Thirteen Cambodian women who were once victims of the country's sex trade will start a new chapter in their lives when they move later this month into a home a Richland church bought and remodeled into a live-in rehab center.
The house in Cambodia's Phnom Penh -- a community known for sex trafficking -- will become a place for victims of the sex trade to get counseling, medical care and job skills to help them live productive lives.
Bethel Church bought the home after working with Agape International Mission (AIM), an international organization that primarily works out of Cambodia to stop sex trafficking. AIM has two other rehabilitation houses, which are remodeled ex-brothels, in Cambodia.
Once the house is built, it will hold up to 40 people and give victims in Phenom Penh a resource to safely escape the sex trade, said AIM's U.S. Director of Operations Clayton Butler.
Bethel Church has taken a keen interest in helping curtail sex trafficking, internationally and domestically, after sending a team to Cambodia last year, said Angela Hufford, Bethel's associate director of local outreach.
Since then, the church started the 13 Days of Justice Program, which runs until Tuesday and focuses on bringing awareness to the sex trafficking issue in the Tri-Cities.
The church has been bringing in speakers, showing a documentary and offering an exhibit highlighting sex trafficking around the world.
"We want to raise awareness about the issue of injustice to create participation in justice," Hufford said. "The idea is to help people be more aware so they can do more about it."
One of the speakers the church brought to the Tri-Cities was Butler's wife, Emily Butler, who also works for AIM in the rehabilitation houses and has researched sex trafficking extensively for multiple organizations across the U.S. She recently returned from a three-month stay in Cambodia.
She talked to a group of community members Friday night at the Kennewick branch of the Mid-Columbia Libraries about the importance of focusing efforts on the demand of sex trafficking, rather than the supply end.
"When we understand why the women got there in the first place, we start to shift the idea that all the women are bad women and we can focus on the demand," she said.
Bethel will send teams to Cambodia in August and October to learn more about the resources AIM provides and sex trafficking in general, Hufford said, The church's ultimate goal is to bring the model of the rehabilitation house to the U.S.
"We are never going to solve the problem, but we are hoping we do what we can to eradicate it," Hufford said.
13 Days of Justice events w A spoken-word poetry workshop is from 10:30 a.m. to noon today at ShareHouse Coffee. w There will be a Justice Jam event beginning at 7 p.m. today. There will be a spoken word performance by Micah Bournes, a poet from California, and a presentation by Clayton Butler of Agape International Missions at Bethels west Pasco campus, 5202 Outlet Drive. More information: bethel-church.org. w SOLD: The Human Trafficking Experience is a multi-sensory experience with mature content designed to educate viewers on the reality of human trafficking, both locally and globally. Its from noon to 9 p.m. today and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday at the Richland Bethel Church, 600 Shockley Road. More information at http://soldexp.org. Events are free and open to the public.