By Mira Sorvino, Special to CNN
Siem Reap, Cambodia (CNN) -This morning we got up bright and early to go to the temples of Angkor Wat. It was a boiling hot day, and by 7 a.m. it was already beginning to swelter. We entered the long walkway across water and grass to the main temple complex.
This is the remnant of a very powerful, accomplished kingdom, and a source of great pride for the Cambodian people. The grey stone structures are slightly discolored from erosion, but their grandeur, imposing stature, and artistic accomplishment remain intact.
I chuckle to think that in the fictional feature film I made about child sex trafficking in Cambodia, “Trade of Innocents,” (all filmed in Thailand) we shot our climactic action scene in a replica set of Angkor Wat; the temple structures were made of wood and Styrofoam. Yet I have to hand it to our director Christopher Bessette and our art department; it really did look like the real thing, if only a small section of it.
The real thing is vast; the steps I climbed in the movie are much more steeply daunting in real life. Inside is a sense of haunted abandonment, the feeling that critters make their homes here now alongside the ghosts. In the central temple section, however, are active Buddhist sites where intact icons are venerated alongside beheaded torsos, and colorful silk festoons the grey stone.
I was struck by all the unique depictions of the Apsara dancing women. They all had individualized faces and expressions, their breasts were bare as they swayed dancing, and phallic, snakelike sashes were tucked in at their waistbands. One of the guards said, “You see, in the past we had the more sexy ladies here!” And I was struck by the roots of feminine beauty and sexuality as a Cambodian cultural inheritance. How long has society here thought of women as submissive vessels of pleasure for men? Somehow, though, these images looked more self-empowered than the smiling girls at the karaoke bars. Maybe they were…
I got to see Don and his wife Bridget for lunch before we left Siem Reap for Phnom Penh. I was struck by how they personally are responsible not only for saving all the girls and boys under their care and in their outreach programs, but for the transformation in Sway Pak itself. Individual heroes make a difference in fighting slavery and saving lives. They are the answer to those who say, “What can you do?” and “You can’t change the world…”
He is working on a pilot program as an alternative to sentencing parents to prison that have sold their children into trafficking. He envisions a one-year session where they will be trained and monitored so as not to traffic their kids again; if they engage in any criminal activity or endanger the child they will be prosecuted. Don thinks this might solve the problem of daughters not wanting to testify because they don’t want to put their own mothers in jail. This could go a long way towards addressing Secretary of State Chou Ben Eng’s complaint that victims don’t want to testify against their own families. He is a brave, humane innovator.