Sex Trafficking in Cambodia Documentary: How Cambodia Women’s Crisis Center (CWCC) works to support women and girls


This BBC documentary takes a look at the child-slavery involved in sex-trafficking. Poverty, is the main reason girls become trapped in the cycle of sex-trafficking and prostitution. Families will often sell their children in order to survive. Girls, themselves, may then enter the sex-industry as a way to support themselves, while enduring the abuse that is involved. Often, they do not have many options, or choices, that would allow them to escape the cycle of trafficking and poverty. Because of this, they are vulnerable to continued abuse and mistreatment. CWCC, our partner organization, works to provide support and resources for women and girls who are coming out of the sex-trafficking industry. In the last section of this BBC documentary, CWCC is featured. They provide scholarships to the young women in the documentary who are seeking a different path. The CWCC handles around 300 trafficking cases each year (Phnom Penh Post). Their work is pivotal in providing choice, as their mission states, they are “Helping Women Help Themselves” by providing resources and financial aid to women and girls coming out of the sex-trafficking industry.

I Am the Mother Too: Reflections on The Women Who Sold Their Daughters


A neighborhood in Cambodia is a global hotspot for the child sex trade. The people selling the children? Too often, their parents. CNN Freedom Project and Mira Sorvino, award-winning actress and human rights activist, investigate.
By Tim Hume, Lisa Cohen and Mira Sorvino
Photography by Jeremie Montessuis for CNN

Blog By Sue Wallingford

From all the stories that I have read about the trafficking industry and the selling of children for sex in Cambodia, I think this one by CNN, The Women Who Sold Their Daughters Into Sex Slavery struck me most.  Perhaps it’s because I’m a mother myself, so to even imagine the idea of selling my daughter to someone as a means toward their sexual gratification makes me ill.  But instead of turning away, I am transfixed.  There is so much I can’t imagine about this industry, as a human being, much less a mother.  And despite the horrific and unbelievable nature of this crime, the selling of sex is one of the fastest growing industries, both at home and abroad, even by mothers, causing me deep reflection about the moral fiber of humankind and my place in it.

It would be, and has been, easy for me to respond to such atrocities as a mother selling her own child to the sex trade with utter disbelief, disgust and epic amounts of judgment.  I would rather separate myself from “these people,” the pimps, the johns, the brothel owners, and these mothers, and claim myself as someone better than that.  But the truth is, I am as much a part of the problem as I am the solution.  My privilege alone affords me the opportunity to separate myself from “them,” because I have no idea what it is like to be “them.”  Oh so convenient.

One thing I have learned from the many visits to Cambodia that I have made, working with our partners, the study and research of the history and culture, and the many conversations I have had with the Cambodian people, is that the Cambodian people are complex.  Their history of trauma, that has become endemic to their culture, the corrupt political system that has for decades oppressed and victimized them, poor treatment from neighboring countries, a near absence of healthcare and education, and the extreme poverty that more that 90% of the population knows creates a system that breeds fear, mistrust, hatred, and the most primitive of survivor skills.  To just live from one day to the next without starving, having your home taken, or being physically harmed is the reality for far to many Cambodian people.  And yet, I would characterize the Cambodian people as some of the dearest and kindest peoples I have ever encountered.  They are a paradox to me for sure. It is hard for me to understand because unlike them, I am well above Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  I have never wanted or needed like my South-Asian friends.

But this story made it different for me. When I gaze upon the faces of the mothers in this story my heart breaks, and I don’t feel so removed or so separate, because I don’t see monsters. I see fellow women, mothers, their faces etched with deep fear, unbearable shame and despair, having bared years and generations of inexplicable trauma. I can’t avoid the pain because I know they are victims too.  And there is something in their faces, despite our apparent differences that is familiar.

As stated before the Cambodian people are complex, made from their long-standing history of trauma and we can see it being played out in this story by CNN.  The parents today, the mothers and fathers, were the children of the Khmer Rouge, who watched their families being brutally murdered, along with the monks, teachers, healers and artists, before they were forced to fight for the cause.  The parents they had are gone, the grandparents aunts and uncles who are supposed to guide them are all dead. The political system today, the children too, instead of coming to the aid of the people, continues to violate and oppress, forcing families in deep debt, taking homes and demanding people work for $2 a day in a garment factory that clothes me and you.  There is little direction coming from the elder population about the way to live in peace in harmony, or what is right and good in bringing up children.

So why not prostitute your child when it could feed your whole family?  Which is worse, a whole family starving or a whole family surviving at the sacrifice of one?   And a body is not expendable and can be used over and over again, yielding a lot of money.  So why work in garment factory for 2$ a day when you can make $50 a day or more servicing men, especially if you can save your whole family.  Why not?  What is the moral obligation?  What would you do if you had been brought up in the same situation?

There is a poem by Thich Nhat Hanh about a young girl, a pirate and himself.  The poem came to him after a meditation about the problem of piracy off the coast of Siam, where many boat people, women and children were being raped and killed while seeking refuge in camps along the Southeast Asia border.  I think it relevant for this story.

Call Me by My True Names

Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow

because even today I still arrive.

Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time
to eat the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate,
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my hands,
and I am the man who has to pay his “debt of blood” to, my people,
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.

My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all walks of life.
My pain if like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.

We are inter-connected, I believe this is true.  I am both the victim and the perpetrator and in this story – I am the child being raped, the pimp who abuses and holds the child hostage, the John who rapes the child and the mother who sells the child.  I am responsible, I have to see the truth, and I have to do something about it to make things better.  You?

On Sympathy vs. Empathy: the tendency to distance and how to stay in contact.


By Aiya Leah Staller,  Art Therapy Master’s student at Naropa University

Service-Learning in Cambodia provides a unique opportunity to be a guest in another person’s country.  We are asking other people to share their stories with us through art, as we claim to help them by providing art therapy techniques.  What does it mean to be a “helper”? And how do we know if this is actually helpful? The image that is often portrayed in the U.S. culture is one of the “white savior” (do check out the link if you haven’t heard of this!) who comes in to help the less fortunate in countries that are not white. This idea pervades many of our psyche’s whether we want it to or not.  It is part of the U.S. culture and us; because most of us were raised here.  It may not always take the form of a white privileged person being a “savior” but there is usually some kind of power dynamic at play that is important to be aware of.  Often U.S. citizens believe that we are “saving” people in other countries, but this is simply not true. It can be a problematic belief that keeps us out of connection.  We may not be enacting it, but without being aware of this tendency, we are at risk of perpetuating it.  How do we stay accountable and challenge these belief systems? It is necessary for us to look critically at what our role and responsibility is in another country.  I know that many of us grapple with this responsibility and what it means to really be of service to another person, let alone another country.

It is our job to “unlearn” our cultural programming.  As students, we are learning about Cambodia, a new world to many of us.  Meeting people we have never met. Anticipating developing relationships. Wondering how best to serve. Anxious about what it all means. Excited to connect, and afraid to connect. Learning. We aren’t saviors. There is little that we can do to fix the issues that are happening in Cambodia for the people there. Trying to “fix” someone, or another culture, automatically sends a message that there is something wrong with them. We aren’t trying to fix anyone. I propose instead, that we are wanting to to meet them. To connect. To partner on this path together. Real healing comes from connections. From sharing an experience together. From being in the dirty, gritty, painful, scary, and lonely places that most people avoid. It’s about sharing joy and sorrow together. It’s making art together and sitting with someone. It’s not knowing what to do while we hurt with them, laugh with them, or cry with them.  It’s about contact and connection.  It’s about accountability to ourselves and others to be vulnerable in a way that is safe, though potentially scary, for all involved.  And it may be more about us and opening to our own cultural wounds through service and learning.

Brene Brown, a vulnerability researcher who many of you may have seen or heard of, talks about the difference between Sympathy and Empathy. Katy Davis animates one of Brene’s talks on this topic in an easy to understand cartoon which illustrates how we wish to be with those we meet.

This relates to our work in Cambodia.  Our responsibility to meet people where they are at.  To keep the connection alive.  It’s about connecting to our own feelings and staying with them, owning them, and staying in contact with the people we are hoping to be of service to.   For many of us, as future therapists, we are learning how to climb into the caves that people have, climb into dark cultural caves, climb into our own caves, and sit in the dark without pulling away.  It’s pulling out a flashlight and exploring the realities that are sometimes difficult to see.  It’s looking at our own assumptions so we can actually see what is in front of us. It is staying present with whatever is happening in the world.  It is a practice of staying in connection.  On a larger scale, this project is a practice in staying in connection with the people we have partnered with in Cambodia.  We are friends, allies, partners, and human beings forming a connection together and committing to not turn away, to distance, or to abandon.  As students, we have a huge responsibility and great deal of unknowing.   We really are going to be guests in another person’s land.   Their willingness to welcome us in is such a gift to us.   I’m not sure how we can express our gratitude.  From the stories that I have heard from past trips, all I can think to say is, like the bear in the cave says, “I don’t even know what to say right now, I’m just so glad you told me.”

Service-Learning trips and Social Justice organizations often struggle with ways to stay accountable and ethical while providing services and learning.  Please feel free to share your own explorations around this topic.  How do we stay connected with Empathy vs. distancing ourselves through Sympathy?

We would love to hear from you.

For other blogs on Cultural Competency vs Cultural Humility, check out Daniel Rifkin’s earlier blog on our site as well.


Student Blog Entry: Healing trauma through art-based interventions

“Healing trauma through art-based interventions”

By Emily Seagrave

One of the most exciting opportunities for me as an emerging counselor and art therapist is the practice of designing treatment plans and art-based interventions to be utilized and shared with our partner organizations in Cambodia this spring. Because the Naropa Community Art Studio-International will be partnering with organizations that work on a daily basis with individuals who have experienced trauma, our interventions require us to skillfully integrate trauma-informed practices. Eager to brainstorm ideas, I have spent some time researching Trauma-Informed Art Therapy® and potential art-based interventions. A few preliminary questions guided my research and directed me toward the intervention featured. Note: While the intervention featured may not be appropriate for all populations who have experienced trauma, my hope is that this post will offer some insight into how art can help to heal trauma.

What is trauma and what effects does trauma have on an individual? In general, traumatic events involve threats made to the integrity of an individual’s life or body, or an encounter with death or violence that is both close and personal. Herman (1997) explains that traumatic events have the power to evoke helplessness and terror and result in changes to physiological arousal, emotion, cognition, and memory that are profound and lasting. Further, traumatic events compromise an individual’s sense of control, connection, and meaning.

How might such an experience manifest in an individual? According to Herman (1997), “The traumatized person may experience intense emotion but without clear memory of the event, or may remember everything in detail but without emotion. She may find herself in a constant state of vigilance and irritability without knowing why” (p. 34). In other words, the symptoms of trauma tend to become disconnected from the source and assume a “life of their own” (Herman, 1997, p. 34).

What role does art therapy play? Words or verbal narrative cannot describe the traumatic memories because they are experienced and remembered through vivid sensations and images (Steele & Malchiodi, 2012). Art therapy, on the other hand, allows for the trauma narrative to be processed through nonverbal expression (Malchiodi, 2005, 2008, as cited in Steele & Malchiodi, 2012). Even more, Malchiodi (2011a) explains that the sensory qualities – kinesthetic, auditory, and visual – of expressive approaches like art therapy are especially beneficial when working with trauma symptoms because of their relationship to neurological functioning and neurodevelopment (as cited in Steele & Malchiodi, 2012). Ultimately, as Steele (2003) elucidates, the goal of therapy for traumatized individuals is to encode the traumatic memory, express it through language, and successfully integrate it. However, the traumatic memory must first be retrieved and indirectly symbolized through the external means of art (as cited in Steele & Malchiodi, 2012). This essential step of externalization through art can be achieved through a creative therapeutic process called “body scan,” a somatically based art intervention briefly introduced below.

Body Scan: A Somatically Based Art Intervention

How does a body scan work? Body scan is based on Peter Levine’s “Somatic Experiencing.” It essentially combines bodily experience with visual artistic expression. An individual is asked to relax and imagine scanning one’s body from feet to torso to arms to head, noticing any sensations of discomfort, anxiety, or other distressing emotions. The individual is presented with an outline of a body (or has his or her own body outlined) and is asked to use drawing materials to indicate on the body outline any sensations noted during the body scan through lines, shapes, colors, or images (Malchiodi, 2008; Steele & Raider, 2002, as cited in Malchiodi & Rozum, 2012).

What is the goal of body scan? One goal is to help the individual visually express implicit sensations and to identify where any feelings of discomfort are felt in the body. To follow-up, the individual may be asked to add additional lines, shapes, colors, or images to the outline that might help reduce the discomfort in the body. Ideally, the individual can see both where he or she is holding trauma in the body and where resources are in the body. The ultimate goal of body scan is to assist the individual in understanding how trauma affects the body and to teach that trauma reactions are actually a physical response to stressful situations (Malchiodi, 2008; Steele & Raider, 2002, as cited in Malchiodi & Rozum, 2012).

If you are interested in learning more, watch the video above by Art2BeArt for Positive Living and Social Change – a group of Kenyan and International visual artists and therapists that uses what has been termed “body mapping,” a creative therapeutic process similar to “body scan,” in their work with marginalized groups. Through “body scan” or “body mapping,” you can see how individuals are able to externalize somatic and emotional experience, make meaning with symbolic representation through creative expression, and develop a tangible image that reconnects the different aspects of their being, all of which are key goals of trauma-informed art therapy and goals I hope our partners can work toward with help from the art-based interventions we share.

Herman, J. L. (1997). Trauma and recovery: The aftermath of violence – from domestic abuse to political terror. New York, NY: BasicBooks.

Malchiodi, C & Rozum, A. L. (2012). Cognitive behavioral and mind-body approaches. In Malchiodi, C. (Ed.), Handbook of art therapy (89-102). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Steele, W. & Malchiodi, C. (2012). Trauma-informed practices with children and adolescents. New York, NY: Routledge.

Student Blog Entry: The Transformational Power of Art

“The Transformational Power of Art”

By Lisa Lamoreaux

The 2nd Annual Matchbox Art Auction Gala is just around the corner, and our team is busy preparing for the event. I get more and more excited with each matchbox coming in. I am amazed and inspired by the creativity of the artists. Inspecting them closely, I see the tiny masterpieces as a snapshot into the artist’s personal universe. Each box becomes its own world, with its own story that is unique to the artist’s hand that created it. All the pieces are so different, and yet, all connected through their humble beginnings as a matchbox. A matchbox turned into something more – a beautiful piece of art that will be auctioned off at this year’s gala.

When thinking of the incredible matchbox transformations, I am reminded of something I read in preparation for our upcoming trip to Cambodia. Herbert (2012) talks about finding in the galleries and shops of Cambodia, works of art and jewelry crafted from the metal of old, deactivated landmines. Herbert (2012) describes these pieces of jewelry and art as being proof of the possibilities to transform traumatic experiences through art. When reading this, I was struck by the Cambodian people’s resiliency. They are literally taking pieces of their traumatic, war torn history and turning it into something beautiful. They are using art to rewrite the stories and reclaim their culture. By doing this, the people of Cambodia are integrating their experiences and healing from societal trauma.


“Hanging Love Charm” by Merryl Rothaus

Many of the people we will be working with in Cambodia have experienced trauma on both a historical and a personal level. We are going there to offer art therapy as a tool to heal these traumas. It is also important to remember that the Cambodian people are the experts of their experiences, and that we are going there to learn from them.

In 2011 a group of people were inspired to expand Naropa Community Art Studio (NCAS) to include international work (NCAS-I). The dream started with $50 dollars that bought 500 matchboxes. Those matchboxes were transformed into masterpieces, and auctioned off to raise funds at our first Matchbox Art Auction Gala. The gala was such a success that we decided to do it again. The 2013 service-learning trip to Cambodia is made possible through the support of our community coming together and donating time and money. Please join us for the 2nd Annual Matchbox Art Auction Gala, April 12, 2013, from 7 to 10pm for a fun-filled night of art and entertainment.

MatcboxGala_INVITE-Final (3)

Herbert, C. (2012). Integration of arts therapy and traditional Cambodian arts and rituals in recovering from political-societal trauma In D. Kalmanowitz, J. Potash & S. Chan (Eds.), Art therapy in Asia: To bone or wrapped in silk (pp. 209-220). Philadelphia, PA: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Student Blog Entry: Cultural Humility, Political Correctness, and Intentions

“Cultural Humility, Political Correctness, and Intentions”

By Alexa Pinsker

“The moment we choose to love we begin to move against domination, against oppression. The moment we choose to love we begin to move towards freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others.” – bell hooks

In preparation for our trip to Cambodia, we have been discussing the most beneficial ways to communicate our purpose, vision, and mission of the trip.  As we dialogue more, it seems more awareness around language has resulted.  Recently, I joked that it is difficult to explain the trip in a few sentences because each week the appropriate language has changed. For example, I once described the trip as a service-learning trip intended to empower women survivors of the sex trafficking industry.  As Zara Zimbardo illustrated, the word empower implies that a woman does not have power and that another (in this case a White American Naropa student) has the ability to give her power.  This meaning changes the intention of the word and creates, as well as perpetuates, the notion of the “savior” who goes in to help the powerless victim.  This was not my intention and I would not want to imply this by using the word “empower.” Consequently, I do see the value in examining appropriate language. However, I do not want to be so vigilant about using the appropriate word that I am afraid to express or communicate at all to people here and to the Cambodian people.

The Canadian Oxford Dictionary defines political correctness as “the avoidance of forms of expression or action that exclude, marginalize, or insult certain racial or cultural groups” (Barber, 2001). As a group, the notion of “do no harm” has often come up, meaning if you are unsure of your intention or action, return to the principle of not doing harm to others.  When sharing and exchanging with other cultures, some of the best experiences I’ve had have come from being open, curious, and respectful.  I have certainly made mistakes when trying to understand one’s culture, but I have found that most people are forgiving if they see one is coming from a genuine place of curiosity and the desire to learn or understand. Connecting isn’t always about getting it right!  The point is, it’s okay to make mistakes when working with people who may come from a different culture or religion.  It is these mistakes which can often lead to greater understanding and awareness because we are not masking our ignorance with an attitude of all knowing expertise on a particular language or culture.  Cultivating the right attitude is not just about using the right words; it’s also about cultivating the right intentions.  As Bell Hooks (1994) beautifully states in her essay, Love as the Practice of Freedom, “The moment we choose to love we begin to move against domination, against oppression. The moment we choose to love we begin to move towards freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others.” Personally, my intention is to share Trauma-Informed Art Therapy® Skills with the people of Cambodia and to both learn and share as much as possible from the Cambodian people in the process, with an open heart.

Barber, K. (2001). The Canadian Oxford Dictionary (2nd ed.). Ontario: Oxford                  University Press.

hooks, b. (1994). Outlaw culture: Resisting representations. New York, NY: Routledge.

Student Blog Entry: Using Our Voices

“Using Our Voices”

By Bethany Wells

“The realization that one exists as a whole of mutually conditioned relationships and that one is absolutely connected with all of existence may be the next step in human evolution” -Francis Vaughn

The NCAS-I team has been working with enthusiasm and dedication in preparation for our 2nd annual learning-service opportunity to work with women and girls who have escaped the sex trade. When I began my journey into art therapy it was with a clear intention of working cross-culturally, with marginalized and underserved communities, and in the field of social justice. When the possibility to get involved with the issue of sex trafficking by using art as a means toward healing arose, I knew this was an incredible chance to learn about, witness, and work with the suffering of the world. That said, there is still so much I don’t understand about the complex and pervasive system of deception, coercion, betrayal, sexual exploitation, and brutality that exists in and between almost every culture across the globe.

It can be argued that sex trafficking begins with poverty. With nearly every survivor there is a story of a family who did not have enough money to feed their children, could only afford to send one child to school so they chose the boy, and/or unequal opportunity for women and girls to find other sources of income. It is also speculated that most females who are or have been sex slaves or work(ed) in the sex industry have a history of abuse and/or addiction. But on top of these intertwining explanations, there are human beings that prey on the vulnerability of the poor, homeless, and young; that drug, kidnap, manipulate, coerce, control, intimidate, and physically, sexually, emotionally and psychologically abuse other human beings. Modern day sexual slavery is an organized criminal enterprise that condemns millions of women and children to social (and often literal) death, for the sexual pleasure and profit of others.

Where does one begin to address this problem? Why is there such disparity in access to resources throughout the world? Why is there still unequal opportunity for education and employment between genders? And how could anyone be capable of committing such atrocities against another person?

Learning to be therapists, it is difficult enough to face the reality of sexual and domestic violence as it operates interpersonally or in a single family. How much more difficult then, to face the reality of sexual violence as exercised by an elaborate and alarmingly lucrative industry that operates in nearly every community, systematically reducing victims to the condition of slavery (Herman, 2004). Knowing this phenomenon, studying the staggering worldwide statistics, and hearing the stories of survivors who have chosen to break the silence, fills my head with shock, horror, disgust, and dread. Dread that the problem is too big, too deeply rooted in patriarchy and capitalism, power and corruption. But when I look at organizations like Lotus Outreach International, Chab Dai, Polaris Project, iEmpathize, Truckers Against Trafficking, NCAS-I, and more, I see hope. I know that it may be too much for one person but with the number of activists, advocates, and brigades increasing every day, and the ability to approach this issue from countless different angles, change is possible.

Since my time with this project began I have had many conversations about the issue of sex trafficking with people who were either not aware of modern day slavery, or had a vague idea but assumed it only happened “over there” in countries far away and very different from ours. Thirty years ago, rape, domestic violence, and incest were similarly invisible, despite their high prevalence. A mass movement was required to bring these abuses into public awareness, which has resulted in enormous changes in the criminal justice system and victim advocacy. One hundred and fifty years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves during the civil war, it is astonishing that we still face the need to fight slavery. But the fact is—today, human trafficking is a $32-billion worldwide industry with more than 2.7 million people enslaved; has been reported in all 50 states, and the number of victims in the United States are estimated in the hundreds of thousands (U.S. Department of Justice).

In addition to the increasing numbers of organizations working to eradicate human trafficking, progress is being made regarding institutional accountability. In September, President Obama pledged his commitment to renew the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) during a highly public speech at the Clinton Global Initiative. Some say it was the longest speech on slavery by a U.S. president since the Emancipation Proclamation. The president also announced an executive order to strengthen U.S. efforts to stop human trafficking in government contracting, pledged to provide relevant officials and agencies with training and guidance programs on human trafficking, and promised to expand resources and services for trafficking survivors. On March 7th, 2013, hundreds of advocates, survivors, law enforcement officials and lawmakers gathered to witness President Obama sign legislation to renew the TVPA.

Ending modern slavery will not come with one speech, one executive order, or one signed piece of legislation. It will come if all of us—citizens, governments, corporations, and the philanthropic community—make it the priority it needs to be. “The demands for young adolescent girls, the abuses perpetrated by traffickers and brothel owners, and the social attitudes toward the women who become their victims are all issues that need to be addressed on a global level” (Freed 2004). The social and political institutions that support prostitution and the individuals who perpetuate and maintain such abuses for personal and financial gain need to be stopped. Only then will we be on our way to ensuring that every person is afforded the human dignity we deserve, no matter where we were born or what circumstances we find ourselves in.

In our recent conversations about ethical marketing and fundraising, NCAS-I members have grappled with how to address the issue of sex trafficking in a way that grabs and holds attention without sensationalization or unintentionally contributing to the exotification of victims, people’s fascination, disgust, or misconceptions, and we have experienced some paralyzing uncertainty regarding the complexity of language. But still, we have to talk about it. The main contributor to any cycle of violence (in addition to shame and stigma) is silence. We must use our voices and privilege (ethically, sensitively and respectfully of course) in ways that victims can’t, in order to get this issue on everyone’s radar. And for those of us who are artists and aspiring art therapists, we have another, far-reaching and important instrument for activism and healing. I am beyond excited to be a part of the large community of people working to eradicate this system of abuse and to assist women in discovering and/or reclaiming their incredible power.

Freed, W. (2004). From duty to despair: Brothel prostitution in Cambodia. In M. Farley, Prostitution, trafficking and traumatic stress (pp. 1-13). NY, NY: Routledge.

Herman, J.L. (2004). Introduction. In M. Farley, Prostitution, trafficking and traumatic stress (pp. 133-146). NY, NY: Routledge.

Student Blog Entry: The More We Learn, The Less We Know

Students who will be traveling to Cambodia for this year’s service learning trip are currently enrolled in a preparatory practicum class. Throughout the semester and while in Cambodia, each student is required to write blog posts based on the material we are studying in class, our readings, our fundraising events, preparations for the service-learning trip, and experiences during the trip. The “Student Blog Entry” is a result of this educational requirement. This first series of posts centers on the learning that took place when students had the privilege of engaging in a virtual “Skype” discussion with Zara Zimbardo, co-founder of The White Noise Collective, professor at California Institute of Integral Studies, and an all-together invaluable resource for facilitating important dialogue around cultural humility. We hope you enjoy reading it and will offer your own thoughts and feedback.

“The More We Learn, The Less We Know”

By Joanna Loftus

It is an amazing phenomenon that the more we learn, the less we know. During the last semester we have been talking a lot about cultural sensitivity and what it means to be in the service of others. We all became a part of this project because we believe we can make a difference, but we often have to ask ourselves, how can we support human rights with understanding and respect to the Cambodian culture? As a group we are also struggling with the questions of how to communicate our ideas most effectively without exploiting the tragedies of Cambodian history, and how to know that, in a country where corruption is so prevalent, that the help we are providing is going to the right people? How we can make sure that we are not supporting another form of oppression?

Another question is: how can we prevent misunderstandings that can be caused by an insensitive choice of words or images? I began to wonder if by calling someone a victim if we are objectifying them or empowering them? And what about beautiful words like empowerment or healing? Is there an assumption behind those words that that person doesn’t have power of their own, or that there is something wrong with them if they need healing? Questions like this don’t have a definitive answer, but it is still important to keep asking them in order to be a culturally sensitive art therapist.

Zara Zimbardo, co-founder of The White Noise Collective and professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies, who joined our last meeting virtually, brought another important question to the forefront: does cultural competency mean knowing everything about a specific culture, or does it mean using our critical thinking to find the political, economical, and ecological connections when looking at the international relationship?

Student Blog Entry: Baby Steps

Students who will be traveling to Cambodia for this year’s service learning trip are currently enrolled in a preparatory practicum class. Throughout the semester and while in Cambodia, each student is required to write blog posts based on the material we are studying in class, our readings, our fundraising events, preparations for the service-learning trip, and experiences during the trip. The “Student Blog Entry” is a result of this educational requirement. This first series of posts centers on the learning that took place when students had the privilege of engaging in a virtual “Skype” discussion with Zara Zimbardo, co-founder of The White Noise Collective, professor at California Institute of Integral Studies, and an all-together invaluable resource for facilitating important dialogue around cultural humility. We hope you enjoy reading it and will offer your own thoughts and feedback.

“Baby Steps”

By Paula Ulrich

What are the first things that come to mind when you hear the term “sex trafficking”?  What are your automatic responses?  How are you informed?  How have you been misinformed?

I struggle in presenting a brief and complete “why” when I tell people I am traveling to Cambodia for school.  I often say something along the lines of, “I am going to learn about the culture, collaborate with people there, and offer trauma-informed, social action art therapy to local NGOs.  I will be working with teen survivors of sex trafficking, young orphans, staff, and groups of women.”  Sometimes I am eloquent.  Most times, less.  But in naming what I think is the best synopsis of what I will be doing, I have neglected to consider what impact my words may have on the people whom I am speaking with.  I have found by mention of the words, “sex trafficking,” people miss hearing the rest of my words and follow their own stories about what it could mean.

What spurred this consideration for me was our group’s recent Skype discussion with Zara Zimbardo, MA, professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies and co-founder of The White Noise Collective.  She mentioned how important it is for us to not only consider our own biases, norms, and assumptions, but to also be aware that those we speak to about our project will bring their own assumptions to the conversation.

For example, I mentioned this project to a medical doctor a few weeks ago.  He was immediately “hooked” and curious to hear about it, but became quickly dismissive.  “I can’t believe the things people do,” he exclaimed.  He, like others, was quick to praise my perceived efforts, and continue no further with the discussion.  Can you blame him?  Sex trafficking is a heavy subject for casual conversations about what you are up to over the summer.  Heavy or not, it is a real issue and a loud cry of suffering in our world.  Or as Zara stated, “Sex trafficking is a symptom of a sick system.”

We may find sex trafficking to be such a horrible subject we separate ourselves from it.  Yes, I am going to Cambodia and will be working with survivors, but it is not only a foreign problem.  Human trafficking of girls for sex happens in the U.S. as well.  For example, during our group’s Skype session, Zara mentioned the Super Bowl as the largest event for sex trafficking in the U.S.  My jaw dropped.

Here is just one of many articles: (I appreciate this article for its highlighting of Clemmie Greenlee’s personal story connecting to the greater issue.)
And another:

The issue of sex trafficking alone is a huge struggle for me.  It feels so much greater than myself, my group, this project, and three weeks in a foreign country.  Pile that on to the rest of the issues we will be facing in Cambodia, from cultural differences, to language and communication differences, to historical interactions of the U.S. with Cambodia, to issues around power and privilege, and more.  I feel overwhelmed.  I wish I had an answer to this painful systematic cry.  And right now, without an answer, all I can do is breathe and trust the process.

In the end, we want to struggle with questions, conflicts, and ethical considerations.  It means we are trying, learning, and growing.  I assess my experiences from both a personal and more global/social level.  The examination of my exchange with the world I live in is an ongoing practice, as it is a relational process, and therefore continually changing.  I hope to sustain this dialogue well beyond this project.  I also hope to find more successful ways to inform others, spark discussions, and eventually affect change.

It starts with each one of us.  Please, question what you hear.  Inform yourself.  Color the cultural air you breathe by examining what you have learned is “normal” and why.  Look at your place in the system.  Draw connections between your personal self and the stories you hear about others.  Take action.  Find those baby steps to begin great change.

I hope this process begins my baby steps.

Student Blog Entry: What really is cultural competency?

Students who will be traveling to Cambodia for this year’s service learning trip are currently enrolled in a preparatory practicum class. Throughout the semester and while in Cambodia, each student is required to write blog posts based on the material we are studying in class, our readings, our fundraising events, preparations for the service-learning trip, and experiences during the trip. The “Student Blog Entry” is a result of this educational requirement. This first series of posts centers on the learning that took place when students had the privilege of engaging in a virtual “Skype” discussion with Zara Zimbardo, co-founder of The White Noise Collective, professor at California Institute of Integral Studies, and an all-together invaluable resource for facilitating important dialogue around cultural humility. We hope you enjoy reading it and will offer your own thoughts and feedback.

“What really is cultural competency?”

By Danielle Rifkin

“You must believe in your own creative power to put things together with vision and insight…you must love humanity and be willing to empathize with all who suffer—to get inside their skin and see the world through their eyes” -Cloé Madanes

In preparing for our trip to Cambodia, we have been having a lot of conversations recently about how to be culturally aware both in how we communicate about our trip and once we are in Cambodia doing our work. What I have discovered in these conversations is that it is impossible to be truly cultural competent as a therapist and that it might be more important to be open and curious along our journey than to claim our expertise and knowledge.

During a fruitful discussion with Zara Zimbardo, co-founder for The White Noise Collective and professor at California Institute of Integral Studies, she mentioned how cultural competency, which is such a buzz word in therapy programs, implies distinct knowing and mastery of a skill rather than constantly being willing to both question what we do know and feel comfortable owning what we don’t know. She encouraged replacing cultural competency with cultural humility to further emphasize the struggle and questioning, which are key to the process.

To be honest, listening to Zara’s incredible wisdom about humility left me even more overwhelmed and somewhat discouraged. As someone who has used the word competency, I became fearful of how powerful language can be and how easy it is to use words that might offend or misrepresent. In another example, we were recently discussing the language to use to market our upcoming art auction gala, and it became even more clear how the use of a single word such as ‘support’ or ‘empower’, which you could think of as positive and encouraging, can also imply an unequal privilege and power to the work we will be doing with women and children in Cambodia. What I also came away with is that it is natural to feel this discomfort and confusion.

On the other hand, as much I think it is vital to live in this place of humility and struggle, I think it is also valuable to own our strengths and skills that we bring to our work. We are fortunate enough to have the time to learn about the history and culture of Cambodia, to explore our country’s relationship to Cambodia, to see how art therapy has been successfully used in Asia, and to develop our own methods and interventions based on our knowledge of Trauma-Informed Art Therapy® and the healing potential of art (Malchoidi, 2011).

In the article Remembering Our Heritage by Cloé Madanes, she outlines all the important traits of being a therapist including, “you must believe in your own creative power to put things together with vision and insight…you must love humanity and be willing to empathize with all who suffer—to get inside their skin and see the world through their eyes” (2004, p. 70). I think this quote eloquently describes the strength and humility that we can bring to our work ahead.

Madanes, C. (2004, November/December). Remembering Our Heritage. Psychotherapy Networker, 52-70.

Malchiodi, C. (2011). Trauma-informed art therapy with sexually abused children. In P. Goodyear-Brown (Ed.), Handbook of sexual abuse treatment. New York, NY: Wiley.