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In ‘Red Light,’ a Portrait of the Sex Trade

Guy Jacobson and Adi Ezroni's Red Light narrated by Lucy Liu.
Guy Jacobson and Adi Ezroni's Red Light narrated by Lucy Liu.

A sex trade documentary that was four years in the making and took the collaboration of a politician and a former sex slave turned advocate premiered in New York last week, highlighting an ongoing problem fed in part by collaboration of society, officials and police.

“Red Light” shows how parents sell daughters, government officials use secret brothels to procure sex and the extent to which the trade exposes children to abuse.

The film, which took more than four years to make, was produced in part by actress Lucy Liu and features activist Mam Somaly, who escaped the brothels as a girl, and opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua, who was once a minister for women’s affairs.

Filmmakers used hidden cameras and took risks in brothels to bring back footage from the sex trade to increase awareness of the dangers of exploitation.

“When I saw the movie, I remembered every word those children said,” Mu Sochua told VOA Khmer after the screening. “I can still smell the mud at the brothels I passed on my way to Poipet. I can never forget the tears and emotion of these girls, who described to me their hardships and their experiences, [such as] losing their virginity for the first time, after they were sold to brothels, and being forced to serve more than 10 clients a day. We, as parents and as responsible people, cannot stand for that.”

“Red Light” examines betrayal by neighbors and friends who lure children into the sex trade. A 14-year-old girl describes her rape and subsequent sale by a neighbor to a brothel. She is then sold from one brothel to another. Two girls are sold by their own parents into brothels.

Another girl, Ani, 13, was forced to sleep with high-ranking government officials in a brothel disguised as a noodle shop.

“The drunk chief of police who raped my daughter came to my home,” Ani’s father says in the film. “He told me I should let him sleep with my daughter again. “I would never sell my daughter. You would have to kill me.”

“Red Light” is also a reminder of the loopholes in Cambodia’s legal frameworks that allow perpetrators to buy their way out of trouble.

“We need to ask ourselves, mostly men, why do men have this urge to exploit a little child, whether it’s a boy or a girl,” Adi Ezroni, one of three directors, said at the screening. “And that’s really the issue that we have to speak about.”

Film production team took risks from those who benefit from the business. They had to use hidden cameras to film in the lucrative karaokay parlors and brothels. Film makers hope their film will help raise more awareness of the danger of sexual exploitation children face.

“With enough of this education and exposure we are able to change both people’s mindset, law...and to decrease demand because as far as I am concerned kids should never ever be raped and touched by anybody,” film maker Guy Jacobson told journalists. “I don’t care who the kid is and I don’t care who the adult is, there is absolutely no scenario in which it is okay for an adult to have sex with a kid; period.”

However, victims get discriminated when they try to integrate back into society.

“I would like to make a new appeal to please have a pity on those people both the children and women. It was not their choice to fall into this trap of prostitution,” said Mu Sochua. “Once the society discriminates against them, they will lose their future.”
The premiere drew a wide range of audience including celebrities and rights activists.

“I just feel that we need to take some actions and that a lot of countries need to get involved than being involved now,” Cynthia Kirchner, an actress and model, told VOA Khmer. “The girls are so strong to have gone through what they’ve gone through and to tell their story and they are just so brave and I think that everyone that has involved has done such a good job in getting their story told.”