The People’s Guardian of Dolly

Lilik Sulistiowati, known as Mami Vera, at the shelter she founded in Dukuh Kupang Timur, Surabaya, Indonesia.

It was 1987, and the dry season was at its peak. As the sun was roasting the asphalt on the streets of Surabaya, Indonesia, a woman named Lilik Sulistiowati was sheltering in a corner of a coffee shop in a part of the city called “Dolly”.

As the decade was coming to a close, Dolly was fast becoming infamous as the largest red-light district in Southeast Asia. Its skyrocketing infamy went hand in hand with the widespread violence that had mushroomed in the area, where violent crimes like assault, torture and murder were commonplace.

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