Finding new life after a nightmare of sex trafficking

T*, now 17, was lured into a dark world of sex trafficking and exploitation through poverty, peer pressure, and a broken home. Her time at World Vision’s trauma recovery center in Cambodia has given her hope for a brighter, safer future.

By Kari Costanza
Published September 6, 2013 at 09:30am PDT

“T”* is a story of temptation and transformation.

She is the oldest among four children in her family. Born in Cambodia’s capital city of Phnom Penh, she was sent to Vietnam at a young age to live with relatives and go to school. At 11, T was relieved to return to Phnom Penh.

“I wasn’t happy there [in Vietnam],” she says. “I tried to study hard. My parents wanted me to study there. During the nighttime, I cried all the time because I missed my parents.”

But the family she missed so much was disintegrating. T’s parents separated, and she ultimately decided to live with her mother.

A downward spiral

She stopped going to school. “I did not go to school because my family is poor,” she says. “My family could not earn money to support me to go to school.”

Peer pressure was T’s undoing. “I have friends. I went for a walk with my friends. One day, they encouraged me to use drugs,” she recalls.

They encouraged her to try meth and another unknown drug. “It smells very good. It looks like sugar,” says the girl, who was just 13 or 14 years old at the time.

“I needed money to buy the drugs, so I fell into the prostitution work,” T says. “I was living in a prostitution place. There were seven or eight girls. The owner also used the drugs. She was good with me. The owners also made friends with the police to protect the shop.”

Unthinkable exploitation

T worked every day, seeing around five men a day at a rate of U.S. $5 per transaction — but she only got to keep half. “Since I am too young, the owner only let me have Cambodians only. The older ones would have the foreigners,” she says.

In 2009, police raided the shop. “They had arms, but they didn’t use them,” she says. “The police handcuffed the owner — but for us, for the girls, we were not handcuffed. They brought us to the police station and they asked us questions.”

A World Vision partner organization, World Hope Organization, brought T to World Vision’s trauma recovery center, where she stayed for six months.

But when she arrived home, T discovered that her mother was in serious financial trouble. “She could not work and we had no money, so I decided to go back to prostitution,” she says.

“The first time, I decided to borrow $500 from the owner. Later, I borrowed more money (another $500) from the same man,” she says. “I paid him back through prostitution,” she says.

“I almost returned all the money. With 10 more men I could return all the money to him.”

A new life chapter

But then there was another raid. “Police arrested us and brought us…to the World Vision center again.”

This time, things were different. T’s life began to transform. “I like the environment here [at the center],” she says. “When the caregivers saw that I am changed, they arranged to send me to outside training.”

Today, T wants to open her own shop as a hairdresser. “The income is a little, but it is a very good job for a woman. I don’t want to go back to my previous job,” she says.

She knows temptations will surface once she leaves the center. “Even though my friends call me to go back to my previous job, I won’t go,” she says. “It’s not a good job for our society. People don’t accept prostitutes. And it causes us to have disease.”

At the center, T also serves as a peer educator, teaching other children about children’s rights and about the law. “Staying here, I have the opportunity to learn English,” she says.

Sadly, T’s story is but one example of the millions of children around the world who are trapped in vicious exploitation. Through World Vision’s long-term presence in nearly 100 countries, we are committed to walk alongside these boys and girls, guiding them as they recover from trauma and learn skills for a hope-filled future.

*Not her real name.

How you can help

Learn more about World Vision’s work to protect and care for children in crisis around the world, like T.

Contact your members of Congress today. Urge them to support strong funding to fight modern-day slavery. We’re not asking for new money. We just want to ensure that existing anti-trafficking programs are not cut.

Make a one-time donation to help provide hope for sexually exploited girls. Your gift will help prevent further abuse and restore physical and spiritual health to rescued girls by providing interventions like safe shelter, medical care, nutritious food, vocational training, compassionate counseling, and when possible, reintegration with a loving family.