Lyna and her friends didn’t know they were for sale.

Lyna* moved to Phnom Penh to live with her godmother Neang at her house.

Lyna* moved to Phnom Penh to live with her godmother Neang at her house.

Other girls lived there, too—they’d moved from other parts of Cambodia, sent by their poor families. In the evenings, the girls would play together and watch TV. During the day, while Lyna attended school, they would work in Neang’s noodle shop on the ground floor. But Lyna knew it was more than a noodle shop.

“My godmother was involved in trafficking. She was a brothel owner,” Lyna said. “She was doing her restaurant business in disguise to make herself look good.”

Neang’s restaurant was indeed a brothel—it held eight adult women, whom she had trapped with intimidation and false debts. By day, they were waitresses. By night, she took them to pubs and bars to sell them.

It didn’t stop there. Neang was also profiting from an even more sinister business: the sale of little girls.

She was not the only one. In the early 2000s, as Cambodia’s tourism boomed, so did sex tourism. Between 15 and 30 percent of all sex workers were children, according to government and NGO studies.

Men around the world would flock to Cambodia to buy sex with youth. They could walk down a street and easily purchase a child. Lyna saw this firsthand.

“There were children brought from different provinces who were put in her house,” she said. “After they lived in her house for three months or so, then they would start working. I saw it all, and it made me feel unhappy.”

IJM had just opened an office in Phnom Penh to investigate cases like these. Thanks to friends like you, we worked with NGO and government partners to rescue girls like Lyna from sex trafficking, but also to change the system that was failing them.

In Lyna’s case, our investigators had befriended Neang at her restaurant in November 2004. She asked them if they wanted to sleep with any of the waitresses. Instead, investigators asked about younger girls—and almost immediately Neang sent for Lyna to come downstairs.

At the moment Neang completed the sale, our police partners entered the room and arrested her. An IJM social worker comforted Lyna. She was brought to a shelter while Neang was taken into custody.

Lyna endured a difficult legal trial to put Neang in jail. Marred by delays, judicial corruption and allegations of bribery, to name a few, the trial trudged along. Amidst this, Lyna bravely gave her testimony and Neang was at last convicted and sentenced to 11 years in prison.

For years, Lyna received ongoing support from IJM and other aftercare partners. Counselors have helped her heal from the trauma and terror she suffered, and she gained confidence in herself once again.

Lyna also became a top student in her high school. Today she’s enrolled in college, studying information technology.

Thanks to supporters like you, her journey of restoration mirrors that of so many other survivors like her—children who were once treated like property now have the tools to make their country better.

“I have a dream that I will become somebody, and my testimony can help change people’s lives.”

Help Lyna’s dream come true. Send rescue to young girls around the world who are awaiting freedom and a brighter future filled with education, friends and hope—not darkness, intimidation and fear.

*A pseudonym