One month after publishing the first story, I received over 1,000 emails that conveyed a range of emotion. Some messages were supportive; others were less so. Some people appreciated hearing this perspective, and some were horrified to the point of taking offense. I even received some criticism and, much to my surprise, a few death threats. In addition to the emails, I also received a number of phone calls from people who merely wanted to say unpleasant and nasty things about our work.
Despite the negative and threatening feedback, I must restate that I am not afraid of this work. One Body Village has God by its side and He will take care of us. Furthermore, I must ask if you and I cannot be their voices for these young victims of sex slavery, then who will?
I will tell you a short story about an encounter that I had with Thien Nga, the woman from the story “More Than Half of a Lifetime:”
We were in a coffee shop in the middle of day when we witnessed a business transaction, the selling and buying of human beings. The lives of these young girls were completely destroyed. The kind of business they ran is unacceptable enough, but the fact that they were able to transact in public with no regard is absolutely mind-boggling. The atmosphere that day was really unpleasant. The Caucasian men were having drinks with a number of Cambodian men. From what I can tell, not only did they consume alcohol, but they were also under the influence of drugs.
I asked Nga, “Who are those men?”
She answered, “The Caucasian men are guests and tourists, the Cambodian men sitting over there are high ranking government officials. Their job is to protect the people around this area. But obviously, as you can see they are not!”
We immediately left the coffee shop. When we were outside, Nga told me that “in Cambodia, you only need $50 to hire an assassin.”
In January 2004, in the midst of the U.S. presidential campaigns, NBC Dateline joined up with the U.S. State Department and did an undercover story of children sex slavery in Cambodia. The story was televised the night of January 23, 2004. The broadcast exposed the terrifying reality of the disgusting billion-dollar industry, a broadcast that aroused the heart of humanity. Then Secretary of State, Colin Powell, promised that the United States would step up its interventions and pursue justice for the young victims. President George Bush also signed a law to investigate and punish those who are involved in the business of buying and selling underage children.
In an interview between NBC Dateline’s Chris Hansen and Colin Powell, Hansen asked, “Why has child sex trafficking become such an important issue for you and the Bush administration?”Powell answered, “Because it's the worst kind of human exploitation imaginable. Can you imagine young children, learning their ABCs or whatever the equivalent is in their language, being used as sexual slaves for predators? It is a sin against humanity, and it is a horrendous crime.”
Viewers of NBC were absolutely disgusted when they saw the clips on Cambodian brothels. They watched as Dateline reporters and Cambodian police broke into a brothel in Phnom Penh (Cambodia’s capital) and rescued not only teenage girls but also shockingly very young, helpless girls (between the ages of 5 and 10) who were forced into child prostitution. When the reporters and police entered and searched the secret rooms, they discovered pictures and notebooks filled with records of many Vietnamese girls. Many of the names in the notebook were Vietnamese names such as Liên, Tuyết, Xuân, Yến, etc. And according to the NBC census, by the end of that day, 37 girls were rescued; most of them were under the age of 10.
Below are a few clips from Dateline NBC’s broadcasts.
NBC’s Chris Hansen interviewed Mu Soc Hua, Cambodia’s minister of women's affairs:
Hansen: “Cambodia has a lot of problems. Where do you rank the child sex trade?"
Mu Soc Hua: "I rank sexual trade, sexual exploitation of our children as top — on the top of my list."
Hansen: "Is there any way to even attach a number to this to say how many children?"
Mu Soc Hua: "Around 30,000."
Hansen: "That's a staggering number."
Mu Soc Hua: "Yes. Yes."
Only 37 children were rescued from that place of darkness, from that prison they were kept in, that hell. The thought of 37 children set free excites me, but the staggering 30,000 children who are still imprisoned in the brothels pierces my heart and soul. How can I, a Vietnamese, not take it personally when the majority of those young girls are my very own people?
When this news report first came out in 2004, it made many viewers furious. Others shed tears and decided to become their voice. Some even stepped in and helped on the ground. The efforts of those who felt moved to action had an effect; they were able to slow down the growth of sex trafficking in certain areas.
Brothel owners and pimps won’t let this market go without a fight. The progression of buying and selling children as sex slaves has become more refined. They are able to hide it better. There are now more children than ever serving predators from all over the world.
This is a fight we need to continue. Each of us has a role to play in this. One Body Village will continue to be the voices these children need so that others can hear their pleas for a safer life and take action to make a difference.
Here’s an email I received from a supporter of this mission.
“Dear Father Martino, after I finished reading your story ‘Being Robbed Twice,’ I immediately went to pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. Similar to Jesus being captured and tortured and nailed to the cross, today, 2000 years later, His children are also captured, tortured, and instead of being killed, they are tied to bed poles and raped. Dear God, the pain You endured cannot be expressed into words from 2000 years ago, nor can the pain of Your young children who suffer today.”
We cannot let these children cry by themselves. Listen to them as they are calling out to you, as they suffer behind the four walls of their cold-hearted owners. Please be their voices, for if you do not hear them and speak up for them, then how will others be able to hear them? Do not let their cries vanish.
Please help them carry their crosses as Simeon had helped Jesus carry His Cross 2000 years ago. May the God of Love and Truth take away our fears and uncertainties so that we may become the voices of the truth. And through truth, action, intervention, and courage, these children will be set free.
Excerpt from “True Stories” from Father Martino Nguyễn Bá Thông. Vietnamese orginal link from "Ngõ Cụt? – Thay Lời Kết – Hãy Nói Thay Cho Các Em!"
Edited by: Jesse Robbins
Please check back for more "Undercovered Stories" from Father Martino’s experiences working with victims of the sex trafficking industry.