By Katie Chalk
Sophea is only fifteen. She's the newest arrival at Rapha House.
Each time she tells her story it's a little different, a little closer to the truth. It’s never easy for a victim of trafficking to admit how trusting they once were, how easily they had been tricked along the way.
When she met her trafficker at the age of fourteen, she had just returned from three years in Thailand, including a year away from her family working as domestic help for a rich family in Bangkok.
With all that traveling and working, she must have thought herself very grown up. “Sometimes I went to sing karaoke in my town,” she says. “One day a woman came to sing there too, and she talked to me. She wanted to know if I was looking for a job. She knew of one in Siem Reap that paid 3000 baht a month (nearly US$100)”
“My mother said it was up to me. So I decided to go.”
Did she like the woman who promised her such a good start in life? At this question she becomes confused, looks down at her hands with their brightly painted nails.
Finally she explains that she liked her very much. The woman was well-known to her. She was the mother of Sophea's boyfriend.
“Instead of taking me to Siem Reap, we went to a guest house in Udor Meanchey (near the Thai border),” says Sophea. “Then she told me that if we wanted to get to Siem Reap I would have to sleep with the driver as payment. He came into my room, forced me and told me he’d already paid 500 baht for it. Later that night there was another man.”
Next they traveled to Battambong, where they stayed three nights. There were more men, but no money in sight. “I wanted to run away,” says Sophea, “but I had nothing, and my family was too far away now.” Afraid of everything, she did as she was told.
As they headed towards the Thai border once more, Sophea spoke up for the first time about her treatment. Her trafficker reassured her and implied that she would soon organise a wedding between Sophea and her own son. Sophea was left in the hands of brothel owners and told to wait around a month.
"Life there was unbearable," says Sophea. "The men liked young girls and I was the youngest. I had all sorts of customers, Thai and Cambodian – I hated them all. Worst were the beatings if I said no. They gave me drugs and told me afterwards that I would need to pay for them out of my salary. I was never given any money at all for what I was doing, only more drugs."
Sophea woke up from her abusive haze when she realised she had been waiting a year for her boyfriend or his mother to come to her rescue. She managed to escape long enough to make a phone call to her grandmother who called the police.
Rapha House is the first place she’s felt safe in a long time. “I feel good here,” she says. “I feel secure, nobody hurts me. I can learn to read and write properly for the first time.”
The other girls, who have been through similar ordeals, have been friendly to her, and already she’s learning to trust the people around her. The staff say that she has a strong determination to leave her past life, including her drug addiction, well behind. This is helping her to settle in quickly, make friends and plan for her future.
“The first thing I will do when I leave here is look for my mother, my brothers and my sisters,” says Sophea. “I miss them. I want to learn hairdressing and beauty because I think I could earn money with that when I go home.”
Away from the situation, she can see more clearly how she was tricked and how many people must have known along the way, including the owners of the guesthouses where she was abused. She thinks it may not have been the first time her trafficker had taken this path with a young victim.
To other Cambodian girls she gives the advice “Do not fall into such a trick, believing people you don’t really know.”
But she refuses to release her last glimmer of trust. "My fiance can't have known about this, or he would have come to get me," she says sadly.
Katie Chalk is a reporter with World Vision Cambodia which financially assists RH.
Saturday, April 21, 2007
You don't know how precious freedom is until it's gone. Our girls know that feeling. One day life was ordinary and predictable. Then everything changed. They found themselves caught in a web of circumstance too strong from which to free themselves. And certain death and destruction was picking its way across that web towards them. They sensed its dark and cold presence. But as their hopes for freedom were taking their last gasps, things changed again. They were plucked from this web of death and brought to our shelter. Think of it. By supporting the Rapha House Freedom Foundation, you're investing in a girl's freedom. And there is no more precious gift than that.
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
It is important to rescue girls from the nightmare of human trafficking. It is important to provide shelter for rescued girls. But then what? That's where we come in. The Rapha House Freedom Foundation provides these girls with resources to promote their emotional healing. And we provide housing, education and employment opportunities, so their dreams of lasting freedom can become a reality. It's a big job. It's an important job. That's why we need partners who'll help us. Read the posts below and consider how you might help us help these precious girls.
Sunday, April 15, 2007
We're seeking business partners who can see beyond the bottom line to the opportunity of working with us in bringing hope to girls who have suffered so much. We're seeking business partners who want to employ their talents and business acumen in making a real difference in the lives of others. With the right project, together we can create economic opportunity that will profit both our girls and our business partners. Interested? Contact Kerry Decker at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thursday, April 12, 2007
People often ask me if I ever get discouraged with this work. After all, girls are being trafficked faster than we can rescue them. And of the tens of thousands who are trapped in this nightmare, we can reach only a handful. Then from this handful, not all that we help are going to go on to live productive lives. That’s reality. There would be plenty room for discouragement if that’s all I focus on. But when I start to think like that, I look at some of the pictures of the girls. I see their smiles. I recall their laughter. And I marvel at how far they’ve come. I would like to help every trafficked person in the world. I can’t. But I will not let the limitations of my reach keep me from touching whatever lives that I can. Together, we can make a world of difference to somebody. Anything less is to be defeated by discouragement.
Monday, April 9, 2007
We passionately care about Cambodian survivors of abuse. But we understand it's not just about Cambodian survivors. We passionately care about all survivors of abuse. One in three American women are survivors of abuse. Some of the girls that we help in Cambodia have been raped multiple times a day in brothels. Their pain is real. But it is no less traumatic being raped or molested just once. It still hurts and wounds your heart. We've written a resource to help survivors of abuse find real healing. You can go online and purchase a copy of our book "Healing for the Wounded Heart: 100 Devotions for Survivors of Abuse" at www.freedomforgirls.org/resources.php. Or send your order with payment of $21.59 (price includes shipping and handling) to: Rapha House Freedom Foundation, 6755 Victoria Ave., Riverside, CA 92506. Someone you know needs this book. Maybe you.
Saturday, April 7, 2007
The other night, I asked my wife what life was like for her at age eleven. She was in the sixth grade, as best as she recalls. She tells me about her "steady boyfriend" whom she never kissed back then and who gave her a necklace. She spent a lot of time at church and playing with friends. She has some fond memories. I'm looking at the picture of two sisters who just came to Rapha House. One is age 14 and the other age 11. The email message I received about them says, "They were terribly sexually abused and trafficked." Their faces are blank and expressionless. Theirs has been an interrupted childhood. They will not have fond memories when they look back to their childhoods. All we can give them now is a better future. I think of my wife at age eleven, then I look at the picture of the youngest sister. You could not find two more different girls on earth. But they share the same dream of finding happiness. And now we have the privilege of helping make that dream come true for two new little sisters at Rapha House.
Tuesday, April 3, 2007
Here are the facts. Asians, not Westerners, are the biggest customers in the Southeast Asian sex industry. Asians, not Westerners, are the main group who perpetrates these crimes against against children and profit from it. The bitter irony is that, to a large extent, Asians create these child prostitutes and then condemn them to life as outcasts. For a girl who is not a virgin in Asian societies is considered to be "damaged goods." So what does the future hold for our girls? Nothing, unless we can help them live self-sufficient and independent lives. These girls are not served by finger-pointing or handwringing. We must open our hearts, open our wallets and show them the practical love of Jesus. That's thinking like Christians, not Westerners.
Sunday, April 1, 2007
During our recent visit to Cambodia, one of the girls at our halfway house confided in a team member that she felt hopeless. She understood that she cannot live at our shelter or halfway house forever. But looking ahead, she could see nothing but foreboding uncertainty. She cannot count on her family. And society will not help her. She is considered an outcast. She has no education or marketable skills and no money. This girl misunderstood our commitment to her and each girl in our aftercare program. Our foundation is successful when the girls that we serve are successful. And success means sustaining independent living with dignity. We are training our girls in job skills. We are teaching them English. We are investing in their futures. And we will supply eligible girls with grants to underwrite business opportunities and their living expenses. We believe what God does--that these girls are worth the investment.