There are an estimated 261,000 people living in modern slavery in Cambodia (GSI 2018). The country 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.
Srey Neth is a young Cambodian victim of human trafficking. In this story she speaks of her experience transitioning from victim to survivor. At 14 she was sold by her mother to a pimp for $300; a week later he sold her virginity for the same price then he forced her to serve 10-20 men per night afterwards. Her refusal was met with beatings or electrocution. Srey Neth was later rescued by police and a non-governmental organization. During her recovery, which unsurprisingly has taken more than five years, she was diagnosed with HIV.
My name is Srey Neth. I am Cambodian. I am a victim of sex trafficking. I do not know my father, my brother, he gambled and left home. We were poor and so my mother sold me to a neighbour, a pimp. I was fourteen.
I lived in a place called the building where I served drinks for the first week. I didn’t know. I thought I had a job to help my family. But the other girls told me things.
Later, the pimp sold my virginity for $300.
I lost my choice. I lost my voice. I lost myself.
I was worth nothing to them but money. Some nights I was sent out with one or two customers. Some nights he kept me in where I saw 10, 20 customers. When I didn’t want to have sex, they beat me. Sometimes they electrocuted me.
I could’ve run but I was afraid and my mother had made a contract. I’m a good daughter, I do not want to hurt my mother. Then there was a man. A foreigner, he took me in his car to the forest. He was drunk, and he did things to me that hurt badly.
Then one night I was taken to a hotel to see another customer, but it was the police and a non-governmental organization. I was very afraid, I thought they would make me work more. But instead they took me to a shelter. I was safe. I could not leave, but no one could hurt me there.
And then I found out I have HIV. One of the men, he give it to me.
For many, especially in Cambodia, HIV means death. But for me, I’m lucky. At the centre, I have a second father and a second mother. James, he makes sure I have healthcare and antiretroviral drugs. He gave me a chance at life. Sya, she held my hand and showed me how to live again. She took me to the pagoda and told me the stories of Buddha. She told me the stories of Pulpoth and the Khmer Rouge. When she worked the rice fields for 18 hours every day and many died. She showed me how to forgive, and how to love. First myself, and then others.
I live with other girls who have stories just like me. I know the other girls are afraid. They’re angry. I know that they feel there is only one thins left for them. And I know, late at night, they hurt just like I did. But like TCI gave to me, so will I give back to them. I want to help the others, to prospect them, from the pimps and the brothels.
I am Srey Neth. I am a survivor. It has been 5 years, but I have found my home, I have found my voice and I am finding myself.
Original Narrative can be found here