In Cambodia, 90 percent of prostitutes are sold into the sex industry by their parents. Many of the girls say they feel obligated to stay because their families depend on them for support.
British missionary Ruth Elliott is determined to provide a way out for the victims of sex trafficking. For six years, Elliott has been working to set the girl's free through her "Daughters of Cambodia" ministry.
"They live in the pit of hell. It's the truth," she said, explaining the victims' situation. "And they experience horrendous trauma when they come out."
Elliott said she feels God called her for this difficult work when she was only 14 years old.
"The Lord began to speak to me," she recalled. "He wanted me to go into the places that were worst and to facilitate healing the broken-hearted and setting the captives free."
Training for Life
Elliott arrived in Cambodia in 2004 and focused her efforts on rescuing sex workers.
"This involves going directly into the brothels and inviting sex workers who are in the sex industry in Cambodia to change their lives, if they are interested in doing that," she explained.
Elliott started Daughters of Cambodia, a day-center near the brothels, to help the girls transition out of the sex trade. The first thing they learn is a new way to earn an income.
"We had to start small businesses, which are fair trade businesses, in order for the girls to exit the sex industry," she said. "For without another job, it is just impossible for them to leave the sex industry."
At the Daughters of Cambodia center, the girls not only learn new work skills, they also learn valuable lessons for establishing a healthy family and a home.
"Things like domestic violence prevention, conflict resolution skills, budgeting skills, this kind of thing," Elliott explained. "[Also] drug prevention."
The Daughters of Cambodia market their clothing, fashion accessories, and home furnishings locally and overseas. Up to 60 girls at a time participate in the program, earning money for rent, food and other needs.
Doing Good Among Evil
But it takes time and a lot of help to overcome the trauma of working in the sex trade.
That's why Elliott, who's also a psychologist, trains counselors to work with the girls. Along with others in the red light district, she even introduces them to Jesus.
"We do build relationship with the brothel owners and they are welcome in our church program," she said. "We want brothel owners to come. We want pimps to come. We want everyone in the sex industry to come to our church because we believe in the power of Jesus to change everyone's life."
And that message is having its effect, especially among the girls.
"They respond very quickly to the gospel because they have never in their lives experienced love -- unconditional love and acceptance," Elliott said. "And many of them become Christians as a result of this."
Still, working in this environment is never easy. What Elliott does can be dangerous.
"But I have to say we have never, ever, not even one day, had any problems, any brothel owners turn up at our door demanding a girl back or threatening us in any way," she proclaimed. "We have never had a single threat against us. And I can't explain that to you except I believe the grace of God is on us."
Elliot's goal is to graduate her girls to successfully live on their own. She hopes to someday replicate the Daughters of Cambodia center in other countries with similar needs.
*Originally published on August 27, 2010.