Archive for May, 2007

Recently I have had a very unique experience with one of my highly religious clients. It was unusual in a sense that I felt as if even within the brokenness of this person there is something very Sacred…I was in a way ‘standing on a holy ground.’ When I first started the counseling, I did my usual. As someone trained in the field of pastoral counseling, we were trained to listen and listen really well. But even in this listening, I was trying to hear voices of his pathological narrative so that I could fix his problem. As I sat there it occured to me to ask myself, what will happen if I were to listen to the sacred story of his life, to the place of God in his pathological narrative, to the healing power already existing? As I sat and listened with intentional awareness of the presence of God in my client’s life, I experienced something truly unusual. To know that God remains even in pathology is to feel as if you are standing on a holy ground and that alters my perspective of my client radically.

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I want to offer my personal reflection of the dream that I posted. This interpretation is a combination of my own perspective in relation to that of my therapist. Being at a resort and noticing a sanctuary within the resort indicates an awareness of transcendence in the social dimension of my life. Being told of a sacred space at the top of the hill points to my view that my consciuos self see spirituality as a form that demands perfection (often in the symbol of height). Those that I saw in this dream, I have great admiration for. It was at this moment that found myself without a shirt, I felt unworthy. The sense of unworthiness derived from something more primal, basic, instinctual. In my conscious self, they were not reconciliable…the spiritual and the primal. I found myself a shirt and went to the hill. Again I was not able to get to the top, and the room full of orphans, to me was a sense of spiritual abandonment. I could not make it to the top and that reflected my inability to achieve spirituality as defined institutionally by the strive for perfection. However, it was through returning to the ground floor that I was able to rediscover my spiritual self which was my primal self. It was a divine indication that pointed to the recognition that spirituality, for me, has to be grounded in my basic emotions, thoughts, feelings, senses. Otherwise we would only be celebrating spirituality without its body…without forms, colors, taste, shapes, textures, rhythms.

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I just read somewhere that there are approximately 400 million children in the world today that go to bed hungry every night.  35 million orphans in Africa and 65 million orphans in Asia.  The number of orphans in the world are increasing because of AIDS.  In Thailand, I believe, there are over 300,000 AIDS orphans.  I met a young lady and her husband a couple of years ago in a small village up north of Thailand.  They must be in their late 20s.  At the time he was not able to work because of AIDS symptons.  And while she was HIV positive, she had to support her family…her husband, a daughter and a 3 year old son.  There were days she was able to provide for her family, there were days they went hungry because there just wasn’t enough.  When I asked her about her future, she was in tears.  She looked at her son standing by her and the thought that he would become an orphan was just unbearable for her.  “Why did this happen to me, I was a good person,” she said with tears running down her face.  I did not have any answer for her.

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Dream may be a path that brings us to the depth of our being. It offers directions and a glance of the deep aspect of who we are. The following is the first dream that I noted and brought to my therapy session.

“My wife, myself and a couple of friends wandered to a Marriott resort. We studied the map of the hotel. On the map I noticed a sanctuary. It was located at 11 o’clock from where I was standing. For some reason, we did not go in. We went to meet up with other friends. I found myself and my friends waiting in a shopping mall for someone. And then the scene changed to an empty lot near a slope. There were two old Spanish buildings on the hill. My friend, Wayne Hamra, told me that at the top of one of the buildings was a holy place. I did not go with them because I was standing there without my shirt. When I found my shirt they had already left. I saw them walking up a circular stair to the very top. My sister was among them. I thought to myself that it would be important to visit a sacred place…that I should make it a point to visit many sacred places. As I proceed, there were a number of people with me as well. We went to the third floor and found a hanging stair, flimsy steps that we all had to craw through to get to the next level. I tried a few steps and did not think I could make it. So I stepped back. But none of the people with me were brave enough as well. We waited there for the group that went up ahead. As I walked through the 3rd floor, there were many children in different rooms. I looked into one of the rooms, there must be about 15 children lying on many beds ready to go to sleep. I later suspected that this place might be an orphanage. My sister and my wife returned from the top level. We chatted for a while and decided to go to the first level. As my wife and I were walking down, we came across a man. He was displeased with me for not being brave enough to go up. He thought I had desecrated the holy place by my fear. We both walked to the first floor. It was like an open market with small sacred objects, expensive rocks, and small snakes.”

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In 1991 I took a group of seminary students to a remote Hmong village in Northern Thailand to build 50 toilets in 10 days.  And we did.  But during the entire period I was there there was a little girl by the name Ju.  She was 10 and always kept observing our group peeking through cracks in the wall.  The night before we left this girl came to see one of my students and asked if she could talk to her.  In a small little room attached to an elementary school this girl asked my student, “Why are you and your group so happy?  You smile and laugh all the time?”  My student said, because we believe in God and we have Jesus.  Then she paused, stair at the mud floor with tears rolling down her face.  In a soft voice she spoke, “I hate my mother….she is planning to sell me to a guy in another province.”   I was greatly disturbed when I heard the news and tried to give a sponsor for her.  During the same time I started reading and researching the topic of child prostitution in Thailand.  Here is the story of the development of commercial sex trade during the past 20 years in Southeast Asia (Thailand,Cambodia, Vietnam etc.).   

Between 1985 – 1996 the nature of commercial sex trade was rather brutal.  The brutality done included beating, raping, locking, chaining, kidnapping, and keeping the girls in dismal unhygienic locations.  These girls, when sold, are usually locked up in the brothels, often not seeing the light of day for up to two years.  They can be called on for sex 24 hours a day.  The usual working hours of these girls start from 10 am to 4 am.  The price of a virgin girl is between 2,000 – 15,000 baht (40 Baht/US $).  This amount goes to the brothels.  Each visit after is between 100-150 baht.  If the customer desires to stay overnight, he is charged 200 baht.  The highest return for these girls is 50% of the price charged while the lowest is approximately 5%

According to Aurasom Suthisakorn, some good-looking girls were forced to entertain from 20 –26 customers per night from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m., which is approximately one client per 15 minutes.I have heard that of the 1,000 children rescued by various social welfare organizations from 50 brothels, 20 per cent was HIV positive.  The Center for the Protection of Children’s Right reports thatthe 4th of June 1991, 17 young tribal girls between 11-17 years of age were rescued from a brothel in Phuket.  One of the girls was forced to entertain customers even when she was 7-months pregnant.  In April 1991, a teahouse was raided and 100 girls were rescued of which 10 were below the age of 16.  Twenty of these girls were tricked and coerced into prostitution.  Seventeen out of these twenty girls were HIV positive.  November of the same year a brothel in Rayong Province was raided and 12 girls were rescued.  “Most of the girls had been physically abused with plastic pipes and raped before being forced into prostitution.  Blood tests indicated that 11 out of 12 were HIV positive.”

In her book, Sanim Dookmai, Aurasom Suthisakorn described a pimp taming a girl who refused to cooperate.  The pimp took the sharp curved edge of an iron hanger to whip the bare back of the girls then dragged it down to the waist pulling the skin off their backs.

When I did my research in 2001 I realized that there had been a major transition in the sex industry in Thailand.  First there is less coercion and brutality.  Second, poor rural girls no longer get into this type of career but it has become more prominent among poor urban girls.  Third, there has been a huge reduction in the number of brothels yet at the same time there is a sharp increase in karaoke, bars, café, massage parlors etc.   Lastly, the number of child prostitution has not decreased.   

Factors that contributed to this shift are first, many NGOs have been working to promote education and prevention among rural girls in Northern Thailand.  Second, there are so many deaths in the village that young girls are afraid to get into this business.  Lastly, the government issued The Suppression Act on sex industry. 

The effectiveness of the 1996 Act lies in its severity of punishment to pimps, mama-suns, brothel owners, customers, and parents who sell their children.  Section 12 of the Suppression Act states:Any person who detains or confines another person, or by any other means, deprives such person of the liberty of person or causes bodily harm to or threatens in any manner whatsoever to commit violence against another person in order to compel such other person to engage in prostitution shall be liable to imprisonment for a term of ten to twenty years and to a fine of two hundred thousand to four hundred thousand Baht. If the commission of the offence under paragraph one results in: grievous bodily harm being caused to the victim, the offender shall be liable to imprisonment for life;  death being caused to the victim, the offender shall be liable to death penalty or to imprisonment for life.

It was assumed that the revised Suppression Act would result in a decline in the rate of prostitution.  But this was a miscalculation.  The Act was effective in causing the decline of the number of brothels but it did not stop prostitution.  In fact because of the Suppression Act, other forms of prostitution emerged such as restaurant, café, karaoke, cocktail lounge, and salaya dong is, according to many staff workers of various NGOs, partially the result of the Prevention and Suppression of Prostitution Act of 1996.  Chitraporn Vanaspongse of ECPAT International used to observe young girls walking around in Pattaya soliciting clients.  “After 1996 you can’t find these girls by the street soliciting clients.  They are now working in bars or karaokes.”  It is still about sex but the form has changed. 

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Theresa Boar, head of the State Department’s office for international women’s issues, believes that “As many as 50,000 women and children are brought to the United States each year to be forced into prostitution, bonded sweatshop labor and domestic servitude.” Underground brothels with foreign sex workers exist in big cities such as Los Angeles, Seattle, and San Diego. The location is often in Chinatown areas operated by Asian gangs. Around 1993 more women from Thailand were being trafficked into the US. The price range that Thai agents sell to local mama-sans is between eighteen to forty-three thousand dollars. The mama-sans usually make three times the amount they paid for. A mama-san who turned state witness told the court that most mama-sans “have no intention of setting the women free until they are no longer usable.” A prostitute is forced to entertain 200-400 customers in order to cover the debt. She is charged $ 1,200 per month for room and board and this could be paid for by entertaining another extra 12 customers per month. She receives nothing but tips from customers and is confined to the establishment. The annual income per victim of sex trade is approximately 1.9 million baht. 150,000 to 375,000 baht is paid to the Thai agent and the remaining to the mama-san.

Kathryn McMahon, Director of Research, Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking, recalls a case of a young Chinese woman abducted from her village in China and taken by boat to Mexico and then by plane to New York.

In New York, she was beaten, raped and tattooed with the insignia of the gang, which claimed to own her. Then she was taken to Los Angeles where she was forced to work in various brothels for six years. At one point she managed to escape but did not speak any English and did not know where to go for help. She was apprehended by her traffickers, beaten on the street, dragged into a car and taken back to the brothel. She escaped a second time and found a Chinese grocery store where employees could understand her pleas for help and called police.

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