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The person who invented the TV remote control deserves some kind of award. From my comfy recliner, I can cruise through a hundred channels in seconds.

See something unpleasant? Click. Change the channel. See a disturbing image on a newscast? Click. Change the channel. Avoiding any contact with suffering is as easy as touching a button. For a long time, I lived my life the way I watch TV: I ignored upsetting images by changing the channel. I rationalized my trigger finger on the remote control, thinking, It's just too painful to look at. But a shocking encounter with suffering jerked me out of my apathy, so that changing the channel was no longer an option.

Some friends and I were traveling in Cambodia and were told that we needed to visit a tiny area outside the city limits of Phnom Penh called Svey Pak. It's famous: all the cab and motorbike drivers know exactly how to get there. Without hesitation, they turn their vehicles toward "the Street of the Little Flowers." A street with such a sweet name surely held gardens, genteel folks sipping elegant libations, and children playing silly games while the adults smile indulgently.

Unfortunately, the lovely street name belied the wickedness that occurs there all day, 365 days a year. The dirt road was narrow, and only scraggly weeds and a few trees managed to survive the heat. We saw middle-aged Western men wearing sandals, oversized sunglasses, and ball caps sitting in the shade of small bars as they swilled beer after beer. Children were present, but they were locked behind large iron gates padlocked shut. The adults were smiling indulgently, but it was the self-indulgent smile of a predator waiting patiently for its prey.

This was a street where child prostitutes as young as seven ...

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August 2008

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