Help Sex Trafficking Victims Through Ethical Dining

Help Sex Trafficking Victims Through Ethical Dining

I first learned about sex trafficking during my first year in college. I know what you’re thinking: “How did you not know about something like this until your late teens?” I’d known prostitution existed, but I wasn’t aware of certain implications related to the practice.

I had no idea what grooming was or the fact that children were sometimes forced into the darkness without respite. I was blind to the fact that there were women and men my age who were screaming on the inside, trapped in hell by their pimps and captors; I certainly wasn’t aware of the fact that some of them were trafficked by their own family members.

sex trafficking -

While it may sound like I’m naive or sheltered, I promise that’s not the case. My life was actually quite difficult when I was a child. I was put in situations that forced me to grow up way quicker than my peers and often felt very isolated and alone. In the same vein, I know what it’s like to feel trapped and helpless in an emotionally manipulative relationship. Knowing that there were people who were dealing with hardships they couldn’t escape affected me significantly and that sentiment has never gone away.

According to UNICEF, human trafficking is the second-largest illegal enterprise in the world, exceeding only the illicit drug trade. Fascinated and disgusted by this, I’ve spent years of my life researching news stories and journals. I’ve been inspired by crusaders like Somaly Mam* and Iana Matei, two women who have dedicated their lives to help these children and victims across the planet. Over time, I recognized how important it was to know that this was an issue that doesn’t have boundaries; it’s happening in every town, state and country across the world.

* For a resource as to why I am somewhat weary of Somaly Mam these days, click here and here.

Sex trafficking in Cambodia

I recently traveled through Cambodia, a country often referred to as the epicenter of sex trafficking. It is estimated that one-third of the ~100,000 individuals in the Cambodian sex trafficking industry are children as young as five. Although the Cambodian prime minister ordered a decree to shut down Svay Pak – the Phnom Penh shantytown most well-known for its accessibility to children – the brothels continue to thrive behind the scenes.

sex trafficking

According to The Diplomat, many of the children sold in Cambodia come from low-income families; the kids from these households are often sold to pimps by their parents in exchange for debt payouts and quick cash. One of the recent trends in the region is the virginity market, a practice in which pure girls have been sold to adults for amounts as low as $500 and high as $4,000 USD, the source stated.

While many sex trafficking victims attempt to get out of the sex industry, they often find it difficult to immerse themselves back into their communities or find stable jobs; they feel lost, scared and hopeless. There are people trying to help them, though. Daughters of Cambodia, a social enterprise geared toward reintroducing hope in victims, is making an incredibly positive impact throughout the nation. If you’re looking for things to do in Cambodia, this is definitely worth a visit.

Daughters of Cambodia 

The non-Government organization aims to eradicate sexual enslavement by providing victims with a way out. The agency has formed a two-step program in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh which provides alternative employment opportunities for sex trafficking victims.

sex trafficking

Those interested in obtaining a job within the program begin at the Daughters Visitor Center, which is located near the Royal Palace. The center serves as a space for Sugar and Spice Cafe, Hands & Feet Spa and Daughters Boutique. Women who have done well in the initial process are provided the opportunity to work for city’s White Linen Boutique Hotel in hospitality or food services.

Once accepted into the program, the women are given counselling for their trauma, medical support and are provided with liveable wages. The catch? None of the women are sought out. They arrive on their own accord. As a result, very few women in the program return to the industry.

On my last morning in Phnom Penh, I popped into the Sugar and Spice Cafe for some breakfast and left with a full belly and happy heart. The white walls embellished with stories of hope immediately gave a sense of calmness as I stepped inside. This space is safe, it’s tranquil and it’s promising. I was so inspired by the fact that each of the women employed at the cafe are taking steps toward a life they can be in charge of.

sex trafficking

I am a bit bummed that we went on our last day in Phnom Penh. The menu was absolutely stacked and judging by the quality of my eggs florentine, I’m sure I wouldn’t be disappointed! So if you’re in the area or looking for a good bite to eat knowing your money is going toward something great, I highly recommend the Daughters of Cambodia Sugar and Spice Cafe in Phnom Penh.  PROTIP: Get the chocolate fudge brownie and thank me later.

The organization isn’t limited to helping women, by the way. The Sons of Cambodia branch opened in 2010 and is designed to aid the male transsexual sex workers, also known as “ladyboys” throughout the country. If you’d like more information about the programs, be sure to check out the Daughters of Cambodia website linked above or pop by their Facebook page and give it a thumbs up!

If you’re interested in learning more about sex trafficking and would like to be an advocate for victims, I’ve provided a list of excellent books, documentaries and resources below.

Sex trafficking resources

Films and documentaries about sex trafficking:

B0021YXAGY Bought & Sold: An Investigative Documentary About the International Trade in Women (Home Use)
0061582069 Girls Like Us: Fighting for a World Where Girls Are Not for Sale: A Memoir
Rachel Lloyd
B00P9Q1FJ0 Tricked
Danielle Douglas

Selling the Girl Next Door (YouTube)

Born into Brothels (YouTube)

21st Century Sex Slaves (YouTube)

Inside the Lives of American Sex Slaves (YouTube)


Books about sex trafficking:

B004V5198M Girls Like Us: Fighting for a World Where Girls Are Not for Sale, an Activist Finds Her Calling and Heals Herself
Rachel Lloyd
0307387097 Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide
Nicholas D. Kristof
0786851724 SOLD
Patricia McCormick
1416961178 Slave Hunter: One Man’s Global Quest to Free Victims of Human Trafficking
Aaron Cohen


Scholarly articles about sex trafficking:

Whose Child Now? by Barnardo’s

Finding Victims of Human Trafficking by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago


News articles regarding sex trafficking: 

Daughters for Sale: How Young Girls in America are Being Sold Online

Human trafficking in South Africa: an elusive statistical nightmare

Making Soup with Sex Trafficking Survivors in Amsterdam’s Red Light District

Zambia Rescues Four Girls Trafficked from Malawi


Scholarly articles about sex trafficking:

Whose Child Now? by Barnardo’s

Finding Victims of Human Trafficking by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago






  1. May 31, 2016 / 6:11 am

    Oh Laura this is a cause so close to my heart! I also only found out about the horrors of human trafficking in my first year teaching in Korea. And it was actually while traveling through Cambodia where I witnessed first hand the atrocities that so many women and children go through. I have since been involved with many charities and organisations that are all doing their part to help and it makes my heart so happy to hear about this cafe in Phnom Penh.
    Have you hear of Exodus Road? They are a really awesome organisation which focuses on different cities during the year to work through and they do work with local law enforcement to perform actual raids on establishments to rescue victims.
    Since diving into the underbelly of all of this, I have since found discovered just how much trafficking goes on here in Korea. There is an amazing documentary coming out soon called Save our Seoul which aims to expose Korea’s hidden sex trade.
    Thank you for this post, it touched me deeply. I am so happy to find out about more places that are working to bring an end to human trafficking.


    • May 31, 2016 / 6:17 am

      I have heard of Exodus Road and I am eager to watch Save Our Seoul as well! Korean men are actually the #1 purchasers of children in Southeast Asia, so I’m aware that it is certainly happening in their home country as well. The worst I’ve seen it in Korea was in Suwon, where there are trucks of women dropped off on the sides of the road. It’s horrible how open it is and how often it’s happening literally every second of every day in every town no matter where we are. Thanks so much for your comment. We seem to have lots in common – wish I still lived in Korea as I could have met you. Hopefully someday our paths will cross!

  2. May 31, 2016 / 6:56 am

    Sex trafficking is such a heartbreaking atrocity going on and we saw it first hand as well when we were in Cambodia. We were on a bus and were pretty sure we saw someone selling their child which brought me to tears. We too went to Daughters of Cambodia, it’s such a great cause and it’s nice to see some awareness and help for those suffering from sex trafficking in Cambodia where so much of that is going on. There’s another great place in Phnom Penh called Friends n Stuff to help children get off the street and some who escaped the sex trade, I believe it’s international now, but they also have a delicious restaurant and a shop full of gifts made by the children (they have jobs to keep them off the streets and earn a living wage. Thanks for sharing and spreading awareness on such a great cause.

  3. June 1, 2016 / 1:43 pm

    Thank you for sharing this.
    I, thankfully, haven’t encountered anything like it first hand. But it is very heartbreaking to hear. I would like to visit Daughters of Cambodia when I’m there next. And tbh, I have no idea you can see it in Korea too.

  4. June 5, 2016 / 1:49 am

    We are traveling to Cambodia for the first time next winter and I’m looking forward to not only travel but to also have a meaningful visit through visiting a cafe such as the one you mentioned – Daughters of Cambodia. Back in Chiang Mai, we encountered a similar-type restaurant/massage parlor, catered to helping female ex-prisoners get back on their feet in the society. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences.

  5. June 6, 2016 / 11:11 am

    You have really done a lot of research, Laura. Coming from the Philippines and having read and and heard news on this regularly, receiving this kind of news never gets easier. It’s heartbreaking and it’s scary. These days, it has evolved to cybersex crimes but the sad thing is, some of the victims don’t see anything wrong with it because it’s a family business.

    It’s even more heartbreaking to hear news that some of my fellow Filipinos fall prey to this sex trafficking business of unscruplous people.

  6. June 6, 2016 / 5:17 pm

    This is a very sad reality.
    I’m not totally aware of all the situations.
    A few major ones I heard of when I was younger. Like in India there was a huge problem for a long time.
    I also learned about the North Koreans who are trafficked in China after escaped over the Yalu river.
    It’s a very depressing topic. Yet It’s awesome that people are stepping up and using the’r resources and time to try make a difference. It’s really shocking to think of these little kids being sold off for sex. Terrible.
    Thanks for sharing the information about this issue in Cambodia.

  7. June 8, 2016 / 5:40 am

    I saw you mentioned this cafe on your facebook page a few weeks back. I feel so embarrassed that I didn’t realise sex trafficking is in Cambodia too. It’s really such a sad reality to read about. 🙁 I am however so happy that there are cafe’s like the one you visited whcih help women overcome the horrors of sex trafficking.

  8. June 9, 2016 / 12:23 am

    Laura, you never seem to amaze me with your philosophy on travel. I wish more people were as conscientious as you are on the road. I actually was looking into being a child protector on an international relations front when I was younger but as I delved into the world of human trafficking more and more, I sadly didn’t think I was emotionally strong enough to pursue that kind of career path. But I still try to post as much awareness on the matter at hand and will be an advocate of those suffering from injustice for the rest of my life.

    I love your writing approach where you help people understand the situation at hand first and foremost. This is the most comprehensive overview I’ve seen of the human trafficking situation on travel blogs and I want to thank you for all the resources. If I make it to Phnom Penh, I will definitely be there. There’s a restaurant here that employs underprivileged youth to teach them life skills that will enable them to bring themselves out of their poverty. I wish I had taken you to that while you were visiting! Anyways I just wanted to say again, I am so inspired by your mindfulness. Its really heartwarming to see people care so much about their impact in the world 🙂

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