Skip to comments.Back to the Brothel
Posted on 01/22/2005 12:33:13 PM PST by wagglebee
Poipet, Cambodia After I purchased Srey Mom from her brothel for $203 a year ago and brought her back to her village, the joy was overwhelming. Her parents and siblings had assumed she was dead, and they shrieked and hugged and cried.
I had doubts about the other sex slave I had purchased, Srey Neth, whom I wrote about on Wednesday - and who in fact is thriving and is now preparing to become a hairdresser. But I was pretty sure that Srey Mom would make it.
So I'm devastated to say that a year later, I found Srey Mom back here in the wild town of Poipet, in her old brothel. She's devastated, too - when she spotted me, she ran away to her room in the back of the brothel until she could compose herself.
"I never lie to people, but I lied to you," she said forlornly. "I said I would not come back, and I did. I didn't want to return, but I did."
Yet, sadly, such an experience is common. Aid groups find it unnerving that they liberate teenagers from the bleak back rooms of a brothel, take them to a nice shelter - and then at night the kids sometimes climb over the walls and run back to the brothel.
It would be a tidier world if slaves always sought freedom. But prostitutes often are shattered and stigmatized, and sometimes they feel that the only place they can hold their head high is in the brothel.
Srey Mom, too, has zero self-esteem, but in her case no one in her village knew her background, and she was clear of debts. The central problem, as best I can piece together the situation, is that she was addicted to methamphetamines, and that craving destroyed her will power, sending her fleeing back to the brothel so that she could get her drugs.
Over the last year, an aid group looking after Srey Mom, American Assistance for Cambodia, gave her several more chances, once bringing her to Phnom Penh to enroll in school to become a hair dresser. But each time, Srey Mom fled back to drugs and the brothel.
"Ninety-five percent of the girls take drugs," Srey Mom told me. Some girls inject morphine, but brothel owners worry that needle holes make girls look unsightly, so methamphetamine pills are most common.
Some brothel owners welcome addiction, because it makes the girls dependent upon them. But Srey Mom said that is not true of her brothel owner, Heok Tem, whom she calls "Mother."
"Mother doesn't want us to use drugs," Srey Mom said. She has an eerily close relationship with Mrs. Heok Tem, and these days that emotional bond keeps her in the brothel as much as do her debts. Mrs. Heok Tem seems to feel genuine affection for Srey Mom and truly helped in the effort to get Srey Mom to start a new life, but she also cheats Srey Mom ruthlessly - I examined the brothel's account books - and rakes in cash by pimping the girl, which exposes her to AIDS.
"It's wrong," Mrs. Heok Tem admitted. But for now, she says, she needs the money.
Srey Mom still says her dream is to start life over in her village. "I want to go away," she said. "I don't want to stay here long. I'm not happy here. ... I will just look after my younger sisters. I'm already bad, and I don't want them to become bad like me."
I don't believe it will ever happen. I hate to write anyone off, but I'm afraid that Srey Mom will remain in the brothel until she is dying of AIDS (36 percent of girls in local brothels have H.I.V., and eventually it catches up with almost all of them). I finally dared tell her my fear. I described some young women I had just seen, gaunt and groaning, dying of AIDS in Poipet, and I told her I feared she would end up the same way.
"I'm afraid of that, too," she replied, her voice breaking. "This is an unhappy life. I don't want to do this."
Maybe that's what I find saddest about Srey Mom: She is a wonderful, good-hearted girl who gives money to beggars, who offers Buddhist prayers for redemption - but who is already so broken that she seems unable to escape a world that she hates and knows is killing her.
President Bush declared in his inaugural address this week that "no one deserves to be a slave" and that advancing freedom is "the calling of our time." I can't think of a better place to start than the hundreds of thousands of girls trafficked each year, for this 21st-century version of slavery has not only grown in recent years but is also especially diabolical - it poisons its victims, like Srey Mom, so that eventually chains are often redundant.
I'm amazed he didn't criticize Bush.
This is so sickening as to be unbearable.
Truth sucks sometimes.
"I can't think of a better place to start than the hundreds of thousands of girls trafficked each year..."
The author tried to save this woman himself, I remember reading that story. But he failed, or rather, she failed him.
"The author tried to save this woman himself, I remember reading that story. But he failed, or rather, she failed him."
Yuo can lead a person to knowledge, but you can't make them think.
The corollary holds true:
You can free a person's body from slavery, but you may well not free their mind.
Dear NYTimes writer: Perhaps next time you might want to mention the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 and the Domestic Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2004. Both signed into law by this president.
But no, the NYTimes would like to leave the reader clueless and thinking this administration has done nothing. To do otherwise would be committing the heinous act of informing their readers.
She's had numerous people reaching out to help her, but she thrives on remaining a "victim" in order to excuse her actions. There comes a time in everyones life where you have to live with the choices you've made and obviously she has made her choice. You can only help people as long as they are willing to accept help, otherwise you are just wasting your time.
We have essentially the same thing going on in every inner city in the U.S.
There is no saving most of them. They will die young, ravaged by drugs and disease.
It is not the U.S. job to arrest foreign prostitutes.
Asian countries support themselves by this kind of thing.
Notice the failure of this fellow's intent to "do good" in that absence of a relationship with the "Author of Liberty". He seems truly surprised that it didn't work.
I agree, charity is meaningless when the other person in unresponsive to help.
It's sad, alright. When I first read about people willing to buy back these slaves, I was afraid that it would just create a new market for them.
Just my opinion at this point.
Bump...(see my #14)
Well yes, that certainly is possible, another Freeper alluded to the same thing. There's a vast difference (not in the crime itself but the magnitude and acceptance of the crime) in that we are not noted for being the destination for "sex vacations" as Southeast Asia is.
In this country, we actively root out and prosecute these people but then you always hear the apologists for decriminalizing the commercial sex trade. Could we do more, do better? I think so but ask yourself: If I had knowledge about this sort of thing going on, would I report it?
After being in law enforcement for 31 years, we would find out that there were folks that knew all along about the crimes being committed (that we were desperately working on) but not take the first step, even anonymously, in reporting them. It's not just law enforcement that has the duty to act, we do as well as citizens--am I making sense here?
There is the distinct possibility that she likes sex and getting paid for it at the same time.
I have to agree - but he odds of it happening are about the same as the gov't coming down on those who hire illegal aliens here. If there's a buck to be made, humans have an incredible propensity to rationalize evil and look the other way. It's despicable.
"Sorry, but this reads like Jason Blair and is the NYT afterall. He needs to provide proof he was really there before I'll buy into it"
I think it is prudent to be skeptical about this kind of story, too. An easy one to write, probably happens all the time, who's to know whether it was real people or just ciphers who are similar to real people. Coulda been written in the hotel bar.
And this true story says so much against the argument to legalize drugs.
Foolish liberal...... she likes it.
What you say is partly true, although I report every criminal act I see.
The judges in our town don't take prostitution seriously. They do not understand how it corrupts the whole area and is tied to drug dealing.
i am so sickened by people like you who say that it’s not “the U.S’s job”... we are all PEOPLE... human beings. it is all of our jobs to help if we can, in any way we can.