WEIGHT: 66 kg
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So are the girls. On this particular night there are more girls here than customers and the competition is fierce. Two lean into me and make whispered promises if choose them over the others. The smell of bad tequila along with heavy makeup and dark curls helps them look older than they probably are. I can barely hear them speak over the pounding UB40 track playing in the background, while down the bar a group of Australian backpackers picks up a round of shots. In a single year more than 33, people will be trafficked across borders worldwide according to a State Department estimate, most into the sex trade.
Despite the size of the crisis, however, most people associate it with shadowy marketplaces and dark villages. It is a problem, in other words, that you have to look for. Stay on the beaten path and it will never find you. The northern Cambodian city is home to Angkor Wat, a breathtaking temple complex that covers a section of jungle larger than the island of Manhattan. Built by the Khmer Empire in the 12th Century, the monument draws in well over a million people per year and fuels a booming tourist economy in this otherwise impoverished country.
Glittering resorts line the streets shoulder to shoulder with backpacker guesthouses, five star restaurants and one dollar noodle stands. The lights never turn off, and just about everything is for sale to the right buyer. In this marketplace sex trafficking has boomed. At the tourist clubs and karaoke bars girls cluster around tables chatting together while they wait for their dates to arrive. Early in the night a sex worker in Siem Reap will let the client entertain her first, having drinks, dancing and playing games of pool before the business starts.
As the night wears on and the prospect of going home empty handed looms, however, the sales pitch gets more aggressive. With the punishments handed out by angry pimps for an unsuccessful night, the girls here are very motivated sellers. Nobody wants to be the one coming home empty handed when the sun comes up.
However the flush of prostitution in this boomtown is well known to the locals. What did you expect? The local drivers, young men who pull motorbike carriages called tuk-tuks, are experts at helping tourists find a good time. In fact the local Khmer culture is a very conservative one that emphasizes modesty in both private and public life. The sex and drug trades here are banned by laws stronger than anything in the United States. Western money exerts an outsized influence here, as it does in many developing nations.