We are off the bikes, but the journey continues – and it takes a slightly less physical, but increasingly emotional, detour.
Today we visit the brothels of Phnom Penh, where the women and children are trapped in a cycle of abuse, rape and disempowerment that is truly heartbreaking.
Most people, as I once did, imagine these women to be tucked away. Inaccessible. And for some this is true. For others, they are hidden in plain sight: Invisible, worthless, voiceless.
The brothels we visit are one street removed from the main drag. The women and children inside live in dire circumstances of filth, with no food and no access to health care, education or comfort.
The women service upwards of 30 men each day. Traffickers/pimps – whatever you might like to call them – hover close to swoop in and collect on their earnings as the job is done.
These men have no shame; we watch on as they linger to collect on their investment.
In stifling heat, many of these women are heavily pregnant or caring for multiple children. If lucky, they reside in a 2x1m squat. As they service their “clients” their children watch on, or their infants are strapped to their chest.
We hear the stories of long-term abuse, gang rapes, violence and the sale of children over and over again. As we hear the stories, there are few words to offer comfort. But as the women break down they also reach out, seeking connection with no expectation or judgement. Holding their hand, offering a hug… these are the only tools we can offer as we too hold back the tears.
It is a harsh reality, one that weights heavy on your heart and soul. The only relief is in witnessing the incredible work of the outreach program delivered by AFESIP and funded by PROJECT FUTURES Ltd.
This program sees a monthly visit to the brothels bearing food, soap, condoms, basic medical treatment and immunisations.
It also allows the women a connection with other human beings who do not expect anything in return. And, when they are ready, an opportunity to flee their circumstance.
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