So I Almost Murdered Someone Yesterday

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So I Almost Murdered Someone Yesterday in Guatemala

I wish this story wasn’t true. I wish I could step aside, forget it, make it go away or somehow fix it. But the world is not always pretty or neat and I’m not going to lie about that.

I’m in San Pedro, Guatemala in a hotel that I’ve stayed at before – been here a week this time. It’s been a couple of years and the staff has changed.

Pedro (irony, yes) seems to run the place now. He’s a friendly guy and we’ve had some rather silly conversations butchering each other’s language. I liked him.

Liked.

Around five in the evening, he taps on my door. In Spanish he asks “would you like an 8-year-old girl tonight?”

Convinced that I obviously must have misunderstood, I shake my head and say “Sorry — what?” In English he replies –with the ease of obvious practice– “Do you want an 8-year-old girl tonight? Eight.”

Okay, I’m not a ‘tough guy’ — I haven’t been in a physical fight since I was twelve. There’s very little macho in my heart but I immediately want to end him.

We’re on the third floor and there is a very short railing. A kick, a shove or a simple bump of the shoulder would put him over the edge. There is a moment where that seems like the right call and there is a flash of him in my mind sprawled, broken and bleeding on the concrete walkway thirty feet below.

(Okay, it’s more than a ‘moment’. It’s been 24 hours and I still think it was a good idea.)

My jaw clenches, and I go red both in flesh and vision. I wish I could describe the emotions I feel but in a way I’m glad I can’t. Rage and sadness don’t seem adequate.

I look down and see that my hands are already balled into fists. Hard-wired reptilian brain stuff: fight or flight. My body has gone there, but my brain hasn’t caught up.

I look back up and he’s halfway down the stairs trailing “lo sientos”. Sorry, sorry, sorry…

So now I have to admit to myself, as much as I hate to, that I seriously and honestly considered killing a fellow human being.

And that the only thing that stopped me was fear of ending up in a Guatemalan prison…

And that there isn’t a damn thing I can do for her.

{ 116 comments… read them below or add one }

Steph | DiscoveringIce July 24, 2013 at 1:48 pm

My god, that’s truly shocking! I don’t know what to say or how to feel…can’t imagine how you felt Wes! I think I feel like crying actually. :/
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Colin Burns July 24, 2013 at 1:59 pm

I’m glad your brain caught up and came to the right decision in the end. Rotting away in a Guatemalan prison isn’t going to help her. I imagine there isn’t too much you can do. Are there any NGO’s around that you could approach to see if they could possibly help?
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wes July 24, 2013 at 2:26 pm

Very good call — let me ask around.

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Gigi July 25, 2013 at 6:05 am

You can try a large anti-human-trafficking organization like International Justice Mission or Somaly Mam Foundation. I’m sure they have local connections. IJM definitely does some work in Central America, so they may be your best bet: http://www.ijm.org/contact
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Gigi July 25, 2013 at 6:07 am

(The anti-trafficking orgs are generally a better bet than the authorities, as they can navigate around any corrupted police or officials and make sure something actually gets done.)
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Vincent July 26, 2013 at 11:47 am

I think your best bet would give a try with the local the authorities a try.

ijm.org is a scam organisation that lives for the sole purpose of getting donations. They are actually counter productive for the cause of helping real victims in many cases. Even then you would need to expose a whole network to them to bother not just some guy named Pedro that offered you a girl.
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Kristy July 24, 2013 at 2:05 pm

This is terrible and heartbreaking. I cant believe a human being could even think of doing something like this to a 8 year old girl. Can you report him to the local authorities? I guess it would just be your word against him though…
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Joanne July 24, 2013 at 2:10 pm

To say I am outraged is an understatement. Surely there is someone that can help that poor child.

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wes July 24, 2013 at 2:15 pm

I’m open to ideas.

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Richard Littlejohn July 24, 2013 at 2:12 pm

Ugh, that is horrible. I’m sorry you had to run into that. But I agree that you made the right choice in not tossing that guy over the railing despite how much he richly deserved it…

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jennifer July 24, 2013 at 2:29 pm

This post made me so sick. If I had been in your place, the only part my brain would have played would be to spill out all over the concrete below when I attacked him and fell over the railing with him while my fists kept charging in his face. The few seconds it took for your brain to catch up with your body were so much more than my irrational brain would have allowed me.

You are also going to have to see this guy again. I wish you strength with that.
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Delia (World in Words) July 24, 2013 at 2:34 pm

I was sort of waiting for the punch line but saddened to see there isn’t one… Travel opens your eyes but sometimes leaves them wide-eyed in horror. I’d report the bugger if you think there’s any chance of it being followed up. Very sad indeed.
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Matt Gibson July 24, 2013 at 2:45 pm

That’s awful man. When I was there the town was run by Maria. Wonder what changed.

On a different note, that railing looks exactly like the hotel I lived in. Top of the alley, off to the right, with a big red/maroon gate? Nicest hotel owners ever.
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Elaine J Masters July 24, 2013 at 2:59 pm

Not easy but grateful you shared. Similar thing happened to me on a beach in Sri Lanka but this time it was a young boy who asked me himself. I was shocked and he quickly left – speaking to an older boy who was watching him before disappearing into a market. Would that we could stop this inhumane and heartless human trafficking.
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lee July 24, 2013 at 3:02 pm

inconvienint as it might be, could you change hotels?
start to post about this hotel everywhere (perhaps after you leave the country)

perhaps if they suffer economically they might wake up, but i am probably naive and certainly not familiar with SA

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Gray July 24, 2013 at 3:41 pm

I would absolutely NOT post the name of the hotel online. All that will do is convince every pedophile in the free world to book a trip to Guatemala to stay there. Ugh. This story is absolutely sickening. I’m amazed at your restraint, Wes–though the prospect of a Guatemalan prison is certainly enough to stop you in your tracks, I’m not sure I’d have had the presence of mind to think of it in the moment. I hope you can at least check out of the hotel to express your disgust.
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Megan July 24, 2013 at 3:44 pm

Good call about posting the name, Gray. Didn’t think about that.
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wes August 7, 2013 at 10:24 am

I completely agree, Gray — naming it would probably only make things worse.

Megan July 24, 2013 at 3:04 pm

I wish I was shocked, but I’m not. Guatemala and San Pedro are trafficking hubs. Horrifying, isn’t it? I dig around and see if I can find anyone to step in. Notify the authorities he’s trafficking little girls maybe?
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Sofia Letona July 24, 2013 at 3:10 pm

There is a lot you can do. If you wanted to, that is. It’s risky but you could take photos of Pedro and maybe keep an eye to see if it’s a girl or a boy and also make photos. Document it so you can end all the stuff to get Human Rights involved. Regardless of where it takes place, there is always something you can do. A friend guided me to this site and I’ll try and find out if there is a proper NGO that can help with that.

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Sofia Letona July 24, 2013 at 3:29 pm

Please contact ecpatguatemala@gmail.com with the name of the hotel, the name of the manager and if you could a photo so that they can movilize people immediately!

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Priscilla July 24, 2013 at 3:42 pm

There is something you can do! Check out this site and find an NGO to help you help this girl!
http://www.halftheskymovement.org/issues/forced-prostitution
Thanks for posting this problem and making people aware of it going on in “reputable” hotels.
P.S. I applaud your restraint, but wish calling the police was an option. So sad!

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Megan July 24, 2013 at 3:42 pm

Here’s a link to a charity doing exploitation work. I posted it on your FB as well. http://explat.wordpress.com/ I’ll contact friends doing child trafficking work and see what the network says.
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Rebecca Hagman July 24, 2013 at 3:50 pm

So sorry you experienced that! A volunteer whom I met here in Nicaragua was doing her Master’s research on the level of sexual abuse in the sex traffiking worldwide and she told me that in latin america, 1 in 3 girls and boys are abused! Incredibly sad. Its systemic and there are organizations that are making progress around the world but its not enough. So, glad your prefrontal cortex caught up with your amygdala b/c yes, a Guatemalan jail is NO joke! Remind all the pot smoking tourists you meet as well! The reality of the judicial system in Central America is guilty before proven innocent (not written that way but is that way) and with all the drug traffiking and sex traffik, the police are not to be messed with.
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Bethaney - Flashpacker Family July 24, 2013 at 3:57 pm

That is horrendous!!! You made the right call but still… I think I would’ve had trouble resisting the urge to do some serious damage myself. I hope you can find someway of helping this poor little girl.
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Charli | Wanderlusters July 24, 2013 at 4:09 pm

There is so much evil in our world. It makes me sick to the stomach to think that anyone would offer such a young life with so little regard for the true repercussions of what that experience would entail. For me crimes against children should be punishable by death, there are just no words to quantify how much hatred I have for those who choose such a sordid path.
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Erica Jensen July 24, 2013 at 5:03 pm

International Justice Mission
http://www.ijm.org/

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Giulia July 24, 2013 at 5:42 pm

The saddest thing is that if he came and asked you, it’s because other people would answer “yes” to that question.
Thankfully there are men like you!
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Pamela July 24, 2013 at 6:19 pm

Gosh… I feel awful for the 8 years old girl being robbed from her happy childhood to go through such trauma. Thank you for exposing case like this. I hope you report the case to a relevant authority, don’t underestimate what you can do to help. The effort may be small but it will make a difference in someone’s life.

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Jennifer Miller July 24, 2013 at 7:16 pm

I know where you are, in San Pedro, we lived on the lago for 6 mos. There is an organization called Ninos del Lago, it’s not specifically for these kinds of things, but if you contact them and explain the situation, perhaps they can contact you with the appropriate people who CAN help. Also, consider talking to some of the long term expats in the area who are likely to know about humanitarian work, etc. that might have options. Dean, who runs D’Noz might be a good guy to talk to as well…
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Tamara July 24, 2013 at 8:36 pm

Even though we all know it’s out there, what a terrible thing to have to confront! Glad there are some good suggestions here of NGOs and other organizations/contacts that may be able to help. If possible, try and leave the property and not spend another penny there though. At least you won’t be supporting him or his business in any way.
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Edward Kimble July 24, 2013 at 8:55 pm

Word of caution, time to move and report the problem. I lived in a neighborhood which had a lot of mob influence and crime. Using people didn’t usually stop at one form or another. If they would target you (or her) in one way, they would most certainly not stop from targeting you in another. You might even be on the feeding menu so to speak. So, hint, don’t take any free drinks, and don’t ask when is check-out time? It’s that time.

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wes August 18, 2013 at 8:49 pm

I totally agree. I got the hell out of there. Thanks for the words of caution.

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Joe Hoppe July 24, 2013 at 9:15 pm

Wes—what a terrible situation. Glad you were able to get beyond the immediate violent impulse. Must have been really difficult. I’m glad you posted this–we need to know these things are going on, and it looks like you’ve got some good suggestions. One of the things that drove me out of social work was a basic horror at some of the abuses the women I worked w/ went through. You’re a good human.

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wes August 7, 2013 at 10:29 am

Thanks Joe. It’s been a week and I’m still reeling when I think of it. But it’s amazing how many people have reached out with ideas, contacts and suggestions — really gives me hope.

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Katherine Belarmino July 24, 2013 at 10:44 pm

That would certainly be the noblest reason to be on an episode of Locked Up Abroad. Horrifying.
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Ruzhi July 24, 2013 at 11:41 pm

“There’s very little macho in my heart…..” Funny, I had the impression that you’re a tough guy from your profile pic on the top. Must be the baldness, bald always gives off macho vibes :P
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wes August 7, 2013 at 10:29 am

Oh don’t get me wrong — I’ll kick someone’s butt if it’s called for ;)

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ChinaMatt July 25, 2013 at 12:26 am

I would’ve yelled a lot of profanity and demanded a refund for the room and checked out immediately. Then I would’ve gone to the cops. Of course, that last step probably is worthless out there. That guy is scum of the earth and deserves multiple ass-kickings and 1000 deaths.
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wes August 7, 2013 at 10:30 am

Yeah, the cops are not a good option unfortunately.

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Mary July 25, 2013 at 1:21 am

It is so hard to know how to handle things like that, when these realities rear their ugly heads right in front of us. I think you did the right thing, perhaps a couple sucker punches next time you see him? Perhaps looking into a way you can help. Maybe not that girl but some girls some where. Good luck, a Guatemala prison is not worth it!!
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Bobbi Lee Hitchon July 25, 2013 at 6:03 am

Ughhh I can’t believe that happened. So sad :/ You would get a pass for that murder if it had happened.
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John Mathes July 25, 2013 at 7:53 am

What a disturbing counterpoint to the beauty of San Pedro. Watching the children play there is even more beautiful than the lake because they’re some of the happiest children I’ve ever seen.

I heard a story of a Japanese tourist who picked up a crying child to comfort it, and was lynched by the local mayans. They were afraid of foreigners taking their children. That suddenly seems like a completely appropriate reaction.

Good that you didn’t kill him, but…
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Beth July 25, 2013 at 9:05 am

This is horrifying! I’m glad you were able to control yourself and make the right decision…and thank you for sharing this although it must have been difficult.

I hope with all the great people and contacts in this community that we can find a way to help this poor girl– and any others he might be trafficking as well.
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Ashley July 25, 2013 at 9:40 am

You may try these two:

Found this online: Child Protection Hotline for Plan Guatemala, apparently a non-profit, in Jalapa. http://www.globalgrandmotherpower.com/book_guatemala.html

Also, KidsAlive.org, which looks like it has links and direct contact to missions and other organizations in Guatemala dedicated to helping and protecting children. http://www.kidsalive.org/around-the-world/latin-america/guatemala/

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Juno July 25, 2013 at 9:53 am

OH MY GOD!! I really am glad you didn’t do it, but I wish he would have some tragic accident or something. What a sad story…
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Toni July 25, 2013 at 10:29 am

I literally have no idea what to say to this :s
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Mikeachim July 25, 2013 at 12:13 pm

I’m not sure I would have been as restrained.

Damn, that’s horrific.
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wes July 25, 2013 at 7:17 pm

It’s one of those moments. We have 1-2, maybe 3 secs to weigh all the variables. And it’s a very tough call….

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Mike (Nomadic Texan) July 25, 2013 at 12:25 pm

Wes,
You have more control than me. I would have taken a swing at him. Although your fear of the “Local prisons” is justified I am sure! I cannot believe the depravity of some people! This makes me want to prohectile vomit all over his face!
Mike
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sharon mceachen July 25, 2013 at 12:37 pm

If you have a glance at the hotel register for gringo names you’ll probably find the ones that took up his offer and maybe their names will ring a bell with their home authorities.

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Ourjourneytothesea July 25, 2013 at 3:26 pm

That’s shocking!! I’d want to stalk him and kidnap (well, save) every single 8year old he spoke to.

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Rachel July 25, 2013 at 6:13 pm

I reckon you should have murdered him hah, but it was probably not for the best because you would end up in jail. Moreover, he’s probably a small fry. Think what sucks is that you know about it, yet you can’t do anything about it (for the kid).

I liked your writing and I felt your anger oozing out of you, plus the frustration at being helpless.

A horrible circumstance, but an excellent piece. God bless and be safe on the road.

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Kim July 25, 2013 at 7:53 pm

Horrified. Disgusted. There are not strong enough words. Thank you for sharing, as hard as it must have been. If this practice is as epidemic as many of the commenters here point out, I might add to the above suggestions that we as a travel community blacklist Guatemala and other destinations practicing the same child/sex trafficking. I don’t know you, Wes, but I somehow came across your blog, most likely through the travel blogging community known as TBEX. This is not just YOUR problem, Wes; it is OUR problem. And we as a community can make our feelings known about this practice by choosing to only travel to places that treat their citizens–all of their citizens, no matter age, race, sex, sexual orientation, religion, etc.–ethically.
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Colin Burns July 25, 2013 at 8:09 pm

Hi Kim,

I wrote this big long thing, but it just sounded a bit rude so I thought I would just ask you. If we take this stance what countries should we travel to. I am guessing the North America, Europe, Asia, Australasia, South Africa, South America etc would all be out because this type of stuff sadly happens in all of those regions, perhaps the purveyors are just a little more subtle.

Colin
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Kim July 25, 2013 at 8:23 pm

Hi Colin,
Well, you’re right. There is distasteful stuff happening worldwide. However, this is pretty egregious. I mean, eight years old? Maybe I’m still seeing red, but I do believe we as a community can express our feelings by choosing where we travel when possible. I applaud Wes for raising my consciousness on this matter. (I can be pretty idealistic, as you can probably tell by my comment.) I feel I am changed by this piece of writing, and I like to think I will dig a little deeper, do a little more research as I plan future travels.
Thanks for commenting on my comment,
Kim
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Monnette July 27, 2013 at 9:14 pm

Yes. Human trafficking and child pornography is a problem that besets a lot of countries. Even the parents themselves pimp their children for money. And it’s not plain poverty. It’s materialism and lack of morals. As long as there are people who patronize innocent victims, there will always be supply. In that respect, I’d like to congratulate Wes.

Blacklisting countries for child trafficking and pornography may not be the solution. Cutting off the demand is helpful.

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The Traveling Fool July 25, 2013 at 9:12 pm

Unfortunately things like this happen way too often. As long as countries have corrupt or inept officials that allow these things to happen and there are scum that travel to countries for this type of activity it will continue. It is amazing the things you will be offered as a westerner in a developing country. As to boycotting a country because of such acts, I think that is a personal choice. I don’t believe it would have much of an impact. This happens because there is a market for it and until the people that are looking for the services and those providing them are prosecuted by the host country and even the purchasers home country, things won’t change.
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Devlin @ Marginal Boundaries July 26, 2013 at 12:47 pm

Definitely check out some of those NGO’s people have already mentioned.

I did a bit of research into Sex Trafficking in Guatemala and while the government is “trying” to do better it’s more of the same. Too much corruption for anything to really happen.

NGO’s would have better connections as well.

You could get your Liam Neeson on and take him & his whole crew down, but the former is probably best.

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Jennifer July 26, 2013 at 11:39 pm

That’s terribly sad. You did make the right choice though, but what others are saying about NGOs is right!
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T.W. Anderson @ Marginal Boundaries July 27, 2013 at 10:53 am

Indeed, rotting away in a Latin prison wouldn’t do anyone any good.

One of the major issues with these areas, as others have mentioned, is the level of corruption. It’s difficult, albeit not impossible, to contact the “right people” to get things done, because everything at the local level is likely tied into the same organized crime rings.

That being said, NGOs are, as mentioned, probably the best route to take. I wouldn’t personally try to follow up in the local area with things like contacting the police or the owner of the hotel or the like because as someone who (from the sounds of it) doesn’t speak fluent Spanish + is a gringo/outsider, the only thing you will run into is stonewalling or the same corruption that will get you thrown in jail just to keep you silent…or worse…have you suddenly “disappearing” as a result of sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong.
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Nathan July 27, 2013 at 3:26 pm

As horrifying as it is that an 8 year old girl could be pressed into prostitution, what is just as terrible to me (and perhaps the reason that such a thing could exist in the first place) is that Pedro, who is probably a completely nice guy apart from pimping out eight-year old girls, didn’t even think you would be taken aback. For someone to assume that it’s normal–nay, that he’s doing you a favor–is sickening and indeed the sort of thing that makes one contemplate murder. You did the right thing by not killing him, but I wonder how much it would cost to literally buy her and set her free. Given the cheapness at which her body has been bandied about, I would guess not too much.
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Christine |GRRRL TRAVELER July 27, 2013 at 8:49 pm

That’s simply sickening. I would leave a bad review of the hotel and the person, although I’m not sure how explicit I’d be. Sadly, you did the right thing even though it feels hard to walk away from a situation that needs attention, but the government may be corrupt and you wouldn’t be able to help the people that you do, in the future. This post is important and helps travelers be aware of things to keep an eye out for. What if someone travels with a family… they need to know these things exist and to take precaution.

When I was in Varanasi (my first time solo) I came upon an incident where I’m pretty certain a woman was being raped against her will (but in her home) in broad daylight with kids in the street and a granny in the streets looking on. I get really angry in those situations where a woman is harmed, but there were two men and I didn’t know what the cultural repercussions of my interference would be. I felt horrible for letting that go and sick when I think of it, actually.
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Aleah | SolitaryWanderer.com July 27, 2013 at 9:31 pm

Child sex trafficking is also a huge problem here in the Philippines, esp in touristy areas. The worst thing is I was in the business district once and saw a woman pushing a child (less than 12) towards a foreigner. They were in a restaurant and the body language and bits of overheard conversation convinced me it was a trafficking issue. I talked to the waiter and to the manager, but both said they couldn’t do anything about it. It really made me mad!
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Tom Gates July 27, 2013 at 9:39 pm

This is by far one of the most disheartening things I’ve ever read. I’m glad you did bring awareness to it though. Truly unbelievable concept that I can’t even put my mind around. Even sadder is the fact that there is clearly a “market” for this kind of sin considering the peddling is even taking place. It’s a fallen world we live in.
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Karisa July 27, 2013 at 10:02 pm

Oh god. It’s so easy to talk of travel as this wonderful, light-hearted thing that exposes you to the beauty and wonder of the world…but, of course the world has its dark side. It’s hard to know what to do in these situations. Many things that might seem like they’re helping could actually put that girl at risk.

For more info about sex trafficking, I recommend reading ‘Sex Trafficking:Inside the Business of Modern Slavery’ by Siddharth Kara.
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