By Karoline Kemp
Thursday, December 15, 2005
Karoline Kemp traveled to Cambodia to interview women and girls who have survived the sex trade for a radio documentary to be broadcast soon on public radio stations in North America. Memories of the women she met stay with her.
(WOMENSENEWS)--Stopping to record sounds for a documentary on trafficking, we were greeted by stares from villagers unaccustomed to strange equipment. Traveling through the back streets of Phnom Penh we were met by giggles from school children on their way home, men pulling carts with building supplies and young women with children on their backs.
I guess we made a funny scene, three white women carrying a mass of recording equipment through areas of Cambodia both rural and urban.
Today I am in South Africa, adjusting to a new life and a new job with a social justice network. But my experience of making a radio documentary with a Sebastopol, Calif., media group, Outer Voices, about sex trafficking in Cambodia remains with me always.
I think often of the resilient girls and women I met almost a year ago January. I wonder where they are, and how they are doing. But I also wonder about the women I didn't meet: those still at risk of being trafficked and those already imprisoned into lives of prostitution.
One of the women who most stays in my mind is Thyda, a pseudonym chosen to protect her identity. She looked like any other young girl, only she had lived through trauma most of us could never imagine.
At the age of 11, Thyda's mother sold her into prostitution. She was told that her relatives were sick and needed medicine and because she was very beautiful she would be able to earn money for the family. Thyda was sold several times and was moved around the country before she managed to escape. She was eventually brought to the Cambodian Women's Crisis Center in Phnom Penh, where we met her.
"I never knew about my family; my father, my mother's name or my sister's name," said Thyda, who is now 13. "All I ever heard was people telling me that this woman was really my mother. So I don't know."
Thyda wonders if the woman who sold her into prostitution really was her mother; she doesn't believe that a mother could sell her own daughter. She remains baffled and unable to trust anyone.
"Who is my mother?" she asked.
As an intern in charge of researching sex trafficking for this Outer Voices documentary, I had read so much about the topic. I talked to professors and aid workers, watched documentaries. But then I was finally there. And nothing before or since has ever been like it.
After meeting with young women such as Thyda I found my perceptions getting warped. I wondered if everything that surrounded me was complicit in this nether world of people who trap, purchase, molest, abuse and profit off women who are robbed of all identity and dignity, treated like pure commodity.
Every man I saw was a potential cl