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2013 (Narrative date)

Kolab does not know who her real parents are. She studied to grade 5, then was forced to worked as a family servant, in a karaoke bar, and to sell drugs and sex. After eventually escaping successfully she tried to find work outside of the sex industry but could find no work, and so began work in a massage parlor brothel. Later she was able to leave the industry with the help of an NGO named AFESIP Cambodia. Names have been changed to protect the survivors' privacy.

I was born in 1991. My parents treated me like a house servant and frequently beat me for no reason. Since they were farmers, I had to help them in the rice paddies after finishing the housework. When I turned 7, I learned that my “parents” were actually foster parents. They told me that my biological parents had sold me shortly after I was born for the equivalent of 1,000 U.S. dollars since they could not afford to raise me, which was very hurtful.

When I turned 13 years old, my foster parents sent me to a woman in the capital city, Phnom Penh. I worked for this woman and her family every day for the equivalent of $12.50 U.S. a month. The woman forced me to clean, cook, and wash non-stop. I had no time to rest, not even on the weekends. One day, two months after I arrived, the woman went out and I stayed home babysitting her children. Her husband called me into his room and tried to have sex with me. I started yelling, but he raped me anyway.

To escape the home where I was basically a servant, I went to Phnom Penh province where a friend told me I could find work. When I arrived, I didn’t know where to go. I was standing by the taxis when two men asked me where I was going. I told them I didn’t know. They said that if I didn’t have any relatives, I could stay with them. I had few choices and, since they were older, I assumed they were safe to live with so I agreed. When we arrived to their home, I saw 2 men and 15 girls who were strung out on drugs. I felt afraid, but the man told me everything would be alright. He introduced me to a man called Tiger II who I later learned owned the place and was the leader of a gang. After a week, Tiger II ordered me to have sex with a man on video but I refused. He said: “You cannot refuse. You must do this for me.” He ordered someone to inject me with drugs. Then I could no longer refuse because I had no control. I had to do what they wanted which was to be filmed having sex with Khmer men, Vietnamese men and Japanese men. During this time, I also had to have sex with Tiger II and members of his gang. This torture continued for 20 days and they subdued me with drugs. I was hopeless and thought: The world is so big with many girls and women, why has this problem happened to me? 

Tiger II ordered me to sell drugs from 9:00pm to 11:00pm and then sell my body from 11:00pm to 4:00am. I was ordered to steal, pickpocket, and cheat my customers by taking their money and motorbikes. They expected me to make $200 to $300 per night; if I did not, they punished me by stripping and beating me with a stick until I fainted, electrocuting me, cutting me and pouring salt water on the cuts, and placing my hands into a bamboo press for up to 20 minutes. I received these punishments several times and still have the scars. To numb the pain, I began taking more drugs, like yama and acetima-mint, which made me feel invincible and unafraid. Tiger II and his gang watched me carefully and punished me for anything I did wrong. They forced me to sleep with as many as 50 customers a day. I had to give Tiger II all my money, but I secretly hid $5 from each customer. Most of the customers thought I was dirty. If I tried to confide in them about Tiger II, they accused me of lying. 

I worked for Tiger II in both Phnom Penh and Kampong Cham for almost 2 years. Eventually I gained their trust, and they watched me less carefully. One night, I took the money I had saved and stole an additional $500 from the boss in order to run away with a friend. We went to Phnom Penh and sold vegetables, but the gang found me and forced me to return to the brothel. I was forced to make more sex videos, and again, I ran away. I tried to find work in a factory, but nobody would hire me so I started working at the Hing Hing Massage Parlor. One day, in December 2009, the police arrived and closed down the parlor. I was very scared that I would be arrested, but they told me they wanted to help me.

The police sent me to the Accommodation of Social Affairs department so I could learn some skills and get a proper job. After meeting the non-profit organization AFESIP Cambodia there, I finally was able to leave the sex industry, where I never wanted to be in the first place. I have decided to study hairdressing in the AFESIP center to make a living. I’d like to become a good hairdresser or a staff member of AFESIP, so I can help other victims.

As told to Equality Now