The Lake Oswego Review
By Cliff Newell
Jul 23, 2009
When Shari Newman of Lake Oswego made her first trip to Cambodia three years ago to investigate child sex trafficking, she was stunned by what she found.
“It was really emotional. It was so unbelievable,” Newman said. “I actually saw brothels and poverty. At the trauma recovery center there were little girls 3-feet tall and 5 years old holding my hand. They had been prostitutes. It was very taxing, emotional and heart wrenching.
“I’ve done a lot of mission trips, and that was the hardest one I’ve ever done. Other places you came away with a plan of action. There, you ask, ‘How can you do it?’”
What seemed hopeless in 2006, however, has a spark of hope in 2009. While the statistics on child sex trafficking in Cambodia are still overwhelming, young girls are being helped to recover from criminal abuse and awareness is spreading.
You could see how much at the “Children: Not for Sale” conference on July 7 at Lake Grove Presbyterian Church. A capacity audience of 120 people was on hand to hear Haiday Ear-Dupuy, advocacy and communications manager for World Vision Cambodia, talk about a problem that is so shocking when people hear about it for the first time: Cambodian girls being turned into sex slaves.
The statistics faced by Ear-Dupuy and her World Vision colleagues are these: 5 million Cambodians are trafficked in sex and labor.
A native of Cambodia who had barely managed to escape the genocidal reign of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, Ear-Dupuy’s decision to return to Cambodia to work for World Vision seemed unbelievable to many people. Especially her parents.
“They said, ‘We took you out of the lions’ den. Now you’re going back in,’” Ear-Dupuy said. “I explained to them why it’s important that I am in Cambodia. Once I started, it became very personal.
“It was like I was looking at my own face in the face of every child I met.”
True, Cambodia is no longer racked by war. But it is plagued by extreme poverty, an ever-widening gap between the rich and poor, a huge HIV/AIDS rate, severe social justice issues and an economy that is sinking.
Selling sex is one way to make dollars in Cambodia. “Sex tourists” from all over the world, especially the U.S. and Asia, come looking for young girls.
Ear-Dupuy has the huge task of removing these girls from prostitution, transforming their lives and seeking political action to protect them. Fortunately, she is reaching people like conference organizers Shari Newman and LuAnn Yocky, both of Lake Oswego and both long active with World Vision.
Yocky, who is senior area director for World Vision in Portland, well remembers her first encounter with child sex trafficking in Cambodia and finding out about the exploiters seeking their “lost assets.”
“One such owner suspected that his lost asset was living at the WV center and tried to poison the food supply as his revenge,” Yocky said. “Gratefully, he was not successful.”
More encouraging to Yocky and Newman were young women like former sex slave Srey Mom, who transformed her life at the World Vision center.
“Her life holds great promise now,” Yocky said. “But it was a nightmare starting at age 13.”
Like a candle in the night, Ear-Dupuy is offering her own statistics on the World Vision center’s success in helping girl prostitutes. Her center has accepted 1,000 girls aged 9 to 18 and has a rehabilitation rate of over 90 percent.
Making this success more vivid to the audience were the things Ear-Dupuy showed them: Scarves and jewelry made by girls learning new skills; and photos of a former prostitute and her husband holding their baby, and little girls dancing in native Cambodian costumes.
Ugliness has been transformed into beauty.
Yet in a world where it is estimated that 27 million human beings are enslaved, it is easy to become pessimistic. Even for Haidy Ear-Dupuy.
“A couple months ago I became quite discouraged,” Ear-Dupuy said. “Then I read a book called Good News About Injustice.
“I realized ‘I am the good news. You are the good news.’ The work of Jesus is up to us.”
For more information about World Vision and its ministry to end child sex trafficking, go to the Web site www.worldvision.org under the topic “Speaking Out & Advocacy.”
Persons seeking to assist the ministry are urged to support the Child Protection Compact Act, now being considered in the U.S. Congress.