Exploitation of the poor through sexual slavery runs rampant in Cambodia. Mission to the World’s (MTW) church-planting team in Phnom Penh is tackling the problem by reaching out to enslaved women with the message of Christ and providing skills and training needed to live a better, more productive life.
Khmer women, from the predominant ethnic group in Cambodia, are often forced into the sex industry by their own family members. In Cambodian culture, daughters are expected to provide financially for their parents. For poor and uneducated women, the sex industry is often the only place profitable work can be found, leading parents to sell girls for sex. Once this becomes the pattern of their life, and once families come to depend on the income, it is nearly impossible for the women to leave the sex industry on their own.
MTW is working with established sex-trafficking ministries such as Daughters of Cambodia and Precious Women, organizations that have years of success in rescuing and rehabilitating Khmer sex workers. Outreaches to the KTV bars (karaoke bars where women can be purchased for sex) provide a welcome break for the enslaved women and an opportunity for them to hear about a way out.
Women who choose to leave are given a job, such as sewing or doing nails, that pays fair-trade wages. The women also receive counseling, life-skills training, and on-the-job childcare. More importantly, they hear about the grace of Jesus Christ. Many of the rescued women embrace the Gospel without hesitation and participate in regular worship and Bible study. Gradually the women move on to work in other business-as-mission companies such as the Daughters of Cambodia’s Sugar and Spice Café or White Linen Boutique Hotel — businesses where the women receive industry-standard training and experience that will enable them to get a job anywhere in the hospitality industry.
Ministry to victims of sex trafficking is not just the work of missionaries. Gospel Commission Fellowship (GCF), an MTW church plant now led by Khmer nationals, is becoming increasingly involved in sex-trafficking ministry as well. Female college students who are involved in the church’s dorm ministry participate in KTV bar outreach efforts. The church also helps sponsor an annual International Women’s Day celebration party designed to shower rescued women with gifts. Church members give money and donate their time and skills to making the party a success and communicate to the women that they are deeply loved not just by the church but, more importantly, by Christ Himself.