This post is written by Jessica Simons, a nurse who is currently interning with Relentless. I’ve reposted this from her blog dated 9 February. Here is her original post.
Two weeks ago Katherine and I spent the week in Bangkok working with different partner organizations. It was a crazy busy, bracing and beautiful week. Desperation and compassion in the same glance. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the needs observed and the brave and determined people stepping in that gap. Turns out, redemption is a very time intensive process. One of the privileges we had was going on outreach to Nana Plaza in Bangkok. One of the most popular bar districts in the sex tourism capital of the world, intense to say the least. But before that, we had dinner. Simple enough, right? Except that dinner was at the hotel of a known trafficker.
Um, what? You want me to rub shoulders with, more than that, financially support someone who is the problem? Someone who is part of the reason I’m even here in the first place?
When I asked Katherine if she struggled with the moral implications of this, she suggested I ask the founder of the organization. So that was our topic of dinner time conversation. In the restaurant itself. While the women of the hotel are a few tables away, getting ready for the night. The founder said (as best as I can remember):
No, I don’t have any ethical conflicts. I love these men, I really do. We’ve developed a really good relationship with them over the past few years. And because of that, they’ve allowed us access to the women. We’ve done clinics here in the hotel in the past. We get to have conversations with the women and help the ones out who are ready to leave. We’ve tried it the other way, accusing the traffickers and making life difficult for them and they slammed the door in our face when we tried to help their women. And I think, truthfully, we financially support slavery in a lot of ways with the things that we purchase. So at least with the money I spend on dinner, it’s being used to build relationships as well.
There are a lot of grey areas in this work. And sometimes making friends with the enemy is all part of a day’s work. While it’s still difficult for me to wrap my head around this, I’m learning to let go of my preconceived ideas. Ideas about good guys and bad guys and about the right and wrong way to go about this work. I’m not saying there isn’t right and wrong here. I think exploiting women (or men) for sex is wrong. Very wrong. Horribly wrong. But while actions can be sorted into good bins and bad bins, I don’t think people can be. Doing so reduces the oppressors to a one dimensional reflection of their actions and is, well, dehumanizing. I want to be someone who recognizes the dignity, the imago dei, of each person, regardless of what they have done. Which is terribly difficult, and usually just makes me want to take a nap, but I’m trying.
The second night of outreach we were having dinner at the same hotel, and the owner bought us dinner. Bought all of our dinners. A trafficker bought my dinner. Which had absolutely nothing to do with me, and everything to do with the relationship that these brave women had built with this man. But still. What do you do with that? Receive it, be thankful, recognize the gesture, and then go make friends with women in bars.