Sisters in Chains
Terrify No More
reviewed by Cristopher Rapp
Dacie, 14, was on a school break when a family friend offered to get her a job at a noodle shop a few hours from her village. Dacie’s parents gave their blessing, so she packed her belongings and headed out. But when she arrived, her new employer handed her not an apron and noodle spoon, but a bikini top and short skirt—this was not a restaurant, but a brothel, and she would not be allowed to leave.
Because she was a virgin, men would pay a premium for her, more than 700 American dollars. A willing customer arrived later that day. When Dacie screamed as she was being raped, the brothel manager taped her mouth shut so the man’s pleasure would not be disturbed. He was the first of eight men who brutalized her that night.
UNICEF estimates that the sex trade claims a million child victims each year. Terrify No More tells the story of what one organization, the Washington, D.C.-based International Justice Mission (IJM), is doing about it.
Raid & Rescue
Founded in 1994 by Gary Haugen, a former US Department of Justice attorney who headed the UN investigation into the Rwandan genocide, IJM investigates, documents, and litigates human rights cases around the world. An explicitly Christian organization of an Evangelical bent, it receives most of its referrals from Christian relief organizations working overseas.
Terrify No More focuses on IJM’s 2003 investigation in Svay Pak, a seedy community just outside Phnom Penh, Cambodia, consisting almost entirely of brothels. Three times IJM presented local authorities with videotaped evidence that young girls were being bought and sold, but to no effect. The brothels, Haugen explains, are often the most successful businesses in a village. Frequently, IJM’s task is to amass enough evidence to shake the authorities out of their complacency, and then help them to do what they ought to have been doing all along.
This requires mixing with incredibly unsavory characters. IJM’s Will Henry, a former undercover cop, travels to Svay Pak posing as a businessman on vacation and infiltrates the bars. With alarming frankness, one man—an American, incidentally—casually clues Henry into the local brothel scene, offering advice on how to convince the brothel-keepers to let him take more than one girl back to his hotel and on how to avoid suspicion from friends back in the States.
After touring a few of the brothels with a hidden video camera, Henry pays for four girls to be delivered to his hotel room. When they arrive, they are interviewed and spirited off to a safe-house. Meanwhile, with the help of a Cambodian informant, another IJM operative develops a friendship with the dean of the Svay Pak pimps, lowering his guard with dinners and gifts.
The groundwork laid, the team maps out a raid-and-rescue operation to empty out every brothel in Svay Pak. This time the Cambodian authorities agree to help.
Undercover investigators go to several brothels and order dozens of girls to be delivered to a certain house, ostensibly for a sex party for Western tourists. In fact, when they arrive at the house, the Cambodian police will be waiting to arrest the pimps and free the girls, while simultaneously raiding the brothels. The carefully formulated plan goes harrowingly awry, but the courage and quick thinking of the undercover men carries the day.
In the end, 37 girls—some as young as five years old—are saved, and six pimps are convicted, receiving sentences of up to 15 years. Perhaps more important, after NBC’s Dateline runs a story about the raid, there are signs that Svay Pak’s sex trade has been dealt a serious blow. “Stay out of Svay Pak,” reads a post on an Internet chatroom frequented by pedophiles. “THE PARTY IS OVER. It will not EVER be like before.”
A Western Problem
The American reader is tempted to think of the sex trade as a foreign problem, since the brothels tend to be found in the Third World rather than in, say, Ohio.
But the sex trade is driven by demand, and many of the customers demanding young girls are Western “sex tourists” looking to indulge their lusts in anonymity. The reader is left feeling grateful for IJM’s work, and overjoyed that the girls of Svay Pak have new lives. But as Haugen intended, the thought lingers that in dark corners of the world, right now, there are countless other girls still trapped, terrified, and praying for deliverance.
The International Justice Mission’s website is www.ijm.org
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“Sisters in Chains” first appeared in the September 2006 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue.
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