“Rescue to us is that abuse is no longer happening.” -Alli
At our Saturday meeting, Alli from The Hard Places Community came to tell us about the work being done in Cambodia for children who have come out of sexual slavery or might be vulnerable or abused currently.
Alli began with a story from 2008 about Michael Pepe, a former marine who was sentenced to prison in the US for 210 years for abusing children while he had been in Cambodia. She told us that she knows the children from her work and that they are now thriving and attending college in the US on special visas.
This story opened the door for her to tell us how International Justice Mission had changed much of the way human trafficking in Cambodia takes place, and that while they did a lot of amazing work, it also put trafficking more underground than it had been. While it was once known to go to certain brothels, now there are children on the streets being taken to “guest houses” that are like hotel rooms or little apartments for rent. It is much harder to catch those who are abusing children. Less than 1% of kids are in brothels now.
90% of those who use sexual exploitative actions towards children are the Khmer (pronounced Ka-My) people of Cambodia. They have to be caught in the acts of sex in order for legal actions to take place. If a man is caught with just his shirt off and there is a naked child, that man will simply get a “slap on his wrist” for it. He might be considered an uncle and not be doing anything wrong, according to those who find him in that state. She continued that if a foreigner to Cambodia is caught with one porn image in the country, he can be caught completely.
Due to this issue of foreigners being targeted more often than nationals in Cambodia, many foreigners set up live streams of abuse of children in Cambodia. They can be in any country while these abuses are taking place. The US Embassy finds 700-1,000 streams a month of online predators out to sexually exploit children in Cambodia on the Dark Web. This is a lot, but also much lower than they find in the Philippines, with 20,000 a month.
Alli backtracked and told us how she became aware of human trafficking in 2004 through a raid that International Justice Mission operated where 37 Cambodian children were rescued, the youngest being 5 and 6 years old. The ages of these children drew her in deeply towards Cambodia and wanting to help these vulnerable and abused children.
Through the safe houses in Cambodia where Alli had started The Hard Places Community, she states the youngest girl is 3 and had been in a hotel for three days to give oral sex. The youngest boy is 4, and most of the boys are that age who are in their care. The primary ages they work with are 3-14 year olds. They also work with young men who have been exploited and sold for sex.
Due to the culture of Cambodia, many local police don’t understand why men would want to have sex with other men or boys, so it means that sex tourists can easily blend in and abuse little boys and vulnerable young Cambodian men. It is not something known in their country to be with the same sex, while abuse of women and sex with women and girls is very well known and accepted by the authorities there.
Alli told us that it is very easy to see the sale of children on the streets. She said that someone who works with her was sitting and resting and saw a man in a tuk tuk who was older in age talking to a young man. The young man grabbed a boy right off the street, sold him, and the man went into a guest house with the boy as police were nearby.
Alli said that all the safe houses in Cambodia are called “Punlok Thmey” (pronounced Pon-loc-to-my). This phrase means “The moment a seed is planted in soil to grow.” She told a story of one of the young men who came to Punlok Thmey. The young man had been working at a garment factory since he was 12 years old and after some time, his dad became very sick. He was receiving $60 a month at the garment factory and was offered $40 a night for sex. He was called a “new chicken,”a slang for “virgin” when he was first being sold. He was able to have his dad sent to Vietnam to receive the necessary surgery with the money he made. He states he had about 1,300 encounters with other men. The families in Cambodia are very valued over all else, so many will do whatever they can to help their family, even if it means they’ll be trafficked and abused. Sometimes the parents will even sell their children in order to help their situation.
The increase of pedophilia in Cambodia is a direct effect of the war and genocide that took place due to Pol Pot in the 1970s. There were so many people misplaced and many women and girls who were sold into sexual slavery. It became a saying that if the Khmer Rouge soldiers had wanted to be prosperous, they could sleep with virgins for luck. Also they believe there that if you have a sexually transmitted disease, sex with a virgin will cure them. This is why 90% of abusers in Cambodia are Khmer.
What does The Hard Places Community do to help the many trafficked children and young men in Cambodia?
- At the safe houses, they work on counseling and dealing with the deep trauma the survivor has faced through their abuses.
- They offer kids clubs for preventative work for street children. They have 22 of these kids clubs.
- Every three months they have preventative programs to teach street children about good and bad touch, abuse and porn, safe and unsafe people, computer and English classes, and making safe spaces for them to express if they have been abused.
- Soccer and wrestling to give a physical outlet to those who might be hurting deeply from abuse
- creative works of playing instruments and singing through worship programs
- Going into the streets to talk to families and children, since many times children are told to get work as soon as they can walk.
- Job training for the children who have grown so they can make money to provide for their families in a safer and beneficial way.
The Hard Places Community in Cambodia has 47 Khmer people on their team, as they believe in training nationals as very important with helping those within the country to believe and trust them better through their healing processes since they will understand their culture best.
Alli states that there are 16-17 foreigners who work to empower and train nationals towards such leaderships as well as within the facilities they run.
Their work is not in Cambodia alone, though it is where it all started, so it is the largest. They are also doing work in the India and Madagascar. Alli is establishing a facility currently in Greece to reach out to the many refugees from North Africa and Syria who are abused and sold there. They also are setting up in Philippines to do work in regards to the live streaming issues there mentioned earlier.
The Hard Places Community workers do not get paid for their work, as it is a non-profit. Each worker raises money to provide for their own needs.
Alli has been living and working in Cambodia since January 2009. She lives with her four adopted children and they also have a toy poodle.