Not long ago, I came home from work to find a young Cambodian woman sheltering from a storm under a tree near our house. A bag of clothing by her side was gradually getting soaked, and she was shivering with cold.
She had been living and working in a local Phnom Penh brothel until her pregnancy became too advanced for her to work, and they kicked her out on the street. My wife and I invited her to stay a while.
“When I was 14 years old, my mother got very sick,” she told us, “The only way to pay her medical bills was for me to come to the city and do this work.”
Listening to her story, my heart broke again. I could see immediately that this was not “sex work.” This was a 14-year-old girl who saw no other options but to engage in sex for economic reasons. Men with money took advantage of her vulnerability.
It seems to me, the only word for that is rape.
I’ve lived much of my adult life in slums and inner cities where prostitution is a source of income for far too many of my neighbors and friends. For several years I headed up a non-profit organization that ran medical clinics and exit services in brothels as well as a drop-in center for marginalized women.
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