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By David E. Hubler
Contributor, In Homeland Security
In 2010, President Barack Obama designated January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. As part of the annual observance, January 11 is set aside as National Human Trafficking Awareness Day.
Calling attention to and combating these inhuman practices is as important today as it was a decade ago.
The International Labour Organization estimates that in 2016, there were 40.3 million people living in modern-day slavery. Twenty-five percent of those human trafficking victims were children. The majority of the victims — 24.9 million people — were held in forced labor and 15.4 million were forced into marriage, the ILO reported.
Learn more about what alumna Bren Journey is doing to stop human trafficking and slavery in Cambodia.
Human Trafficking in the United States Is on the Rise
Contrary to popular belief, human trafficking is not limited to impoverished third-world countries. According to the 2018 Human Trafficking Search report, the National Human Trafficking Hotline (NHTH) received 8,759 reported cases of human trafficking in the United States in 2017. That was a 13 percent increase in reported cases compared to 2016.
APU alumna Bren Journey joined Legacy of Hope International (LoHI) in 2006 after learning of the genocide in Cambodia. Between 1975 and 1979, the then-ruling Khmer Rouge communist regime slaughtered 21% of Cambodia’s population. The genocide was widely known as “the killing fields.”
Journey first visited Cambodia in 2007 and was named CEO of LoHI in mid-2017.
LoHI is an international community-based development and human trafficking prevention organization in Cambodia. It seeks to eliminate poverty and human trafficking by building schools, hospitals and teaching better farming techniques. Journey works with local social agencies to curb human trafficking and sex slavery, which are endemic in that Southeast Asian nation.
Educating Farmers to Produce Better Crops and Sell to New Markets
“One of my visions is that we’ll have some entrepreneurs and business owners come in and help educate farmers about growing their crops better,” Journey said in a recent interview. “The idea is that if impoverished farmers can be introduced to new markets for their crops, then perhaps they will earn more money and not have to sell their daughters and wives into the brothels.”
Many of the women in the brothels are truly receptive to her work, Journey said. “They’re ecstatic because they’re learning that they have a choice. They don’t have to continue the cycle.”
Journey most recently visited Cambodia in early December “to make sure we’re meeting our goals, and if not, to change what’s not working,” she explained. “I’ll review if they are effective; if not, we’ll make some changes.”
Her visit took her to Phnom Penh and Battambang for talks with LoHI Director and founder Sam Raguigian as well as with several school leaders.
Future Plans Include Creation of Better Schools and More Medical Clinics
She also met with Kanhchany Sipha and Phanet Kim, local leaders of Freedom’s Promise, a partnering non-profit Christian organization that also works to eliminate human trafficking.
Their discussions centered on the need for better local schools and more medical clinics in the villages.
In an email upon her return home, Journey said that she was particularly excited about the planned medical clinics that will be staffed by local Khmer doctors.
Other discussions included:
- Partnerships and gaps in funding as well as partnerships with businesses in Cambodia and abroad.
- How to help develop successful student programs that are more trade-oriented.
- How to improve and reach more villages with the human trafficking prevention schoolbook, “I Am Free,” which she wrote.
New Leaders Emerging in Cambodia
During Journey’s visit, she also met with former English-language students and translators who are now village leaders, teachers and pastors, some of whom are in business or in the prison ministry. Others are working with the non-profits.
She was impressed by the 20- to 30-year-old new leaders and teachers in their communities. They gave her hope, she said, that the future will be much brighter for the Cambodian people.
“I also saw where many hotels and businesses that were reported [to the authorities] for years for trafficking were now closed,” Journey added. “That was very encouraging.”
“I was unable to meet with past brothel workers, their children or potential brothel owners this trip due to time constraints,” Journey explained, acknowledging that there are still brothels and businesses engaged in human trafficking.
Human Trafficking in Cambodia Often Due to Poverty and Culture
Many women who are trafficked are victims of generations of poverty, especially along the Thai-Cambodian border. “It’s usually the family’s oldest daughter that will be trafficked because they need someone to support their family,” Journey said. “Even the parents may be trafficked at the same time. It’s become part of their culture to some extent.”
“We are not against those that choose prostitution as a career,” she added. The concern is for “the youth who have not been given a choice or adults that have been tricked into believing [prostitution] is their only option.”
“There has been some progress,” Journey said. However, “if we are not careful, the situation will be the same, if not worse.”
Funding Efforts Are Increasing
Funds to support LoHI’s work come mostly from volunteers or private business donations. This year, LoHI hired a young American woman to help with fundraising and finding much-needed grants.
“This year has been a rebuilding and regrouping year, so we’re researching grants out there now,” Journey said. “We’re talking to people and praying a lot.”