Sunday, January 11, 2009
January 10, 2009
By Nicholas Kristof
The New York Times
There’s been a lot of debate in the blog about how much coercion there is, and how meaningful coercion is. After a lot of interviews, my sense is that there is a steady continuum from adolescent girls who are absolutely imprisoned in brothels at one end, to adult women who freely decide that they can make more money in prostitution than in other fields. I’ve interviewed women in each category and in every shade inbetween.
On this visit, I revisited one teenage girl whom I had interviewed a couple of times earlier. She had been kidnapped and sold to a brothel in Poipet, imprisoned for a few weeks until her virginity was sold, and then she was beaten, locked up and forced to comply. To me, that was slavery. By the time I saw her in 2006, she was closely monitored and wasn’t given any cash, and she was still being beaten at times, but at times she was allowed on short trips outside the brothel. She wasn’t actually physically imprisoned and could have escaped if she had wanted. I offered to help her do so, but she hesitated for three reasons: She was afraid of being beaten up if caught; she was afraid that if she went home her parents and neighbors would figure out what had happened to her; and the brothel-owner claimed the girl owed her money and needed to repay the debt, and the girl kind of believed her. At that point, I wouldn’t exactly call her enslaved, but she certainly wasn’t free, either, and she was still a minor. When I interviewed her on this visit, the situation had evolved further: she was now free to come and go and hadn’t been beaten for a year, she said; on the other hand, she was still a minor, may have been addicted to drugs provided by the brothel, and was kept in place partly by stigma. That’s a situation that started out as slavery but evolving into something more nuanced over the years.
By the way, I do encourage you to watch the video we prepared on the brothels of Poipet; it’s right beside the column.