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Love for Making Ghosts Dance - Part 2

The e-book version of Making Ghosts Dance is free this week. Check it out! - g

In 2004, I moved with my diplomat wife and three young children from Paris to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. We’d had a spectacular two years in France while Dana was posted to the US embassy there. We’d visited the beaches of Normandy and Marseille, the famed Loire Valley, spectacular Mont St.-Michel, Versailles and Château de Chantilly, where François Vatel is said to have invented whipped cream. (Plenty of historians say Vatel didn’t actually invent whipped cream, but they’re just haters trying to ruin a good story.)

Cambodia was a beautiful and impoverished nation experiencing rapid economic development and an unprecedented influx of foreign tourists come to see the UNESCO World Heritage Centre of Angkor, which had been off-limits for decades due to armed insurgency and general lawlessness in the area. Cambodia also had a thriving sex tourism industry, and most disturbing was the evident trafficking and prostitution of children.

I reached out to a foreign nongovernmental organization involved in the rescue of children from prostitution to see how I could help. This organization asked if I would volunteer to venture into Cambodian villages known to traffic in children, posing as a foreign pedophile, in order to support their efforts. There were many reasons to say no. For one, my personal safety would be at risk; the sex industry was operated by violent organized crime gangs with reported high-level connections in the Cambodian government. Second, as the primary caregiver of three small children—including an adopted child who could pass for Cambodian—the safety of my family was no passing concern.

In the end, the decision was made for me. On December 7, 2004, police under the direction of General Un Sokunthea, head of Cambodia’s Anti-Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Department, raided a Phnom Penh hotel and found dozens of women and children working there as prostitutes. These people were released by the police and given shelter by AFESIP, a French organization that served victims of sex trafficking.

The very next day AFESIP’s shelter was raided by armed men in vehicles with Cambodian military license plates. Ninety-one women and children were forcibly removed from the shelter and, for all practical purposes, vanished. AFESIP was forced to temporarily cease operations in Cambodia after receiving death threats. General Sokunthea was suspended from her post. As a result, the NGO I’d contacted ceased their rescue operations before I’d gotten started, citing a “lack of commitment and cooperation” on the part of the Cambodian government to end human trafficking and the prostitution of children.

Sexual slavery of children continues in Cambodia, though the situation may have improved somewhat in recent years. The US Department of State reported in 2021, “The Government of Cambodia does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so.” Although the Cambodian government has taken some positive steps, endemic corruption, poverty, and persistent demand ensure the exploitation of children for sex in Cambodia remains stubbornly robust. You can help. International Justice Mission is one of many organizations dedicated to the abolition of modern slavery in all its forms. Before you give, always check out charities on Charity Navigator.

Making Ghosts Dance, in essence, is a product of my worst nightmare, and, though it is a work of fiction, the situations described therein are inspired by actual events and circumstances. I’ve made the e-book version available for free this week on Amazon. Please spread the news. - g

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