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They Buy Baby Clothes

I regularly spend time in a few brothels in my city. With a couple of faithful friends, I go inside the waiting area of a brothel and spend a couple of hours talking with the 25-50 women and girls inside. On one wall is a pane of glass, and I can see the hungry eyes of the buyers on the other side. One at a time, the women stand up as a laser pointer settles on their chest. Time to work.  baby and mom

My first time in the brothel was disconcerting. I was worried about offending the women, and I felt unnerved by the men outside of the room. By my second and third visits, I began noticing the “culture” of the brothel. In this place that seems like it should be devoid of any humanity, Indonesian hospitality is still the rule. I am offered food and drinks and sympathetic apologies for the heat.

If it wasn’t for that pane of glass, it would be like waiting for a train with a big group of women. Some listen to music or play on their cell phones. Others chat and show off pictures of their kids at home. Their kids… To date, 100% of the women I have met in the brothels have a small child at home. Most are very young (often teenage), single mothers trying to provide a better life for their children with the only “skill” they think will bring in any significant source of income.*

Vendors come through the brothels. Many of them sell snacks or small cosmetics, but they are not the most popular kind of vendor. The vendors who get the most attention are the ones who bring bags of cute clothing, size infant to 5T. The women pull out outfits, and these moms playfully argue about who gets to buy what to send back home.

It shreds my heart with grief because only luck and privilege are the difference between their life and mine. I was born to opportunity and wealth, and that is the only reason that I am allowed to go home to a loving husband at the end of the night rather than to a dingy room around the corner with a man I’ve never met before.

This morning I looked at my little boy, the same age as the child of a new friend I shared a bench with in the brothel last night. I know the power of a mother’s love. That’s love that will go through hell every single night if it is the only way to keep my baby from pain. That’s love that will never breathe a word of my own suffering to keep his world innocent and perpetuate his belief that I can protect him. That’s love that buys baby clothes from rape money.

*Many of the women in the brothels were trafficked into Bali thinking they were coming to work in the hospitality industry. Some of them were not legal adults when they first arrived and were put into the brothel. When they arrive they have a “contract” stating how much money they must pay to the brothel for the freedom to leave. This is modern day slavery. After enduring months or years of being prostituted to fulfill their contracts, the women become “free agents,” able to leave if they choose. However, the years of trauma and exploitation leave many of them thinking they have no real value other than their ability to earn income for their children and families back home, so they remain in prostitution. Some end up exchanging room and board for a new “contract” to continue working at the place that first exploited them.

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