Finding Home: Cambodia’s Prostitution Epidemic

The other day I was bored, browsing Netflix documentaries, when I came across the movie “Finding Home”. Reading the description my interest was piqued. It was a documentary on prostitution in Cambodia. So I watched it. Even though it was a slow starter and could’ve used more refined editing, it moved and upset me.

Of course I’m aware that prostitution is rampant in Asia. It’s impossible to walk through Siem Reap at night without being accosted by tuk tuk drivers and young ladies (standing outside of bars) asking if you’re looking for “Boom-Boom”.  Code word for sex. At the time I simply brushed off the advances, with little thought of what prostitution is like in Cambodia.

The fact is prostitution in Asia has become so common, its been normalized. No one notices (or cares?) for the young girls who’ve been trafficked, tricked or trapped in this industry. Its a business that feeds off the misery of the poor and uneducated. Once a girl is sucked into this world she loses her value, she becomes a throw away life.

Below are some statistics that explain why Cambodia is fertile ground for prostitution:

  • From a population of 15.14 million people, roughly 26% of the adult population is illiterate.
  • 18.6% live below the international poverty line of $1.25 a day.
  • 36.1% of children work as child laborers.
  • Cambodians have a very relaxed attitude towards sex.
  • Asian culture puts high value on girls who are virgins. Some think sleeping with a virgin will cure HIV.

When you throw in the surge of tourists visiting Siem Reap, Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville, you’ve got the perfect recipe for the exploitation of women and children.

“Finding Home” does a good job of shedding light on this epidemic and giving a face to the victims. The two that stuck out were the stories of “Sophany” and “Noch”. Both share similar beginnings but sadly have different endings.





Img from Finding Home
Sophany. Img from Finding Home

Sophany: was pulled into prostitution by her sister, who was working at a karaoke bar in Siem Reap. Sophany was tricked by her sister into coming. Once there, she was abused by the owner and forced to service many customers on a daily basis. Eventually she’s rescued by a vice investigator who visited the bar. Charges were brought against the owner, but as with many cases like this, a bribe was paid and the owner walked out a free man.

Sophany was referred to Rafa House (a safe house) where she received counseling and support. Unexpectedly, her story takes happy turn. She meets a tuk tuk driver who falls in love with her. They marry and start a family. The movie does a great job of tracing her story. The montage of her marriage made me tear up a little.

 

Noch. Img from Finding Home
Noch. Img from Finding Home

Noch: had a similar path to prostitution. She was tricked by a neighbor, who promised her a job in the city but in fact negotiated her sale to a brothel.  Later we find out this neighbor gets to sell her a second time to another brothel. Like Sophany, she finds her way to Rafa House. Unfortunately, they aren’t able to pull her out of this world.

To survive the prostitution, Noch starts taking drugs (ice) to dull the pain. The power of the drugs and the desire to support her family pull her back into prostitution.

One of the saddest scenes in the movie, revolves around Noch going back home to visit her family. She excitedly shops for the perfect gifts for her mom. When she gets there, her mom rips through the gifts and then looks her daughter in the face and says:

“Next time just give me the money”

Noch slumps in the corner of the room. Her mom and family know what she does, they’re OK with her prostitution as long she sends them money. Noch is trapped in this life out of sense of obligation. After that visit, we see her walk into the dark night knowing that the end of her story will be tragedy.



 

Watching this documentary, listening to the stories, heartbreak and hard choices these girls were forced to make was eye opening. They’re victims of circumstance, punished for being born in poor communities where the lack of education and opportunities led them to exploitation.

This kind of prostitution and human trafficking doesn’t get the attention it deserves. I felt compelled to write this post to add to the awareness and to encourage you to donate or volunteer to organizations that combat prostitution and human trafficking. Below are some resources to consider:

  • Since this post is about prostitution in Cambodia, the first organization that I’d ask you to support is Rafa House. They provide a safe house, counseling services and work hard on reintegrating these girls into society by giving them vocational training.   You can donate to them here.
  • Obviously human trafficking is huge problem world wide. You can check out the following wiki link for list organization that combat this issue.

As world travelers, it’s not just about us jumping on plane and getting to experience the world, we have a responsibility to give back.