Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Number 18

Beware the Castor Bean
Andrew Kooman titled his play, She has a Name, an odd name until you realize early on that the subject of the play—a fifteen year-old prostitute in a brothel in Bangkok—has for five years known herself only as “Number 18.” 
   Burnt Thicket Theatre in conjuction with Raise Their Voice is on the road this summer, travelling the Fringe circuit and stopping over at other venues where possible to present a message through Kooman's play: "The trafficking of women and children for purposes of sexual exploitation is a multi-billion dollar business worldwide."
    The play was read by the actors at Ebenezer Baptist on Monday night; it was a one-performance stop so a full staging was likely impossible. Even so, a superb cast told the story of Number 18 and the aid workers who try to save her with such passion that it hardly mattered.
    A business? Really? Doesn't a business imply entrepreneurs? shareholders? managers? capital? consumer/customers? Well, actually, the play presents a set of characters who are most of the above except—and I wondered about this—the North American or European customer who will pay big money to rape a child, double if he's the first. There's the pimp who is Number 18's ruthless owner; the Madam who is the perverted foreman, and hovering just offstage are the police who are silent-partner shareholders, their silence their investment, the pay-offs their dividend cheques. 
    As I understand it, the business plan goes something like this: find a destitute widow with children but no means to support them, entice her to sell one of them for an amount that would be a pittance to many but seems like salvation to her, take the child to Bangkok or Phnom Penh and offer her for rent to the tourists crowding the street in the brothel areas. Chances are the price will cover both her purchase and transportation, and renting her out thereafter will be clear profit.
    Director Stephen Waldschmidt writes in the program: “[I want] my two little boys to grow up in a world where men are not conditioned to demand access to the bodies of women and children, [and] for the name, Number 18 . . . to resound in the ears of every girl on earth.”
    At the very root of the sex-slave horror is the little boy in the first world who may become an enabling customer when he grows up . . . with the means to purchase whatever he desires. Waldschmidt's emphasis is correct; the means to the end he seeks, though, remains as elusive as it ever was.
    There are a number of NGOs working on the rescue or recovery of these exploited women and children. Raise Their Voice ( and A Better World ( are partners in these efforts, and Ratanak Internationl ( is “a registered Canadian charity working on the front lines in Cambodia to rescue and rehabilitate children sold into slavery.”
    Maybe you and I can begin to help by checking out their websites and giving their work a boost. If you know of other ways to help in combating the atrocities of sex slavery, let me know and I'll post your information. Send a note to
    She has a Name is at the Calgary Fringe August 3 – 11, in Victoria August 24 to September 3, in Kelowna from September 18 – 21, in Edmonton from September 25 – 30 and in Red Deer from October 2 – 6. Unfortunately for those of you in Manitoba and east, that part of their tour is done.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks George for sending this to us.

    We lived in Bangkok for 15 years and as part of my work I got to understand the complex sex business in Thailand.It is very complicated if not complex.

    Most of the sex workers in Thailand are not sex slaves. This does not make anything better as a result. Prostitution is a demeaning occupation.

    Highly organized businesses are enslaving women from Burma and Cambodia. There is true enslavement there. With my Thai friends we visited brothels in Chiang Mai to see Burmese girls who cannot speak Thai but who serve Thai men. Their rate of HIV/AIDS infection is much higher than among Thai women. There are several thousand Cambodian women working as sex workers in Thailand. Many are enslaved.

    Many Thai women who are sex workers practice free of pimps. However they are usually from poor families. A number do well financially. Others get caught up with addictions to alchol, cigarettes and more.

    The sex trade can be found in every city and town. It is as available as is a beauty salon.

    A number of evangelical foreign groups have come to rescue these women. All fail because they do not understand anything.

    I look fwd to seeing the play