By Penny Hood
In 2010 God placed me in the position of development manager for a nonprofit that addresses sex trafficking. I knew nothing of the issue but quickly became aware of the span of this dark industry. In the following years, I began offering my grant-writing services to other charities that are also in this battle to rescue and reclaim lives held in bondage. One of the organizations I began to work with is Not Abandoned, out of Kirkland, Washington. Jeff McKinley, the executive director of Not Abandoned, shared that he has traveled the world as a missions coordinator and determined that the most disturbing human conditions he saw were in the red light districts of southeast Asia.
In Pattaya, Thailand, described as “Vegas on Steroids,” you can find up to four thousand girls on one street alone who work in the sex trade as bonded prostitutes. There are more than 200,000 individuals trapped in the sex industry citywide; this is half the recorded population. Because of the high prevalence of trafficking in Thailand, Not Abandoned has committed itself to this country “to combat sex slavery through prevention, intervention, employment and restoration. Along with outreach to victims of slavery, they offer transitional housing, counseling, employment opportunities, business mentoring, life skills training, and support throughout their community reintegration.”
In the fall of 2013, I had the amazing opportunity to travel with Not Abandoned to Thailand to see firsthand the sex slavery districts of Pattaya and Bangkok. What I saw in Pattaya shocked me! Pattaya is on a harbor where the sex trade history began with some in the United States Navy during the Vietnam War. Today, Pattaya attracts middle-aged and elderly sex tourists from around the world. I witnessed a girl holding a door open for an older man with a walker who had paid for a night with her! Australians, Americans, and Russians are the most numerous non-Thai commercial sex buyers and bar owners. The work day for bar girls begins at four in the afternoon and ends at four in the early morning. I later observed buses of men arriving at night for this single purpose.
Pattaya has two main areas for skin shopping: the Beach Mile, where people sell themselves for survival sex, and the Walking Mile. The Beach Mile is where women who solicit were kicked out by the bar managers for not bringing in enough money, having disease, or being non-compliant. The Walking Street is where the shoppers for sex mingle with tourists on a mile of open-air bars. These girls are indentured servants to the bar owners and are expected to solicit customers as they walk by.
Prostitution is illegal in Thailand! The irony is, the corruption extends from police, who expect free services for pre-warning bars of raids, to hotel workers who look the other way as men take girls to their hotel rooms. In fact, a tourist is more likely to be arrested for showing affection in public to a spouse than for purchasing a young girl’s services.
Because ultimately, what happens in the red light districts (Thailand, Amsterdam, and Vegas) does not stay in the red light districts! Consider the following:
1. Millions of American men take sex vacations.
2. United States corporate officers often buy commercial sex while on foreign assignment.
3. United States military bases and ports of call deliver personnel to brothel districts.
4. American men return home carrying diseases they pass on to others.
5. The appetite for young bodies available at low prices in other countries increases the demand for a younger and cheaper body in the American market.
6. Every victim is a creation of God. Concern and effort should apply to every dark corner of this sadistic industry.
Hope in the darkness
When I was praying with the Not Abandoned survivors in their shelter in Pattaya, Thailand, last fall and saw how God has used the body of believers to rescue and restore victims of trafficking, God spoke two strong messages to me: He sees these victims at their darkest moments, and he has a purpose for every human life. I am thankful that Church of God is taking up this cause. I pray that the church would see this as a global battle in which we can each take part to bring it to an end and through Jesus Christ be the hope in the darkness.
Penny Hood is a retired college and secondary school science instructor who now offers her skills to help nonprofits seek funding to do God’s work. She is blessed with four “grandtoys,” a family that loves Jesus, and thirty-four years of memories to cherish after her husband, Steve, got promoted to heaven early. The Hoods attended and served in Northwest Churches of God for over thirty years. She now resides in Vancouver, Washington, and shares her home with women trying to relaunch their lives after being knocked down by crisis.