Cambodia was renowned as a sex tourism destination in the 1990s and this legacy is still prevalent today with women and girls trafficked within the thriving sex industry in Cambodia's major cities. Despite significant attempts to curb CSE, NGOs report the industry has been pushed underground and sex offenders are still able to purchase sex with children through an intermediary rather than more overt selling of sex in brothels. Boys and young men are also vulnerable to sexual exploitation, with many entering the massage industry due to a lack of training and skills.
“Phalla” studied to grade 12, then was sold to a brothel by her grandmother. Names have been changed to protect the survivors' privacy.
I was born in 1988. When I was 20, my father died and we had nobody to provide for our family, so I had to stop my schooling and move in with my grandmother.
After living with my grandmother for a month, one day she said, “My baby, tomorrow I will go to visit Kampong Som, do you want to go with me?” I replied, “Yes! Oh, Grandma I want to see the sea.” When we arrived in Kampong Som, my grandma brought me into the village to a nice house, which she said belonged to a friend. We stayed there for a few days and I saw many cars approach the house and then leave with young women. On the 4th day, my grandma introduced me to the house owner and said: “I need my granddaughter to stay here for several days, then I will come to bring her home.” The house owner said: “OK! Don’t worry!” I waited for my grandma for more than several days but she never came back.
I kept looking for my grandma, but the house-owner said she wouldn’t be coming back because she had sold me. She told me I must make money but I couldn’t leave the house. Then, she forced me into the room and locked the door. After that, I didn’t sleep, I cried and listened. That night, I heard someone turn the lock and I said: “Hello! Who are you?” He said he was my Uncle and that he needed me to do something for him. I was afraid and didn’t want to see anyone. I asked him why he’d come here. He said he needed me to go to Heaven with him. Suddenly, I was fully alert. When he touched me, I immediately pushed him away. He pushed me onto the bed and punched me. My mouth began bleeding and I called for help, but no one answered. He put his arm on my mouth to muffle my screams and then ripped off my clothes and raped me. When he’d finished I asked him, “Why have you done this?” He replied, “You are mine for several days. So, I can do whatever I want to you because I gave a lot of money to your boss. Don’t be angry.” Then he left the room.
After 3 months in the first brothel, I was sold to a new brothel owner in Kosh Kong. The brothel owner and the “guests” forced me to have sex copying styles they saw in sex videos. In the first month, I had 10 to 15 guests a day. I felt like an animal in the zoo. I couldn’t go anywhere, I never got the money – they gave me drugs, curses and beatings instead. Sometimes, they checked me and took money that some guests passed directly to me. I quickly became a drug user because it helped ease my distress but ultimately the drugs didn’t help me lose my pain. I had very low self-esteem, harmed myself and was quick to anger. I felt hopeless because I didn’t think anything of my life. I was a slave prostitute.
After 2 months in Kosh Kong, I was sold to a brothel in Thailand where they forced me to have sex with 20 to 30 men because I was new and pretty. I worked in this brothel for 4 months. One day, I met a Khmer man who helped me escape with 4 others back to Cambodia. I lived with him in Phnom Penh for a week after which he took me to work in a karaoke bar.
At the karaoke bar, I wasn’t allowed to go out anywhere. After a week, I ran away but they arrested me and sent me back. I was put in a room under ground and beaten by the boss for a few days. Then, they sold me to a foreigner. I was with him for 3 days but I didn’t run away because I wanted to gain my boss’ confidence. After another month back at the karaoke bar, the boss trusted me enough to allow me to go out unsupervised. 2 months later, I met a woman that used to live with AFESIP who told me about the organization and gave me their phone number. I went to the clinic to ask for help and now stay at their center, where I study sewing, English and computer. I would like to become a lawyer because I want to help other victims.
As told to Equality Now