When victims can't escape their past

Posted: Feb 16, 2005 12:00 AM

Last year in  Cambodia, two teenage girls were set free from prostitution. But today, only one of their stories appears to have a happy ending.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof met the girls during a research trip to Cambodia. He paid for their release, took them back to their homes, helped arrange new jobs, and secured help for them from a group called American Assistance for Cambodia.

This year, Kristof went back to find out what had happened to the girls. One of them, Srey Neth, is doing well. Though she had faced many struggles trying to care for her family and establish a career, the aid group had helped her get into a beauty school. Now she?s ready to start to set up her own beauty shop. Kristof writes, ?She is a happy, giggly, self-confident reminder that we should never give up on the slaves of the twenty-first century. I couldn?t be more proud of her.?

But the story of Srey Mom, the other girl, was sadly different. Kristof found her back at the brothel. The girl, he reports, was ?devastated? to see him. She told him, ?I didn?t want to return, but I did.? Kristof was devastated as well.

?The central problem, as best I can piece together the situation,? he writes, ?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.? He and Srey Mom both fear she?ll die of AIDS, like so many other young Cambodian prostitutes.

?Maybe that?s what I find saddest about Srey Mom,? Kristof concludes. ?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.?

Though Nicholas Kristof and I disagree on many things, we see eye to eye on human trafficking and child prostitution?something we have led the campaign here in Washington, D.C, to stop. Kristof cares passionately about the oppressed, and he?s done an admirable job of exposing these evil practices. And his attempts to help Srey Neth and Srey Mom demonstrate that he has the courage of his convictions.

But I fear that Kristof, as he tries to find solutions for these girls and thousands of others like them, is too limited in his worldview. Confronted with the self-destructive tendencies of human nature?watching children even younger than Srey Mom escape from shelters and head back to the brothels from which they were rescued?Kristof feels frustrated and helpless. We all know the feeling. But the Christian worldview of many aid workers gives them hope that these young victims can be changed from the inside out. Kristof?s secular view offers no such transforming hope. When better education and job opportunities fail to help some girls, he doesn?t know where else to turn.

Now, Christians should not do humanitarian work solely to ?proselytize,? as some have accused us of doing. But I am saying that Christians bring something to this work that secularists can?t?a promise that the broken can be made whole. I understand why Kristof is frustrated, but I am praying that, as he visits the oppressed, he will see the one hope for them and for all of us.

For further reading:

Today?s BreakPoint offer: To learn what you can do to help fight sex trafficking, see BreakPoint?s resource page on the problem of sex trafficking, which includes contact information for organizations battling this human rights abuse.

Nicholas Kristof, ?Cambodia, Where Sex Traffickers Are King,? 15 January 2005, ?Leaving the Brothel Behind,? New York Times, 19 January 2005, ?Back to the Brothel,? New York Times, 22 January 2005, ?After the Brothel,? 26 January 2005, ?Sex Slaves? Lock Up the Pimps,? 29 January 2005, and ?Stopping the Traffickers,? 31 January 2005. (Archived articles cost $2.95 to retrieve.)

See Nicholas Kristof?s multimedia presentations on ?Freeing Sex Slaves.?

Read the background information on Nicholas Kristof?s project here.

?Children for Sale,? Dateline NBC, 9 January 2005.

Learn more about American Assistance for Cambodia at the Cambodia Schools website.

International Justice Mission is a Christ-centered group that helps sex trafficking victims and other victims of oppression.

Rich Lowry, ?Miller?s Mission,? National Review Online, 24 January 2005.

Deann Alford, ?Sex Slaves? Slow Freedom,? Christianity Today, February 2005.

BreakPoint Commentary No. 050126, ?The Evil That Men Do: A New Perspective on an Old Question.?

BreakPoint Commentary No. 040802, ?An Evil We Can?t Ignore: Human Trafficking.?

BreakPoint Commentary No. 020604, ?Earning a Second Look: The New Christian Internationalism.?

BreakPoint Commentary No. 041217, ?What We?re About: Freeing God?s Children.?

BreakPoint Commentary No. 031205, ?The First and Only Abolitionists: Christianity and Slavery.?

Allen Hertzke, Freeing God?s Children (Rowman & Littlefield, 2004).

Gary Haugen, The Good News about Injustice (InterVarsity, 1999).

Preston Jones, ?We?re Still Supporting Slavery,? Christianity Today, 28 September 2004. Dr. Jones also wrote about sex trafficking and the U.S. military for the January/February 2005 issue of BreakPoint WorldView magazine (subscribe by calling 1-877-322-5527).