For Sale at 16
Filed Under: Blog, Rescue, Stories, Thailand, Volunteers
I was sitting in our rescue office eating my lunch when the phone rang. It was the police. They had a lead they wanted to follow up on. It was in a bar two hours south of the city that police thought might be prostituting children. The chief asked when I could be available, I told him I was on my way.
I jumped in the minivan and drove two hours to the police station. The police chief gave me all the information I needed about the bar and we agreed I would assess the place before returning to the station to formulate a rescue plan.
The bar looked pretty normal from the outside. It was just your regular bar with stools on the outside and a bunch of Westerners sitting around drinking beer. As I walked in, though, I identified a young girl straight away. She was tiny. She stood by the bar in a provocative blue dress with a see-through back. If anyone thought she wanted to attract customers by how she was dressed, her face told the opposite story.
An older Western man paying his bill stood next to her and ran his hand over her back. He called to the bar owner “And how about for an extra 20 baht I take her too?” My blood boiled.
I called for the Mamasan (the female pimp) and asked if the young girl, Lek*, could come sit with me. I was told she’d never been with a customer before, but she was called over anyway. Lek sat next to me reluctantly, her body language told me everything I needed to know. “I don’t want anything to drink,” she said to me in Thai.
The Mamasan immediately turned the conversation to money, and we discussed prices for taking Lek out the back to a private room for the night. The Mamasan showed no care for this precious young girl while 16-year-old Lek sat there and listened to us negotiate the worth of her body. I paid my bill and told the Mamasan I would return shortly for what I wanted.
Back at the police station I told the chief everything that had happened, and we formulated a plan for rescuing Lek and arresting the Mamasan. We had dinner and I returned to the bar.
Whilst the Mamasan was pleased to see me, Lek clearly wasn’t. She refused to come see me, complaining of a sore stomach. My heart started pounding and I began to fear I might not be able to rescue her tonight. “Here, take another girl,” the Mamasan said, offering me an older girl. “No, no, I came back for Lek,” I replied firmly. The Mamasan called for Lek and forced her to come sit with me again. She wouldn’t look me in the eyes and when I asked her if she was scared she replied: “Fifty-fifty.”
She began to protest again that her stomach was too sore for her to do anything with me, but the Mamasan assured me that Lek would do what I had paid for.
We followed the Mamasan out back to one of the private rooms. It was a well-decorated hotel room with a Queen-sized bed, television, fridge and bathroom. The light-yellow walls gave it an eerily cheerful mood. “Happy, happy! Good luck!” the Mamasan said cheerfully as she closed the door behind us. Lek immediately sat down on the bed, pulled out her phone and started texting someone. It looked strangely reminiscent of a teenager awkwardly using their phone at a party where they don’t know anyone.
“Please, my stomach is too sore, I don’t want to do anything,” she implored. Again I had the realisation that if I were anyone else, a real client, her pleas would be ignored. The customer would demand the services he paid for, regardless of the cries of the young girl sitting in front of him.
I sat down next to her and we started chatting. She told me she misses her family and her village, and that she took English lessons at school but didn’t really want to learn it because few foreigners visited her village. Trying to establish some common ground I told her I also missed my family, and hated taking German at school because I didn’t know any Germans. I was enjoying the conversation and almost forgot I was in a private room at the back of a bar where men pay to have sex with children.
A knock at the door startled Lek, but I knew it was the police sticking to the plan. I opened the door and the police entered the room with a video camera – they were documenting the raid. They asked Lek a few questions; the two Mamasans were already in custody. All three were taken back to the police station for questioning. The job was done and Lek was safe.
As I left the bar that night I said a quick prayer thanking God for another precious life rescued from sexual exploitation. I’m thankful it was I walking into the bar and not someone else. I’m thankful Lek is free and will now have the chance to finish her education. I hope she never sees the inside of a bar again.
*This is the true story of a rescued child. To protect her identity, names and image have been changed.
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