Transformation: Cambodia

Esther Havens, writes about her recent project with International Justice Mission in Cambodia. We hope you enjoy her words describing the difficulties found in confronting such a sensitive subject as well as her beautiful pictures. Esther’s work, and the entire IJM Transformation: Cambodia project, are a guide to the change currently taking place within the Cambodian Justice System for the good of an entire country.

“Between 2000 and 2002, there were many foreigners — thousands each year — who came here. There were many at-risk children, and prostitution was very rampant. We worked night and day until we were able to be in control of this situation. We can see that the current situation is completely different… We will make every effort to crack down on any persistent criminals and make this place safe today and in the future” — General Pol Phie They

 General Pol Phie They

General Pol Phie They

Last summer, I had the opportunity to work with International Justice Mission in Cambodia. I have always admired their work and been a huge supporter of everything they do. Over the years, I have photographed just about every project you can imagine in the humanitarian sector, but I have never photographed sex trafficking stories of any kind. And to be honest…they scared me. I think it’s easy for us to turn our eyes from the things we don’t understand or don’t know what to do with. I have so many friends involved in Anti-Trafficking efforts and I’m so thankful for their hard work. But I stayed clear from involving myself in these stories. I actually started reading Gary Haugen’s (Founder of IJM) book, The Locust Effect, but I put it down. I couldn’t finish it. Just the first chapter broke me to pieces.

When IJM asked me to work on this project in Cambodia and photograph the change that’s happened over the past 10 years because of the collaboration between the government and various organizations, I knew I had to say yes…

I’m a person who is always searching for hope in a story. I do believe it’s always there. The human spirit fights for it. This story was covered in hope.

The hope and outcome of what CAN happen if people work together to fight injustices. I had the gift of meeting the most incredible men and women who risked their lives for the safety of thousands of children. It was an absolute honor. They truly are heroes and I hope you see that in these images. One of the photos that made me a little nervous was photographing Her Excellency, Secretary of State, Chou Bun Eng. The only photographs I had seen of her online were in her office. I really wanted to go for something different. Before the photoshoot, I pulled up examples on my computer of photographs I wanted to take of her in a field nearby. I was thrilled when she agreed. She brought an entourage of about 20 people as we photographed in the hot Cambodian sun. I’m so thankful for the hard work she’s put into fighting for the protection of so many young children.

We listened to stories from morning to night everyday for a week. I heard things that I couldn’t believe. When I was photographing General Pol Phie They, he pointed to a building and explained to me that his Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Police helped to rescue hundreds of women and children who were being sold for sex in it just 10 years ago. I learned that over 4,000 foreign men came monthly to that specific village for sex with children. There is a café underneath the building where men would sit and wait for pimps to offer them children for sale. There are no words for these types of things. I was so disgusted. But I am also so thankful for the raids that happened and rescued children.

There is a justice system now in place in Cambodia where prosecution of such perpetrators is happening.

If you feel compelled to do something right now, you can become a freedom partner with IJM.

 Captain Keo Rattana — Deputy Chief of Section, Phnom Penh Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Police.

Captain Keo Rattana — Deputy Chief of Section, Phnom Penh Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Police.

Originally published at

Doug Klembara