Could you ever imagine that you might exploit a child sex-trafficking victim? Never in your wildest nightmares, right? However, there are ways you might exploit one of the children in Cambodia without realizing it. The most common way this occurs is by taking her story and/or her picture and sharing it with others.
This may not sound like a big deal, but the exploitation is real and may be very damaging to the child. Exploitation is the unfair treatment or practice of taking selfish advantage of another person or situation, usually for personal gain. Many of the children you meet have previously known nothing but exploitation. Their parents may have sold them or may be selling them to traffickers or pedophiles to earn money, they may be employed under horrendous conditions for minimal pay at a brick factory, or they may have had community members turn their backs on them by refusing to help end their abuse. The first time they may have met someone who didn’t want to use them for their own personal gain was when they met an outreach worker from Rahab’s House in Siem Reap or a church member from Svay Pak.
When you go to work with the AIM staff in Cambodia, you may become privy to information that is highly confidential. One of the children you meet may choose to share her story with you, you may learn something or see something that clues you in to both the horrendous abuse and some of the miraculous transformation that has taken place in the lives of some of the people you will meet. Their stories are precious and they belong to the people whose lives they are about.
If you take their stories to share them with people back home, you are furthering their exploitation because you have taken something that belongs to them and are using it to your own benefit while no benefit goes back to them. Sharing one’s story, particularly when it involves abuse, is very vulnerable for a young woman or child, and allowing their stories to go beyond yourself and your team may lead to her detriment.
Read James 1:26-27. Consider the harshness of James’ words. Your mission in Cambodia is to love, to serve and to glorify God in the way that you interact with everyone that you meet. This mission carries beyond your time in Cambodia to when you come home. You are called to ongoing protection and care for “orphans and widows in their affliction,” and to do nothing that may add to it.
Now read James 3:1-12. Your task will not be easy. Spend time today and in the days ahead in prayer, asking God to bridle your tongue.
You may notice that AIM has occasionally shared stories of different young women and girls, including that of Mien, in The Pink Room. Agape Restoration Center (ARC) is a facility that houses girls who have been severely abused through sex trafficking. At ARC, girls receive counseling, therapy, education, and ongoing love and support from the live-in staff (see page 20 of the Appendix to learn more about ARC). On occasion, a girl may specifically approach the staff about being able to share her story, and after her counselors, social workers and other staff have spent time in consultation and prayer to ensure that this will help in her healing process, she has been enabled to do so. Only under these circumstances are specific stories shared because the ability to share will help – rather than exploit – the young woman.
Reflect on the following questions:
- What might tempt me to break confidentiality and to share the stories of the children that I meet? Why would this be a temptation?
- How may I best be a steward of the stories I receive from the people I meet? Are there precautions I need to take in order to bridle my tongue to avoid telling people back home and risk exploiting one of God’s children?
Remember that even as much as you are not going to Cambodia to be a “poverty tourist” and to collect photos of the pitiful plight of impoverished people, you are also not going to Cambodia as a collector of stories to bring back to your friends and family.