The baby and I stared at each other while Director S. and the house parents chatted in Khmer (the Cambodian language).  I made a funny face and the baby’s face lit up in a bright smile.

My heart was filled with joy to see this little life in front of me, and not just because I love kids.  This baby represented something far deeper; something far more significant.

This baby represented redemption

—–

The other day I had the opportunity to visit Rapha House, a safe-house for girls rescued from sex trafficking.   It is one of The Center for Global Impact’s partner organizations in Cambodia, and from the moment I heard about the ministry, I knew I had to see it.

Now, I can’t mention where Rapha House is located because many of the girls are still involved in the trials of their former abusers (and are thus in danger of further harm). I also can’t show you any pictures of the girls nor of the building itself.

What I can do, however, is give you a quick overview of the ministry and one small, beautiful story that fills my heart with hope…

Peaceful

Rapha House is home to 104 formerly trafficked girls.  Rescued by organizations like International Justice Mission, the girls have been given a safe place to live while they pick up the pieces of their broken lives.

For many girls in Cambodia, nighttime in the city is anything but beautiful.

Director S. took time out of his schedule to show me around, and I was quite impressed with their operation.  Smiling, seemingly carefree girls were running all over the place.  Some were practicing on sewing machines, others were studying English.  When they saw me, they all shouted out “Hello!” and “How are you today?”

Frankly, it was a rather happy place.  I was struck by how peaceful it all felt.  It wasn’t until I began interviewing Director S. in his office that I remembered what brought these girls to Rapha House in the first place.

As he explained to me what many of the girls have been through in their lives, my smile quickly faded away.

Organized Crime

Most of the sex trafficking I’ve written about so far has been small-scale; families selling their daughters to local brothels for money.  But there is another kind of trafficking here in Cambodia that plagues impoverished girls: organized, international crime.

Knowing how young many of the girls at Rapha House were completely broke my heart.

Although some of the girls at Rapha House have been saved from local brothels, many fall into this second category.  As we began the interview, Director S. explained their background.

Some of these girls were tricked by the promise of a good job in a neighboring country.  They piled into trucks headed for Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur or Hanoi, excited about the prospect of steady income, only to find themselves imprisoned in a foreign brothel with no way to get back home.

A few of the other girls decided to be prostitutes willingly to help provide for their families, but had no idea just how horrific and scarring the experience would be.

Whatever their reason, the girls at Rapha House had all at some point been trafficked for sex.

Why?

One of the questions I had when I heard this was, “Why do the girls stay?  Why don’t they just run away?”

The answers were very hard to hear.

I still have trouble understanding how people could ever do this to one another.

First of all, these girls are often lost in cities far from home.  They don’t speak the language, they don’t know their way around, and they are told that if they go to the police they will be thrown in jail for prostitution.  In other words, they are dreadfully afraid to leave.

For many who do go to the police, the results are not much better.  Because the sex trafficking industry is so lucrative, many police are simply bought out by the brothels.  Rather than rescuing suffering girls, the police take them right back to their pimps, often after raping and beating them in the police station to teach the girls a lesson.

Pawns

Simple violence is also used as a tool of manipulation.  Girls are beaten if they try to escape.  They’re beaten if they refuse to have sex with a customer.  They’re beaten if they don’t act like they’re enjoying it.

After a couple of years, trafficked girls often become willing pawns in the cycle of abuse.  Before too long they find themselves doing the beating when new girls are brought in.  They find themselves standing on the streets late at night, calling out seductively to potential customers, eager to avoid another split lip or black eye.

Many trafficked girls are given drugs like cocaine by their pimps and madams to induce compliance and to create hopeless addictions.  Even if they are able to escape, they often come running back when their cravings become too much to handle.

One of the most heartbreaking things I learned at Rapha House was why they have barbed wire and 24 hour security.  It’s not just to keep bad people out.  It’s also to keep new girls in.  Scared, addicted and hopeless, many try to escape so they can go back to the brothels from which they were rescued.

Mushrooms growing behind Rapha House. They serve as a small micro-enterprise initiative for the families of the program’s girls.

White Cloth

But on top of the brainwashing, the fear and the addictions, there are cultural dynamics that conspire to keep these girls trapped.

There is a local proverb in Cambodia: “Men are like gold. Women are like white cloth.”  In other words, if gold gets dirty, you can just wipe it off.  If white cloth gets dirty, it can never be clean again.  Cambodian men don’t want to marry “soiled” girls.

The innocence of these girls was robbed and their hopes for the future, for getting married and having a family, were shattered forever.  So, they wonder, what’s the point of going home?

And Yet

Let me be honest.  As we walked out of Director S.’s office and once again saw all of the beautiful, smiling girls, my heart completely broke.  Knowing that every single one of them was rescued from a situation like that was almost more than I could bear.

Seeing how young some of them were wrecked me even more.  Friends, the youngest girl in their program is six.

There is hope for the girls of Rapha House.

And yet… There’s always an “and yet,” isn’t there?

And yet Rapha House is in the business of rehabilitation.  Their job is to restore.

Rapha House has a fully trained staff of psychologists and counselors to help the girls work through the trauma they have experienced.  They have house parents and teachers that love on the girls daily. They have a trusted security team to keep the girls safe.

Throughout their stay, the girls are trained in sewing and hairdressing and English.  Every year, 10 girls “graduate” and move into a halfway house.  Eventually, they are reintegrated back into society, armed with a whole new set of professional skills.

Next door to Rapha House is a church.  Every Sunday, the girls are invited to join people from the surrounding community for worship.  Not all attend, but many do.  Quite a few of the girls have become Christ followers and have experienced tremendous spiritual and emotional healing in the process.

If there is any place in the world that is right for these broken lives, it’s Rapha House.

Stay Tuned

But of all the stories of hope and restoration I heard at Rapha House, one stood out to me as particularly moving.  It encapsulates for me the entire story of God’s grace and mercy, and it brings me to tears just about every time I think about it.

But mine are not tears of pain.  They are tears of joy…

Click here to read Rapha House – Part Two!

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Next Steps
    • Visit Rapha House’s website to learn more about this amazing organization.
    • The website for Rapha House has a great list of resources if you want to learn more about the issues and facts surrounding sex trafficking. Click here to take a look.
    • Consider getting more involved with Rapha House through their website. Hosting events, starting an awareness “task-force,” prayer teams… There are plenty of great ideas to pursue!
    • Pray for Rapha House and the girls in their program. With so much emotional and spiritual baggage to work through, these girls need powerful healing to become whole again…
    Next Steps

About the Author: Barry is the founder and Executive Director of World Next Door. A storyteller, traveller and giant nerd, he lives to compel suburban Americans to get engaged with social justice and find their place in God's kingdom revolution. His ultimate dream is to adopt a pet monkey named Kevin.

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Comments

  1. Jim.M said... 

    Reply

    December 29th, 2010 at 8:24 am  

    I am sitting here somewhat stunned after reading this. Can’t really type what is in my head or on my heart..a strong mix of sorrow and anger. How on earth can any person subject a child to the horror depicted in this story.

    Rapha House looks like an incredible place, truly a piece of Heaven on earth, a microcosm of God’s love in action, poured out to extinguish an unimaginable evil.

    When ever I am tempted to ask “How can God let this happen”…I quickly remember He asks us the same question…”how can you let this happen”…Organizations like International Justice Mission, and The Center for Global Impact have begun to answer “We can’t, and we will not”..Their stand against this evil is saying ENOUGH…I can think of no better analogy than a “piece of Heaven on Earth” to describe a place like Rapha house to a shattered child’s life.

    Thanks for bringing us this story. Although I always appreciate your hopeful endings…I think on this one we should all remain broken to the point of tears, and action.

  2. Dave Rod said... 

    Reply

    December 29th, 2010 at 8:20 pm  

    So I’ve “heard” of sex trafficking. Knew it existed. Maybe shoved into some box in the back of my brain but you’ve knocked the lid off. You’ve exposed my ignorance and I hate that I have been so stupidly naive.

    Lord Jesus have mercy on these girls. Continue to to bless and empower the people of Rapha. And forgive me for turning a deaf ear.

  3. Scott Sorrells said... 

    Reply

    December 30th, 2010 at 1:38 pm  

    While my heart breaks at what these girls have been through and rejoices that they have been rescued…I am nauseated that there is consumer demand for this evil.

    IJM is doing great work in ferreting out the brothels, pimps and institutions/governments that support trafficiking but we need to be praying to God and ask that he not only protect those children who are subject to exploitation but also reveal Himself to those who seek out these children to satisfy their cravings.

  4. Tasha Simons said... 

    Reply

    August 6th, 2012 at 7:03 am  

    Today, I went to visit the Rapha House. I saw the cute little girls playing in the front yard and reflected on your articles about all that they have been through. I thought about how Jesus bears the shame and pain with them and will redeem it all. I felt thankful to know in a heartfelt way that there is hope and healing from the effects of child sexual abuse. I found myself envisioning the redemption he will bring into their lives and praying that God would hold their hearts gently in the palm of his hands.

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