swished around to hit her mid back. 

It was a short walk. We kept our eyes focused down so we didn’t trip on the uneven sidewalk. Then the darkness was suddenly invaded by the bright neon lights coming from a side-street off the main road, advertising numerous bars and dance halls. Dumbstruck, we hesitated at the entrance of one of the bars.

My friends looked at me. Apparently, I was in charge. Right-oh. I took a few pictures of the entrance and we timidly walked through. Granted it was warm for us foreigners but not for these Asians who were costumed in what appeared to be swimwear.

We walked slowly through the bar; I awkwardly raised the camera, taking a photo of my friends, carefully capturing images behind them. We didn’t belong and we knew it. We could feel that everyone else in the bar knew it, too. With all this pressure, could I gather enough information to help others understand this lifestyle? I only had three nights to capture images. Now it was two.


Day Two


The women at the conference had hoped for a retreat — a place to get away from their noisy lives and find rest. But the spiritual warfare they were encountering made them regret their convenient hotel booking. Several of the women told me of their vivid nightmares, which they were not prone to having, and others said they had hardly slept because of the noises coming from their neighbors.

“Oh it was awful! It was like they were right in our rooms—we could hear everything. It was so nasty,” one of my friends shared.

I tried to work from my hotel room that morning, but I couldn’t accomplish a thing. There seemed to be a heaviness clouding my thoughts, plus I like to be around people. I packed up my gear to check out my surroundings and find a coffee shop. Sweat made my bangs stringy after just a few minutes of walking in the humidity. Gross. The street kitchens I passed were sending signals to my body—time to eat. I passed several promising establishments serving western food that I’d been craving but hadn’t eaten in a while. Each filled with hungry-looking men with Asian cocktail waitresses sitting temptingly close.

Seriously? It’s lunchtime! Frustrated, I bartered for some mini mangos and hopped on a motorcycle taxi headed for the nearest mall. The air felt refreshing as my driver sped past the remaining scenes of the daytime hustle. So sad — and odd — how the sex industry never stops, day or night.


Evening Two


At the beginning, Lynn Andolini* and I stood outside the bars on the sidewalk, observing people. It was overwhelming. What do I shoot? Andolini had worked with Heartweavers, a Christian ministry focused on sex workers, and was used to this atmosphere.

She stood rigid by my side against the grimy bar wall as I dropped to one knee for a better camera angle on a group of young women — independent sex workers — who were applying makeup in front of a hotel sign across the street. 

Andolini let out an air of frustration. “That man is staring you down. Oh my word, he is not happy with you,” she said. “He is looking at you like you were some worm.”

I was now slightly alarmed, “Should we move?” I asked, snapping a few frames as the women smiled and mingled with a backpacker. Maybe he’s asking for directions. His eyes wandered.

“Oh, no, honey. I got your back,” Andolini said. “He is fat and old and I can outrun him anyway. No, keep on shooting.” 

I lifted my eyes above my camera to see who was giving me the stink-eye. An obese man with a red flannel shirt and blue jeans stood in front of me, hunched over from aging—or maybe it was the freshly grilled chicken kabob he was consuming from the street cart vendor.

Funny how righteousness is twisted in the darkness; I am the one frowned upon for being there, photographing, as if the shame was on me and not those men. The sidewalk was small, and shooting whatever images I could find lit by the neons and flashy signs was difficult. This was going to be a long night.

*Name changed

Mexico’s lost daughters

protestJennifer Clement writes for The Observer:

Lupita is in her 30s and works as a laundry maid in several houses in Mexico City. She can still remember the first time she saw a girl taken from her home village. “She was very pretty,” says Lupita. “She had freckles. She was 11 years old.”

Lupita was 20 when five men drove into the small community near Dos Bocas, outside the port of Veracruz. “When they got out of the van all we could see were the machine guns in their hands. They wanted to know where the pretty one was, the girl with freckles. We all knew who that was. They took her and she was still holding her doll under her arm when they lifted her into the van like a bag of apples. This was more than 12 years ago. We never heard from her again.”

The girl’s name was Ruth, Lupita tells me. “She was the first one they stole. Then we heard it had happened in other villages.” The men who visited the villages worked for the local drug cartels, snatching girls to be trafficked for sex. “There was nowhere in our village to hide,” explains Lupita. “Where do you hide? So we dug holes in the ground and if we heard there were narcos around, we’d tell the girls to go to their holes and be very quiet for an hour or so until the men left.” She remembers how one mother would leave paper and a crayon in the hole for her daughter. “This worked for a while until even the narcos began to know about the holes.” Two years later, Lupita left the village and came to Mexico City looking for work.

The lists compiled by government agencies and NGOs for missing girls in Mexico read like this:

Karen Juarez Fuentes, 10. Female. Disappeared going to school in Acapulco. Brown skin. Brown hair. Brown eyes.

Ixel Rivas Morena, 13. Female. Lost in Xalapa. 1.5 metres tall. 50 kilos. Light brown hair. Light brown skin. Oval face. Thin. Left ear lobe torn.

Rosa Mendoza Jiménez, 14. Female. Disappeared. Thin. Brown skin. Dark brown hair. Long. No more data.

They go on and on. According to government figures, kidnapping in the country increased by 31% last year. Those statistics tend to refer to victims who have been kidnapped for ransom, as people are more likely to report the crime when money is demanded. But there is another kind of kidnapping that goes unreported. When a girl is robada – which literally means stolen – she is taken off the street, on her way to school, leaving the movies, or even stolen out of her own house. No ransom is asked for. Her body is all the criminals want. The drug cartels know they can sell a bag of drugs only once, but they can prostitute a young woman many times in a single day.

Read the full text of this heart-breaking article by clicking here.
Check out Jennifer Clement‘s book, Prayers for the Stolen, by clicking here.
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