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The Journey Toward Healing

“by D”

What ees your name? she asked…

Lotus flower

I wondered if she had learned her English from the volunteer that came weekly to the center to teach English or if she had learned it from her years serving up sex to eager English-speaking clients. I answered her, initiating a conversation which prompted her to scoot toward me until our hips were pressed together. She was sweet, excited to talk, and also a bit clueless about social conventions like personal space. But I didn’t blame her. She had been a prostitute since long before she became a woman.

This was my first time at the aftercare center. It is the only place in Bali where minors are received from government and non-government organizations after being recovered from sexual slavery. There are over a dozen children in various stages of the recovery program and many more who are coming through the channels to receive their own chance at rehabilitation though counseling, healthcare, education, and the care of house parents who love them without requiring anything in return for their affection and protection.

It seemed that the children at the center were a fantastic representation of the untold numbers of children being sexually exploited on Bali. There were boys and girls, Balinese and other Indonesian ethnic groups. Some were runaways that found protection from street life through pimps who required “work” in return. Some children were lured into trafficking through offers of jobs or schooling in the city. These children were the fortunate ones now being slowly reunited with their families.

And then there was my new friend, sold in to slavery as an infant. She had only been breathing free air for a few months. She had so much yet to learn, about social norms, yes, but also about her value, self-autonomy, and what family is supposed to mean. She would learn how to read and how to earn money without selling her body or allowing someone else to do it for her.

There are times when the magnitude of the Balinese sex trade paralyzes me, when I become immobilized by how much needs to be done and how many children remain enslaved here. Then there is the one. This one girl who now lives free. Her history is full of injustice, terror, and pain, but her future is bright with possibilities. She is why we won’t stop fighting.

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