SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA – Rumors were flying in the small, rural village. Two girls were missing, and people were whispering that they had been taken to a nearby province and forced to work as prostitutes.
Lina,* 13, and Sinan,* 16, were close friends who shared much in common. Their fathers both struggled to find work, spending what little they had on alcohol. Both girls had dropped out of school, patching together odd jobs and sometimes going hungry. When Sinan's aunt offered them good jobs working at a coffee shop in another province, they eagerly accepted, excited by the prospect of a stable income and a new beginning.
Tricked and Trapped
When the girls arrived in the neighboring province at a dilapidated wooden house, they knew right away it was not a coffee shop. Something was wrong, but it was too late. Lina and Sinan had been trafficked by a relative they had trusted.They would be forced to have sex with customers at this karaoke bar that doubled as a brothel.
The girls were horrified. Lina begged Sinan's aunt to let them leave, but the woman screamed at the young girls. She hit Lina, a taste of the abuse that awaited her. After one night in the brothel, Sinan managed to sneak out.
The women and girls who were exploited in the karaoke bar were treated like prisoners. The owner and the managers beat them when they refused to see the brothel's customers. They were not allowed to leave the bar alone, since the owner feared the girls would run away – as Sinan had. Eager to maximize his profits, the owner forced the girls to drink as much beer as customers would buy, in an effort to drive up sales. Customers were never turned away, even when the number of men outnumbered the already-cramped rooms. Instead, the girls were forced to share rooms, raped and humiliated.
A Cry For Help
Back in the village, Lina's mother was distraught. She had no idea where her daughter had disappeared. She decided to file a complaint with the Siem Reap Anti-Human Trafficking Police, a unit that has received in-depth training from IJM. The police responded to the report and started searching for Lina and her friend Sinan.
Sinan had returned to the brothel, despite the serious risk involved for her. Determined to save her friend, Sinan helped Lina escape through a small window. The girls fled. When they were found by police four days later, they spoke up boldly and truthfully, testifying to abusive conditions at the karaoke bar. The police then called IJM to help with an undercover investigation. The Siem Reap Anti-Human Trafficking Police led the operation – four of the seven officers had participated in IJM's trainings before.
Thanks to the initial tip from Lina and Sinan, nine other women and girls were rescued from the karaoke bar in an IJM-assisted operation. IJM social workers met the survivors at the police station after the operation to provide immediate crisis care. The police arrested three suspects, including one of the owners, Sinan's aunt, and another trafficker, and they are now awaiting a trial from prison.
After Lina and Sinan gave their initial statements to the police, the officers referred them to a local crisis center. But the girls ran away shortly after they arrived, afraid to trust anyone and eager to get home. They traveled back to Sinan's home, empty since her parents had left to search for jobs as migrant laborers. As the operation to locate all of the girls who had been victimized at the karaoke bar unfolded over several days, IJM started searching for Lina and Sinan.
A New Beginning
Social worker Chamrouen Tuy was part of the IJM team determined to find the courageous girls who had spoken up for the other girls trapped in the brothel – to make sure they had access to services they needed to heal, that they were safe, and that if they chose to, they could participate in the prosecution of their abusers.
Chamroeun found the girls hiding in Sinan's home: "They didn't have anyone to take care of them and they didn't always have food. They really needed care and counseling." Chamroeun stayed with the girls and explained different choices available to them, gaining their trust which had been violated before. Both Lina and Sinan decided to go to a short-term aftercare home, and IJM will continue to follow up with the girls to provide support.
The other women and girls who were rescued through the joint efforts of IJM and the police also gave statements testifying to the same abusive conditions. They received immediate crisis care, and some went to the same home as Lina and Sinan, while others were reintegrated into their own communities.
Four survivors have chosen to pursue legal action with the help of an IJM lawyer, to hold the traffickers accountable for the violent crimes they committed.
*Pseudonyms have been assigned for the protection of these IJM clients.