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Joe and Prof. Patrick Talbot*
The following is a summer intern update from Joe Kohm.  Joe is interning at Universitas Pelita Harapan, a Christian law school in Indonesia that focuses on fighting sex and labor trafficking, protecting believers from persecution, and other Rule of Law issues.

If you’re from somewhere in the West that hasn’t hit summer by the time you reach Indonesia, the first thing you notice when you step off the plane is the humidity. 

It hits you like a brick wall. I’ve spent many hot summer days and nights outside for Army field exercises, but I had never felt humidity like this. That’s because this is my first time in a jungle.

The Background

Downtown Jakarta
Indonesia is a developing country, not a developed one. The country is literally built into the jungle, and the humidity as well as the smell and vegetation is the proof of it. If you don’t believe me, simply watch Bear Grylls’s excursion to the island of Sumatra. That being said, developing countries are just that – works in progress, trying desperately (supposedly) to catch up to what we have achieved for quality of living in the West. I say this so that you don’t think I’m living in a hut, or that asphalt doesn’t exist here, or that I can’t buy fried chicken or a Nike soccer jersey (of which there are many of both here). I say this because the massive gap between the huts and the Nike stuff is impossible not to notice. While driving into downtown Jakarta (the country’s capital, on the island of Java) last week, you can look to the left and see a mass of skyscrapers that resemble Manhattan. But to the right, you can see shacks that look like a seven year old designed and built them, with drainage water literally flowing through them. In the West, you just see the skyscrapers on one side and the projects on the other. With this comparison in mind, it is little wonder why many of the poor in Indonesia would be thankful to live in the projects (not that projects are a good thing, but we’ve come a long way).

Why is this information necessary? Because without it, I would not have understood the root causes (i.e., “The Problem”) of sex trafficking, which is why I came here: to try and make some sort of difference in the fight against this horrible injustice. You’re probably thinking, “Why is the problem so hard to understand? I’ve seen ‘Taken’!” So have I. The difference is that Europeans live like, or very similar to, us. This is why we can watch Liam Neeson kill Eastern European mobsters and rescue his kidnapped daughter. In Europe, kidnapping is an economical way to create capital for the sex industry. Here, as a gangster, there’s no need to exert yourself so much, especially in this heat. The process of creating capital is far easier.

The First Part of the Problem

There are areas of Indonesia that are less developed (i.e., the hut areas), and therefore more naïve. Some of these areas have reputations for particularly attractive women. Now, here’s the first part of the problem: pimps come here and buy young girls from their parents.

Yes, you read that right.

Parents sell their kids right into the sex trade. There are multiple reasons parents would do this: some desperately need the money that the girls might make, others are deceived into thinking their daughter is getting a legitimate job, for example. Benjamin Nolot’s superb documentary, “Nefarious: Merchant of Souls” (which you all should watch immediately after reading this), does a better job of illustrating this peculiar phenomenon than I do.

The Second Part of the Problem

Now, we arrive at the second part of the problem: korupsi, as the Indonesians would say. It translates as “corruption.” This classic selfish plague is holding back the developing world (and to some degree, the developed world as well) from becoming truly developed. In Indonesia, there is a very complicated process for obtaining permission to leave your village for work or a passport. Permission must be granted in the form of a letter from your village chief, the immigration office, and a slew of other officials. And that’s just for the worker’s permit. But if you’re part of the Chinese-Indonesian mob, you can expedite this process by literally throwing money at it. Free money is hard to come by anywhere, especially here, where 200 American dollars makes you a millionaire in Rupiah; how could you say no to this “free money” if all that was required of you was a form letter and a stamp? It’s the same reason why it takes two hours to get into Jakarta from the suburb I’m living in: politics (and corruption) prevented a proposal for a light rail system several years ago. Like the light rail system, these girls’ lives are also essentially swept under the rug. From there, prostitution is unofficially “contained” in red light districts across the nation. Though anyone who knows anything about prostitution knows that containment is the result of simple naivety and korupsi. There is little difference between a legal pimp and an illegal pimp. They both sell and ruin lives, including their own, for a living. And all this just relates to domestic prostitution; the korupziallows young women and girls to be trafficked to Singapore and all over Southeast Asia, where you can literally pick the nationality of your prostitute in most red light districts.

The Hope

I realize that I’ve painted a bleak, depressing picture. However, the same adjectives can be used to describe our lives before Christ found us. I will elaborate more on what I will call “The Answer(s)” in my next entry, but for now I offer this ray of hope. I work for Professor Patrick Talbot, a member of the law faculty at Universitas Pelita Harapan, which roughly means “University of Light and Hope.” UPH (pronounced “ooo-pay-ha”) is part of a vast network of Christian schools created by the Riady family through a foundation (the Yayasan). I know what you’re thinking: “How could such a network of Christian schools exist in the world’s most populace Muslim country?!” It is true that there are over 250 million people crammed onto the string of islands that make up Indonesia, and it is true that Islam is the most popular religion. However, if you look at the Indonesian emblem (pictured), you will see a gold star at the center of the shield. This star represents the country’s recognition of one God (how would that fare on Capital Hill?). Indonesia therefore recognizes six religions, all of which have mono-theistic views to some significant degree, and each citizen’s religion is part of the information on their identification card. This is why UPH is able to do the great things it does. I still get the news from the United States, and comparing that news to the things that UPH does has showed me that Christians are, in some ways, more free to practice and express their faith here than back home. Shocking for a Western country that used to believe each person’s inalienable rights were “endowed by their Creator.”

The hope I give you is Christ, and the home He has carved out here in this ignored corner of Southeast Asia. Sexual immorality is ultimately a heart problem. He is our only hope for escape from all sin, especially this one. I will elaborate on this more next time.

* Joe is pictured above with Regent Law alum Professor Patrick Talbot (’93), who is a member of the Universitas Pelita Harapan faculty. Also pictured is Professor Talbot’s daughter Katie, his wife Kathy, and his daughter Suzie.

Read part 2  of this post here >