SEATTLE — The Hard Places Community began in 2008 to combat the growing numbers of children who are trafficked and forced into sexual slavery. Centralized in Cambodia, its mission is to end sex trafficking and sexual abuse by stepping into communities and providing children and families with resources to prevent sexual exploitation, rescue those who are trafficked and help affected people heal.
Out of all countries in the world, Cambodia has the third highest percentage of its population trapped in slavery. The Global Slavery Index estimates that 1.65 percent of the population is enslaved, a large proportion of whom is sexually exploited. More than 8 percent of slaves in the Cambodian sex trade are children. The demand for trafficked children, particularly child brides, generates a dangerous environment for impoverished children in Cambodia.
Mississippi native Allison Mellon founded the Hard Places Community in 2008 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Located in the middle of the sex tourism district, the Christian organization provides programs for children who live or work on the streets. These programs include sports, English classes, computer classes, counseling and job training. Since its birth, the Hard Places Community has established bases in Cambodia, India, and Madagascar. Currently, it is planning to expand its outreach and send a team to the Philippines.
The Borgen Project had the opportunity to talk with Allison Mellon, Executive Director of the Hard Places Community, to learn a little more about what the Hard Places Community does.
The Borgen Project: What is your daily role in the Hard Places Community?
Alison Mellon: I am the founding director of the Hard Places Community. I carry the overall vision of the Hard Places Community, supervise and encourage local and foreign staff, raise funds and oversee all cases of sexual exploitation.
TBP: What is the most difficult part of your job?
AM: The Hard Places Community walks daily with sexually exploited children before they are rescued, throughout the process of rescue, and through restoration once kids are on the other side. The hardest part of my job is walking daily with kids before they are rescued. We know they are being raped but cannot move on the case until the government gives us permission. The government wheels turn very slow.
TBP: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
AM: Listening to peals of laughter as some of the most broken children run through our building; that’s what kids are supposed to sound like.
TBP: How can people in the United States help Cambodian victims of human trafficking?
AM: Remember those of us who are out here fighting against the sale and purchase of real live human beings’ bodies, souls and spirits, and support us financially to continue our work.
Mellon credits her Christian faith as the primary motivator for her dedication to fighting the sex trafficking of children. The work that she and other members of the Hard Places Community are doing has a huge impact on the communities they serve. Organizations like the Hard Places Community and people like Allison Mellon give us hope for a better future for the children of the world.
– Julia McCartney