Working Upstream from the “Sexual Gulag”

I just had my heart broken all over again as I listened to a young Cambodian girl named Nhu give her horrific story about what she went through as a 12 year old sex slave.  Thankfully she has broken free from her “sexual gulag” that so many young girls who are born in grinding poverty are caught in.  When talking to Dick Wexler, co-founder of “Not for Sale – MN” last December, he talked about organizations that are going “upstream” from where the traffickers perpetuate the sexual gulag hellholes. First, I need to explain two things: 1) what it means to be upstream and 2) why is it called “sexual gulag?”

Let me explain Gulag first. As many of my readers know, gulag is a Russian acronym for “Glavnoe Upravlnie Lagerei” which essentially means “Main Camp Administration.”  In Kazakhstan, they had a similar term “Karlag” which has the same meaning but in the Karaganda region where the headquarters were in Kazakhstan.  What was notable about the gulag and karlag was that it was far, far away from any civilization.  The people who were sent to these places were either political or criminal prisoners during the Soviet Union with little chance of escaping. The term “sexual gulag” has many of the same connotations for those women caught in the sex trade but the major difference is that it is done in the major cities, sometimes in open view to everyone.

I remember one time when my husband and I were walking around in Amsterdam about ten years ago, we were trying to avoid the red light districts.  But somehow we got off track and walked right into an area close to the main train station where women were showing their “wares” in store front windows. They were like moving mannequins but scantily clad, we quickly moved away.  The “sexual gulag” is right at our doorsteps and not somewhere far removed, except in our minds if we continue to let it.

Many of my faithful readers of this blog know I have long been at this problem of trying to make people more aware of the USSR’s gulags and especially about Kazakhstan’s karlags. So it would seem a natural thing for me to move into the outrage that should be created with the 21st century sexual gulags we have in our midst. I guess I’m upset about what happened in the Soviet past and now incensed about what is going on in the present. In a book written by Anne Applebaum, she wrote the following about gulags:

“In the course of the Soviet Union’s existence, at least 476 distinct camp complexes came into being consisting of thousands of individual camps…The total number of prisoners in the camps generally hovered around 2,000,000, but the total number of Soviet citizens who had some experience of the camps, as political or criminal prisoners, is far higher.  From 1929, when the Gulag began its major expansion, until 1953, when Stalin died, the best estimates indicate that some 18,000,000 people passed through its massive system.”

I’m getting this information from a report done by Lisa L. Thompson when she gave a talk representing Salvation Army to a special committee about sexual exploitation of children to the U.S. Congress in 2005.  What Thompson reported were some staggering statistics while comparing the numbers of the Soviet gulag to our present day “sexual gulag.”

“UNICEF reports that one million children enter sex trafficking per year. Approximately 30 million children have lost their childhood through sexual exploitation over the past 30 years.”

Lisa Thompson has many other interesting analogies to make between the Soviet Gulag and the current sexual gulag we are experiencing.

Now I want to explain what it means to be “working upstream” from all these problems of children getting sucked into sex slavery.  The way it was best explained to me was by Dick Wexler. Caring people can go to countries like Thailand, Philippines, Cambodia, Viet Nam and find out where the girls are who are being preyed upon. Usually it happens if there is only one parent left or there is a new stepparent who comes in due to divorce or a number of other problems that drives desperate people to extreme measures to get them out of poverty.

The “Remember Nhu” organization is working upstream when they try to find girls who are vulnerable and help feed and educate them.  Check out the following website www.remembernhu.org and you will see many of the same things I looked into.  I believe this is a very worthy cause to find girls who the traffickers might prey upon. This helps them to become employable by making money for themselves before they are snatched away to be sex slaves.  Too often the trafficking shelters that are trying to help rehabilitate those girls who have escaped sex slavery see a high recidivism rate because these girls are so broken, damaged, hooked on drugs or alcohol to help cure the pain in their hearts.  Sadly, the girls who are no longer in the sexual gulag after years of damage are found downstream with lots of emotional baggage.

Yes, working upstream to help eliminate poverty for those families who have girls that might be sold into slavery is the best way.  Check out “Remember Nhu.”

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