This is Nina. Nina works in the red light district in Cambodia. The night I met Nina she hadn’t been feeling very well, she had spent most of the afternoon vomiting. However regardless she had to go to work that evening as “time off” or “sick leave” isn’t an option in this industry. Nina and I are the same age. We both have children.
When I have been speaking about human trafficking to various audiences I often wonder what preconceived ideas they may have about prostitution, red light districts and how it all fits into the chain of slavery. Mention the word “prostitution” and I think there is a fair chance that most people will automatically think of a drug-dependent female in high heels and a short skirt standing on a darkened street in a run down part of the city.
This image is largely informed by the media and cultural representations of sex workers and red-light districts. Socially conservative politicians, religious organisations, and certain branches of radical feminism also play a key role in sustaining this stereotype and reinforcing the stigma and shame endured by sex workers.
“Sex work” refers to consensual sexual encounters between two or more adults for some form of payment. It refers primarily to prostitution, but also encompasses adult video performers, phone sex operators, webcam models, dancers in strip clubs, and others who provide sexually related services.
People who are forced or coerced into providing commercial sex against their will through third parties or “circumstances” can in no way be viewed as performing sex work. Such acts account for labour/sexual exploitation and sadly, depending on the circumstances, human trafficking.
During my visits to Asia I had the opportunity to meet with women working in prostitution, women and children from various ethnic groups, child victims of exploitation and children in vulnerable situations. These victims of sexual exploitation are real people, we are not looking at statistics. Women and children who have been through horrendous circumstances and have travelled a path many of us cannot bear to imagine in order to earn basic necessities. I urge you to reflect on the complex, physical and emotional pain these women, children and families go through.Behind the stereotypical ideas and media representation of prostitutes there are real lives, real women with thoughts and feelings, women who once had ambitions, respect and a future.
Nina has a life that is very different to my life. Working in the red light district, Nina longs to escape the chains that hold her there. We chatted and she showed me pictures of her family. She is working to support her children and her parents back home. Mostly the conversation was dominated by the expectation of a married Western male coming to visit her that following week. Nina had met this particular male previously and his return visit was leading her into a false sense of security. Nina dreamed that he would take her out of her current circumstances, provide and care for her. She thought he was her ticket out of there.
Sadly, many women and young girls, bear the same story as Nina. I often wonder what Nina thought about me, she spent some time just looking at the photograph of us after it was taken. I felt so privileged and blessed to be living my life, knowing that I had a husband and family back home who loved me and were eagerly waiting my return.
Outreach to these women and young girls is so vital. Building relationships, showing love and care but most importantly sharing with the women the only true hope and freedom that can be found though Jesus Christ. Next time you hear the word “prostitute” or “red light district” I urge you to pray for these women, pray for the outreach work into the red light districts, and pray for our partners on the ground. Remember the women providing for their families just like Nina, the path they have had to endure and the person behind the label.
Through projects based across Asia, Hope and Light supports and enables outreach to girls just like Nina. Our partners help them find alternative safe work and new opportunities for a more fulfilled life – to bring Hope and Light.