Innocence at Risk

I wonder if she will call? I keep hoping she will. The other night on outreach we were still deciding which bar to enter when these sweet young girls in front grabbed our hands and pulled us. I couldn’t say no. During prayer we had asked God to give us an image, an impression, or “if necessary” we joked, “have girls come to us and grab us so we would know which bar to enter.” We wanted to meet God’s divine appointments.

I have seen many young “women” in the bars. I guessed these two were 16 or 17. I offered “Ann” a drink and asked her how old she was. She hesitated, consulted with her friend quietly and then told me 18. I chatted with her some and found out that Ann and her friend, had just arrived in search of a job 2 hours earlier and was hired on the spot. Ann clearly did not know what to do.  I told her to get a coke and she left to find out what that involved. Her friend, “Pla” came back with a small drink and asked Jennie, “What’s a Tequilla?” Jennie told her, “its strong alcohol.” She asked, “How do you drink it?” She left it there and didn’t touch it.

Ann wore braces on her teeth and her hair was done in a popular teenage fashion. Thick mascara and eye makeup made her eyes look like a wide-eyed doe in headlights. Ann told me she had finished high school. “Have you thought of going back to school?” I asked her. She said, “Yes, I want a future.” Ann had started further studies but needed more money for school. I asked her gently, “Have you ever slept with a guy?” She said no. She was still a virgin. “I don’t like that kind of thing,” she said. My heart dropped. I quickly told her that the bar was not a safe environment for her. Her friend had told her she would only have to dance and get drinks to get money. That’s rare. Sometimes the bars will allow that for one month and then there is an expectation to take so many customers a month or your salary is cut. Ann said she would be paid by day. If she got a drink that first night she would get $20 at 2 am when the bar closed. It was already 11pm and this was Ann’s first drink. She would have to pay for the outfit, the boots, the number, and also get deducted for each minute she was late. They would have to buy their own food and the only transportation home at 2am is by taxi. The girls are not likely to take home much if any money after the first night. The glass-heeled boots would cost twice one night’s pay and were not likely to bring her a prince charming before the clock struck 12. Her feet were already aching.

Since Ann told me she didn’t want to do this and didn’t like it, I told her to call us and we would be able to help her out. I wrote the number down on the back of a tract. If the girls get caught taking numbers they sometimes get in trouble. She was nervous and she left the tract with me when she went back up to dance.

Ann looked awkward on the stage. She didn’t know how to dance. After glancing around to see what the others were doing, Ann made a couple attempts at wiggling but then just leaned into the pole. She flashed a shy smile at me. I noticed that Ann didn’t know how to wear her bikini outfit either. Her own white underwear were peeking conspicuously over the edges of the bar costume, exposing her naiveté. Another dancer noticed and tried to help her tuck them in but it wasn’t working. Ann didn’t adjust it. She wasn’t going to expose any more of her skin that first night. There were other young girls on the stage but they had been there long enough to learn the ropes and they were intermittently dancing and playing with each other. They seemed caught up in their own world as they played and teased each other, almost oblivious to the bar clients. When they noticed a man staring at them, the dance changed to a performance and lost the playfulness. Their faces aged in a moment as they performed their duty of seducing a client.

Men came in and sat down. Ann avoided their eyes. Mostly she kept her gaze on the other women dancing, occasionally her eyes looked for mine and I smiled to reassure her. When Ann came down off the stage, we tucked the phone number into her boot where it would be hidden. Ann asked me how old you had to be to work at NightLight. I told her 18 but that even if she is underage we could still find a way to help her. I told her we have tuition scholarships as well. Ann said, “thank you” and looked relieved. “I’ll call you tomorrow,” she said. She tried too late to stop a yawn. “Are you sleepy?” I asked her.  She nodded and I offered to pay her fee and send her home. Ann decided to finish the night out and get the money. She said, “I’ll do what it takes to get funding for school.”

We paid our bill. I was ready to go home and I wanted to take her with me. Ann said she would walk us out. I hugged her and pleaded with her again, “Call us!”

She hasn’t called. My hope is that her aunt and uncle (who raised her) found out what she was doing and grounded her. It’s doubtful. My fear is that it will be discovered she is a virgin and she will be offered 50,000 baht for her virginity. That would pay for a lot of school fees. It would never pay for the loss of purity and innocence.

Times like these are hard for us to process. On the one hand we find encouragement in believing that God set up a divine appointment to offer a way out to two precious naive girls. On the other hand we are confronted once again with the harsh realities of sexual exploitation and the thousands of young girls who are at high risk, lured by the promise of a better life. It’s no secret that this is going on here. It’s no secret why. As long as there is a demand for young girls it will continue. As long as the police enable the system to protect the profits, the innocent will not be protected. As long as poverty prevents girls from pursuing education for good careers, they will be trained to sacrifice their dreams on the altar of “easy” money. As long as society chooses not to see, or chooses to take a peek but then walks away silently, society will become desensitized to the exploitation that begins not far from home. As long as we do nothing, we are by default enabling.

I will go back and look for them again. It’s the least I can do. I hope I don’t find them. If I do, I’m afraid their faces will have aged overnight.

I’m still hoping and praying she will call.


One comment

  1. […] night we returned to a bar we had visited three weeks ago. We were thrilled to learn that two teenage girls at risk stopped working at that bar after their first night. Annie leaned over, grinning, to tell me the […]

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