Sophea* is finally free, after months held captive in China. The young woman thought she was moving to get married, work and support her family back home in Cambodia.
Instead, she was sold to a Chinese husband who horribly abused her and trapped her in a living nightmare. Sophea was regularly raped, beaten with a broom handle, tormented and ridiculed by her so-called husband. She received no pay for the work she did to help out in the family business, and she was locked in the family compound.
Sophea was able to sneak a call to her brother from a cell phone she kept carefully hidden away. Her brother got in touch with IJM about three months ago, and so began the mission to bring Sophea back home.
The first challenge was pinpointing Sophea’s exact location.
Although IJM staff in Cambodia had intermittent communication with Sophea, she could not tell us where she was. She doesn’t speak or read Mandarin, and her movements were so tightly controlled.
The house was surrounded by a high fence, and she told IJM she could die or break a leg if she tried to jump it. Then the husband’s family found the phone, and all communication stopped. Sophea was desperate and decided to try climbing the fence. She fell and badly injured both her back and ankle, yet the husband’s family refused to let her see a doctor.
One week after her attempted escape, Chinese police showed up at the husband’s house and took Sophea straight to a hospital for intensive surgery. IJM continued working with international organizations, the Cambodian government and Chinese authorities to bring Sophea home.
On August 1, Sophea stepped off a plane and was greeted by Cambodian officials and staff from international agencies, including IJM.
After months of secret phone calls and agonizing setbacks, it was an emotional moment for the IJM staff at the crowded airport as they finally met Sophea in person.
“We are delighted that Sophea has finally found freedom, and we are thankful to all those who worked so hard to secure it. She is one among many Cambodian women who find themselves trapped in abusive situations overseas—so the work to protect them, and hold traffickers accountable, must continue,” said Peter Williams, IJM Cambodia Field Office Director.
Sophea is traveling to her home today, along with her family. IJM will support Sophea by providing aftercare, and we will pursue justice in her case.
IJM started a new project in Cambodia to fight slavery in January 2016 (read more about our partnership with Winrock on a USAID program to combat trafficking in persons). We will take on a variety of labor trafficking cases, including forced labor in factories, trafficking in the fishing industry and domestic servitude. This is the first time that IJM has helped rescue a victim from any form of trafficking in China, and it underscores the need for increased collaboration between countries on cross-border slavery cases.