Sex trafficking in Cambodia is a huge issue, with many young victims unable to escape from their horrific circumstances. Even if they are rescued, they often end up being forced back into brothels, either by falling into the wrong hands again, or due to the need to provide financial support for their families.
In 2007, British psychologist Ruth Elliott initiated a nonprofit social enterprise called Daughters of Cambodia, in order to tackle sex slavery and give the trapped women a way out. Following this, a partner program called Sons of Cambodia was initiated in 2011 in order to help transgender men who are also trapped in trafficking.
The organisation’s visitor centre is situated just around the corner from the red light district in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital city, which is host to an excessive amount of brothels all guarded by beautiful women hanging about the entrances. Walking through the red light district being visually bombarded by all the flashing neon signs and skimpy outfits, you are in the dark as to whether those women were there by choice or by force.
However, incredible work is being done by Daughters of Cambodia and I was intent on visiting the centre to find out more. On the ground floor is a beautiful shop boasting a plethora of products such as bags, jewellery, greeting cards and much more, all of which were made by the rescued women. Inspiring words are used to decorate both the products and the walls of the store, giving it a wonderfully uplifting atmosphere so far removed from the horrors these women have previously endured. Upstairs is a spa and Sugar & Spice café, both operated by the women. All the money made in the store, café and spa goes directly back into the organisation, and the women take home a fair wage too.
All in all, Daughters of Cambodia offers former sex workers:
- good, alternative employment with fair, safe and comfortable working conditions with a good salary
- training in both life and employable skills
- therapy and counselling for support and recovery
- access to medical care and treatment
It gave me a real mix of emotions to visit them; first an overwhelming sadness for what these poor women have endured, secondly huge admiration for their strength – to not only have survived but to now be thriving, and finally relief and happiness that there are initiatives like this that are successfully making huge improvements for people who need the most help.
More than 750 women have already been taken by the organisation, and it was heart-warming to meet a handful of them and see how happy they are working at Daughters of Cambodia. They are now armed with knowledge and employable skills, on top of newfound strength, self-worth and dignity that will set the standards for the rest of their lives.