She sat on a stool, legs crossed, in a flowered dress.
I was in the Red-Light District of Koh Samui, Thailand. Why? Because I was invited by the groom-to-be to accompany he and his friends for drinks. If you want to get drinks in Koh Samui, you cannot avoid the Red-Light District.
It’s an island known for its stunning beauty, breath-taking sunsets, picturesque beaches, and high-end but affordable resorts. As a result, Koh Samui’s economy is dependent upon tourism. Tourists, mostly Western and European men, frequent Koh Samui in pursuit of a different kind of picturesque beauty…something all together gruesome that will, no doubt, take their breath away. They come here for sex.
She’s still sitting in the same posture on the same stool. Only now, she forces a smile.
I know the story of this place. I’ve read countless books and articles about the reality of sex slavery. Every year, I scour the Persons in Trafficking Report that documents its global progress and problem spots. I subscribe to the email of every abolition organization in an effort to feed the break in my heart for this particular form of injustice and to learn how I can continue to be a part of its solution.
I’ve read of how it all works. Now, I’ve seen it.
Twelve girls, ages 14-19, dressed in little more than thong and boots dance to the rhythm of their DJ inside of and on the street in front of their bar. They are aggressive in their work, dancing in front of you, reaching for your hand, asking for your name…anything to get you to stop, even for a moment.
Then, there are the little girls, ages 7-10, no doubt in training to fill the boots of their mentors. These little ones are bold. They walk up with arms filled with roses, placing one in your hand. Their objective is to sell you a rose which you, in turn, offer to the girl you want. Little girls, courageously approaching Western men, talking seductively to them outside of the bars at midnight…
The den mother sits near the back of the bar watching everything. She is the matriarch who, no doubt, is too old to wear the thong and boots. Now, she runs the show. I watch as she screams at and slaps under-productive girls while simultaneously pushing men at the most seductive ones.
All of them, the dancing girls, the little girls, the den mothers…all of them are owned by someone.
She hasn’t moved in three hours. Same posture…same stool…same forced smile.
“Who is she?” I wonder as I walk by her again with the groom-to-be and his friends.
“Why hasn’t she moved?”
“What will happen to her if she doesn’t?”
Our next stop brought us to a bar where I could periodically check on what seemed to be a human manikin in a flowered dress. I knew she wasn’t a manikin. I knew that she was a real person with a real story…she and I had made eye contact…but what I saw in her eyes left me wondering about her story.
She wasn’t like the other girls. She made no attempts at aggressive seduction, her smiles were forced and her eye contact was labored. She didn’t expose her thong or wear black leather boots. She wasn’t moving to the rhythms of her DJ. She simply sat there, in a conservative flowered dress, obviously wishing that she was anywhere else but on that stool.
Was she a young mother with children in bed somewhere selling herself so that her family could eat?
Was she a young wife with a husband working on the main land selling herself so that she could eat?
Was she a slave owned by someone selling herself so that she could be free?
“Hi, my name is Jeremy.”
She sat up uncomfortably, the forced smile growing progressively strained. Was that panic I read in her eyes? Fear? It was certainly not relief.
“I just wanted to say hi.”