Half the Sky


In the Introduction to their book, Half the Sky, Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn, recount the story of a Cambodian teenager named, Srey Rath.

When Rath was 15, she decided to go to Thailand to find work.  Her parents worried but Rath and her four friends were all promised jobs in the same restaurant so it seemed safe.

However the job agent took the girls into Thailand and there handed them over to gangsters who took them to Kuala Lumpur, capital of Malaysia, to work in a brothel.

At first Rath refused to have sex with customers, so she was beaten and raped by the boss of the brothel and his men.  A subdued Rath stopped fighting but instead she sobbed and had to be drugged by the brothel owners so that she wouldn’t repel the customers.

Rath and the other girls were forced to work fifteen hours a day, seven days a week in the brothel.  They were forced to act as though they were happy to see the customers, kept naked and barely fed – “…because the customers didn’t like fat girls.”

The girls were never allowed out or paid for their work and were housed in a locked tenth floor apartment to which they were bused under guard.

One night, one of the girls prised a long, five inch board from a drying rack.  Rath and three other girls balanced the board between their balcony and the balcony on the next building twelve feet away and then sitting on the board inched across.  The board wobbled and shook and they knew they’d be killed if they fell ten stories but they figured their lives were over anyway so it was worth a chance.

All four girls made it across and the surprised tenant of the opposite apartment let them out through his apartment.  The girls took the elevator to the street and found a police station.  The police tried to get rid of them and when they refused to leave, imprisoned them. Rath spent a year in a Malaysian prison because she was an illegal immigrant. At the end of that year, the policeman who was supposed to be repatriating her, sold her to a trafficker who sold her on to a Thai brothel.

Bad as it was, the owners of the Thai brothel didn’t beat Rath or lock her up.  Two months later she escaped and went home to Cambodia.  With the help of a social worker and an aid agency loan, Rath became a street pedaller and soon began to earn enough to keep her parents and sisters.  In 2008, she upgraded her cart to a stall and her business expanded.  Now she is married, has a son and a thriving business and is a cheerful, outgoing girl determined to make her way in the world.

While there is no denying that this is a story of injustice and suffering and corruption it is equally a story of resilience, perseverance and hope.

But the story of Rath is not just a story of seediness and the sex industry, it is – as Kristoff and Wudunn point out – the story of modern slavery.

If this slavery is to become a thing of the past, like other forms of slavery, we all need to become abolitionists.

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3 comments on “Half the Sky

  1. nrhatch says:

    Maybe if men kept their private parts in their pants . . . the trade for young girls would dry up.

    • Thanks for the comment, Nancy and I agree but demand is only part of it – many brothels are run by women so they need to stop that as well – the ‘supply’ end of the deal. No demand. No supply. No problem.

  2. […] “While there is no denying that this is a story of injustice and suffering and corruption it is equally a story of resilience, perseverance and hope.” Trisha/Creating Reciprocity on Half the Sky […]

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