Day Two: International Justice Mission 101

We began our morning at the International Justice Mission (IJM) field office. IJM wisely has many policies to protect the work being done and its people safe. I think it is wonderful that they are so concerned about the well-being of their staff and so honest about the risks involved in fighting injustice.

To that end, I have taken the time to ensure that any of my descriptions about IJM have been read and approved by the IJM office staff.

Our office tour was like any other office tour – saw the building, met the staff- with the exception of the time taken to explain what was on the walls. I was really struck by the intentionality in the choices of the pictures and wall hangings. Other than the odd map of Cambodia or Phnom Penh, the décor was very simple: banners with scriptures embroidered in them and photos of key events. The banners came in twos- one in English, the other in Khmer of the same verse. The photos were of important moments in the Cambodia IJM office…

  • A drawing of a cross done by a sexually exploited girl as she clung to hope of being free again. It was discovered in a brothel;
  • A lock that locked children in a brothel;
  • Children being played with outside a rescue shelter;
  • A team photo.

Pictures do indeed capture a 1000 words…


After our tour we met in the “meeting room”- a room with a screen at one end and an oval boardroom table which seats 13 chairs comfortably around it. After a brief introduction we watched a 45 minute training movie called “Saving Seca”, jointly produced by a number of organizations. This movie is in Khmer and uses Cambodian actors and Cambodian police people to act out the story of a girl being trafficked and how the police end up rescuing her.

“Saving Seca” is about Seca, a young 14 year old Cambodian girl, who takes a job in the city thinking she is supposed to be working in a restaurant. She arrives at the “restaurant” to discover she as been tricked. Greeted by a “mamasan”  (the woman who manages the brothel), she is taken upstairs to a room full of other young prostitutes who are to educate her on her new job. She puts up a fight and then gets beaten by her new owners. One of the “veteran” girls, Makara, who is now 17 takes Seca under her wing and decides she is going to try to help Seca before she is sold for the virgin price.

Makara coaches Seca to play sick to buy her a day. Makara then comes up with a ruse to go and get the mamas an some massage oil and while out to buy the oil goes to the police station to file a report about her concern for Seca. The police chief she tells the story to doesn’t think he can do much. Makara boldly asks him, “Do you have a daughter?” He does. And she is 14 years old too.

The rest of the movie is about the police chief stepping up to save Seca imagining what if Seca was his daughter. The police scenes are all very textbook to be used for training and discussion.

Of course the movie has it all go smoothly and ties everything up nicely… I thought it did a good job of pointing out key issues police need to know when dealing with trafficking (e.g. the girls are victims not criminals, it’s a rescue not a raid, even if the perpetrator is a very rich and influential man a crime is a crime, etc.)

I found a couple scenes really poignant: 15 girls all putting on make up to look older, attractive, sexy even though they don’t want to; and the girls told to “go into the goldfish bowl” and see them filing in to a room with benches and a glass window. Here they sat on benches with numbers pinned to their tops so the men could then look through the glass at them and select which “number” he wished. At the end of the movie, it is then really powerful to see the same 15 girls peacefully sleeping on mats in the rescue shelter.

In Cambodia, sexual exploitation and human trafficking are against the law. Multiple times in the movie the Chief would say “we have support from the highest levels’. Is this actually true? Perhaps. Depending on the province in Cambodia depends on how engaged   police commissioners are in work to fight trafficking. From a government perspective, however, there is support. And the changes in legislation and attitudes in Cambodia in the last decade are truly encouraging.

After the movie, we learned of a research study that IJM did, From Inside Prison Walls.

Over 60% arrested and prosecuted in cases were women. In terms of operating brothels, or establishments like brothels, women are the managers of these places. This is not true of all countries IJM works in but is true in Cambodia. In Cambodia, the woman manager is called “mamasan”.   Women, often the mamasan herself, are used to psychologically connect and manipulate the girls. IJM wanted to know why. They wanted to know how these women (managers) got into the business – were they entrepreneurs? Were they once trafficked themselves and found this was a ‘way out”? It is unusual to have that subject group available so a significant piece of research was done painting the picture of what trafficking in Cambodia looks like. All of those who were in prison during the interviews were sentenced prior to the overhaul of trafficking laws in Cambodia in 2008.

The info, quotes etc. from these interviews are in the study From Inside Prison Walls. Available in pdf form off IJM website. We each got a hard copy to bring home.

After a brief coffee break, at around 10:30 as the schedule had planned, came our session on the IJM Police Training programme.

First we were given a distinction between what roles IJM takes in a case: IJM investigators and their role- which we will learn much more about tomorrow- and the role of the police.

IJM Investigators are like “Neighborhood Watch”. IJM takes this role until they are confident they have enough information that the police have to be involved and do the rescue. They then pass on their evidence to the police and ask the police to investigate.

Human trafficking is the worlds’ 3rd largest criminal activity after drugs and weapons (U.S. department of State). Unfortunately, in the three months of police training that police get in Cambodia, sex trafficking isn’t one of the modules covered. It is so very important that the police know the law, know procedures, know basic training related to trafficking. IJM put together an excellent training program with classroom content, practical content where the officers work on skills, and where a team from IJM develops relationships with the police by connecting with the police officers in the months between training. I think it’s a brilliant partnership.

It was a delight to meet the training coordinator for IJM Cambodia- a Cambodian I’ll call Linan. Linan has worked for IJM since 2004 – which means that his leadership in conjunction with Lt. Col. Kai Loo (not his real name either) has literally transformed the Police system in Phnom Penh and other areas of Cambodia. The police involvement in trafficking cases now compared to 10 years ago is “night and day”. Read Terrify No More by Gary Haugen to learn about what Cambodia was like before IJM set up office here. Please pray for protection for Linan and his family, for wisdom and discernment as he does training, and for his circles of influence to continue to expand in Cambodia and beyond.

Mission of Police Training Department: To equip public justice officials with the necessary skills and desire to effectively fight injustice in Cambodia.


The IJM Police Training program has twelve modules and takes 2.5 years to get through. That’s a significant investment of time on the part of a police force and on the part of IJM! Training team trains police officers in two – three week training time blocks every few months with one week per module. Each module contains practical exercises related to effective protection of victims of human trafficking and sexual abuse

Examples of modules:

  • Report writing
  • Evidence Collection : Journaling, investigation
  • Witness protection
  • Courtroom case preparation
  • Crime scene Management
  • Victim friendly procedures
  • Team work
  • Human trafficking Law

And practical things like how to use digital recorders! Most provincial offices don’t even have a digital recorder or it is in someone’s drawer yet this tool enables them to catch demeanor, focus on questions, listen better.

I was really impressed at how humble IJM is in sharing about its successes. These are the ones Linan listed:

  • Improved treatment of victims,
  • Crime Scene Investigation,
  • Passion for fighting trafficking, etc.
  • Training being implemented in successful cases
  • Building skills in how law enforcement interacts with children

Stop and consider just one of those bullet points. These are the categories where they have seen measured success. Hello?! Those categories indicate that IJM is successfully accomplishing its mission to transform communities! No small thing.

As a Canadian, I was also excited to learn that IJM sometimes does police teams to countries and that a Toronto Cop, has come over 3 times to help with the training. Canadian Police Chiefs International Service Agency in Toronto has hosted training in Canada of Cambodian officers. Proud Canadian moment. I had no idea that we were bringing over officials from other countries to help them get better training. I also learned that there are multiple NGOs in Cambodia working on police training and that these NGOs get together periodically to ensure there isn’t overlap, that their approaches are consistent and to be aware of what each other is doing. Jamie McIntosh, the IJM Executive Director for Canada who is traveling with us, said that actual enforcement of laws to stop human rights violations – which needs to happen through national police forces – addresses the missing link  of human right protections that groups like the UN have been trying to find a way to fill for the past 50 or 60 years. Cool.

IJM Core Value: Be a bridge building organization.  So… to see BIG PICTURE TRANSFORMATION it is crucial that the Police Training programme assists in  IJM’s mission to rescue victims and prosecute perpetrators. IJM commits to work with the police at every step of their work: before, during and after the intervention process.

I was really encouraged by everything I learned and frankly, surprised. I knew IJM was effective and intentional and wants to do as much as possible through the nationals, however, to learn from a Cambodian about the work being done to train his fellow Cambodians in order to fight injustice in his country- a country that has a horrific not too distant past… it was really, really inspiring.

I asked him how we could be praying for him. Here’s what he said:

  • How IJM can specifically be training for more training staff:
  • For enough resources to provide the training and the training assessments.
  • Sustained relational impact of IJM with the people they train.

I’ll add a rather important one… him.


And all of this was before prayer time. And before lunch. Crazy.









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