God's Politics

God's Politics

Elise Elzinga: Hope from Despair in Cambodia’s Sex Trade

The reality of Cambodia’s sex trafficking industry was vividly exposed to me one humid afternoon as I sat on a courtroom bench in Phnom Penh. I was sitting with four young girls as their sellers were escorted into the room. Their sellers were their mother, aunt, and grandmother. I didn’t need to understand the language to feel the fear, pain, and devastation that had just filled the room. I didn’t need to hear the words of the lawyer or the judge to understand the full situation.

You don’t have to work for a non-governmental organization or visit the red-light district – even the slightly observant tourist eye can see signs of sexual slavery, violence, and abuse. Pick up the city’s thin daily newspaper and you are likely to find another report of abuse, rape, or trafficking. Drive around the block and count the number of “massage parlors” filled with young women and rows of cots. Walk into a seemingly pleasant garden restaurant-bar and pass the “pretty girls” waiting to offer their services after a few drinks.


The perpetrators are shamelessly bold, as I experienced one day while using a hotel gym. After making polite conversation with the middle-aged white man on the next treadmill, I found myself in complete shock when he told me, “I come to Cambodia for the girls. They’re good for one thing only.”

The organization I work for here, Hagar Cambodia, helps women who have been victims of trafficking, abuse, or rape. Hagar seeks to transform despair into true hope. Hagar is passionate about the recovery and restoration of women and children through a long-term commitment to care and a belief in sustainable economic and work opportunities as an avenue for empowerment, dignity, and hope.


On your side of the world you can continue to cry out against this violation of basic human rights. You can advocate, pray, fight, and demand a stop to trafficking and other forms of abuse. On this side of the world are the lives and stories of these women and children. My hope is to build a bridge that connects our two worlds.

In Cambodia I use a bag that carries a story of hope, even on days of overwhelming hopelessness. It’s a bag made by the women employed at Hagar Design, and it’s the story of how beauty can be made out of brokenness and despair. It represents a journey of transformation that may be long and difficult, but that can be sewn together one piece at a time. Hope is what allows us to rise in the morning and gives us strength to carry on another day, no matter what side of the world we’re on.


Elise Elzinga is a former Sojourners intern, and the communications and advocacy coordinator for Hagar Cambodia in Phnom Penh. To read more about Hagar and human trafficking, see “In You I Take Refuge,” by David Batstone, in the March issue of Sojourners magazine.

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posted March 13, 2007 at 6:25 pm

Coincidence? God s Politics happens to post two articles directly related to a literature search I performed on Friday.After the election of President George W Bush in 2000, US government policy toward sexual and reproductive health changed dramatically. In May 2003, the Global AIDS Act was passed and prohibits allocation of US government funds to organizations that ‘promote or advocate’ legalization and practice of prostitution and sex trafficking. There are few documented examples of early impacts of this policy reversal on USAID-funded programmes already working with sex worker communities. This paper offers an anecdotal account of one programme in Cambodia that found itself caught in the ideological cross-fire of US politics, and describes consequent negative effects on the project’s ability to offer appropriate and effective HIV prevention services to vulnerable migrant sex workers. Busza, J. (2006). Having the rug pulled from under your feet: one project’s experience of the US policy reversal on sex work. Health Policy & Planning. 21(4):329-332. Implications of U.S. Policy Restrictions for Programs Aimed at Commercial Sex Workers and Victims of Trafficking Worldwide

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posted March 13, 2007 at 11:19 pm

I love the fact that this is getting more an more exposure in christian circles. Now we just need everyone involved in solving this problem. p

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Mark P

posted March 14, 2007 at 6:31 am

Tragic. One of those things so full of horror that it leaves you without any words to say…

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David Westaway

posted March 14, 2007 at 10:33 pm

I was blessed to visit this project in Phnom Penh with a group from our church in 2003. We were taken on a tour of the facilities and witnessed the soya milk being manufactured as well as other skills being taught. It is wonderful to see practical Christianity making a real difference in people’s lives.

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Marinda R

posted March 15, 2007 at 11:58 pm

Link in the story is dead; link in the bio line at the end is ok.

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posted March 16, 2007 at 3:15 am

Marinda R If you are referring to the article Having the rug pulled from under your feet, it s from a medical library to which I have access sorry, the abstract is all I can give you. If you re interested, you could try Google Scholar, PubMed, or another literature search engine, but you probably won t get anything more than the abstract without access to an academic or medical library.

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posted June 5, 2008 at 2:54 am

I have a big question for you, but first let me just commend those doing the work of Jesus by reaching out to these abused women. My question is, if God is in control of Satan, why does God allow Satan to torture beautiful and innocent girls and women? Why would God allow Satan to do these things? Big question…but God is big!

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posted October 31, 2013 at 10:34 am

it`s very nice article.i like very much.

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