Like so many of the people we help, 20 year-old Huon (name has been changed) is one of many children in her family who dropped out of school early to earn a living. Three years ago, ever difficult financial circumstances persuaded her to travel to Malaysia for work through a Cambodian recruiting agency. Unbeknownst to her, all too often these agencies are thinly veiled fronts for human trafficking rings.
Once in Malaysia, Huon was overworked, beaten and starved at the hands of her employers. Needless to say, she didn’t receive her wages. At her first opportunity to communicate with the Malaysian agency which placed her, Huon filed a complaint, requested to be placed elsewhere and to have her back-wages paid.
To her great relief, the agency agreed to find Huon another job, but her hopes quickly turned to horror. She was drugged and abused even worse than before. Recruiting agents broke into the bathroom while she was showering, taking photos of her.
Terrified, Huon threatened to have them arrested, but they countered with a greater menace – they knew where her family lived. Any attempt at retaliation from Huon would be paid for by her loved ones.
The fear for her own safety, as well as her family’s and the strain of trauma weighed heavily on Huon. She cracked. Throwing random fits and violent outbursts at all hours, even in the middle of the night, the agency conceded that her instability was more than she was worth to them. They transferred her to a mental hospital, where she was repatriated to Cambodia.
Huon has been at our shelter for five months now, receiving medication and individual counseling. Her recovery is slow, but overall her condition has greatly improved.
Although the Consoling Through Counseling project pursues prosecutions and convictions of our clients’ persecutors, in Huon’s case the most we can do is attempt to recover her unpaid wages. Cambodia has no memorandum of understanding with Malaysia regarding migrant labor, leaving us no means by which to investigate abuses of Cambodians on Malaysian soil. Meanwhile, the Cambodian recruiting agency that contracted Huon has gone underground.
However, Huon’s case is one of many that has been highlighted by groups and advocates currently working on an agreement with the Malaysian government to recognize legal rights of migrant workers. We are happy to see greater emphasis being placed on international cooperation to stymie criminal networks and bring perpetrators to justice.
Every dollar you give brings a victim closer to closure and healing – including prosecuting her abuser when possible. Thank you for fighting with us!
When 11 year-old Thuk came to our shelter her behavior was described as that of a caged animal. Frustrated by confinement, she tried to run away time and again; her hair was unkempt, her skin was dirty and covered with scars. She trusted no one, and if she got angry she ran outside and hid in the bushes.
Running away was Thuk’s coping mechanism at home, too. It was her only escape from the abuse of her parents, both of whom beat her severely. She’d never been to school. Last May, she was found hiding in a forest near her home and was brought to our after-care center in Sisophon, Cambodia.
Thuk’s arrival was disruptive to life at the shelter. When she disappeared, which was often, everyone dropped what they were doing to look for her. For weeks she wouldn’t talk to anyone except the monitoring officer that referred her to us; it wasn’t until her third month that she even began coming to her counseling sessions. Everyone was careful with her, and she got very angry if not given attention when she sought it.
Thuk finally began meeting with her therapist in August but showed up irregularly and often late. Even then, she still refused to speak. Kumni had her mold clay into simple figures – things she liked, things she didn’t like, things she was afraid of.
Slowly, Thuk began to share her thoughts in words, although her early voice was barely audible. Moreover, she oddly referred to herself always by a different name. Kumni asked her to draw pictures of her experiences, and at first Thuk only drew from positive memories. Kumni taught her how to make flowers and jewelry, slowly gaining her trust and establishing a safe space. One day while drawing, Thuk opened up and told Kumni her story in her own words.
Over the course of her therapy, Thuk’s behavior changed drastically. She now comes to her appointments when they are scheduled and she is much more cooperative in doing what she is asked. She is attentive to her appearance and personal cleanliness, washing regularly and combing her hair.
Thuk has been enrolled in school and wants to be a teacher. She worries about succeeding because she has missed so much, and she doesn’t want to go home. Her mother gambles, both her parents travel to work in Thailand and she has no reason to think they will stop beating her. Our local partner is looking at options for long-term care so Thuk can continue to grow and study in a supportive environment.
Outcomes like these bear testament to the patience, love and hundreds of hours our counselors put into their patients. Their work is transformative on the minds, hearts and souls of the women and children that find themselves here. But it is your support that makes it possible for us to provide girls like Thuk with this sanctuary while they recover. Thank you for helping Thuk make her final escape – literally out of the woods, and into a life of nurturing.
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The daughter of farm laborers, 14 year-old Suy Channery* left the public school system in grade three to help out with adult responsibilities. Her voice became soft when we asked about her education. “I dropped out of school a long time ago,” she says. “When I was 10 years old I worked in Thailand for a year making leather shoes. It wasn’t hard, as I was there with my two older sisters and a neighbor. The working day was 7-12 hours, and we each made $60 per month.”
Last year, a friend from a neighboring farm asked Channery to stay with her while her parents were away. The young woman’s 18 year-old brother came in to where Channery was sleeping that night and raped her, covering her mouth to stifle her cries. "I tried to make him stop, but he was too strong,” she says.
Channery told her mother what had happened, the police were called and the young man was arrested in June 2010. We met Channery when the two families were unable to come to an agreement on compensation, and in September asked our local partner (the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center) for legal advice. They referred Channery to our safe shelter in nearby Sisophon.
Our counselor, Sokny, reports that Channery displayed symptoms of depression and withdrawal similar to that of many trauma victims: she didn’t bathe, she isolated herself from others, cried frequently, and discussed feelings of hopelessness and anger. “I felt ashamed of myself and felt my reputation was destroyed,” Channery recalls. “I thought my neighbors, being the only people I knew, would think badly of me.”
With nine months of nurturing through shelter activities and individual and group counseling, Channery’s outlook improved markedly. She began communicating more naturally, made friends among the other patients, and reported feeling less ashamed.
When her court hearing arrived Channery gathered all her courage to tell her story in its entirety to a room full of strangers - and her attacker. Once the terrifying experience was over, she was filled with relief. She had braved public humiliation and survived – and found a strength she didn’t know she’d had.
While we hoped that the defendant would be sentenced to 15 years for sexually assaulting a minor, in the court considered the act to be consensual since the perpetrator's sister was not woken up by her cries. He received four years for having sex with a minor and was ordered to pay $10,000 in compensation.
Re-entering the school system will be difficult for someone as far behind as Channery. She took tailoring training at the shelter, and was reintegrated with a $50 life start-up gift in August.
*name has been changed
The story of Goong Mouey highlights just how far a small amount can go to help sufferers of violence against women.
Mouey may have survived decades of war and genocide in Cambodia, but she didn’t emerge unscathed. The Khmer Rouge completely shut down the public education system in the late 1970s, and 90 percent of all teachers were summarily executed. Mouey is a part of an entire generation of women to grow up completely illiterate, and with little to no economic opportunity.
Lacking education and living in abject poverty, Mouey is representative of the roughly 30 percent of Cambodian women that suffer from regular domestic violence. Escaping her abusive, alcoholic husband and unable to provide for her five young children, she was forced to turn the children over to an orphanage for two years. “This was especially painful for me,” she shares, “but I had run out of options.”
Since coming into contact with the DFW-supported counseling and reintegration program, the tables have turned for Mouey. After spending some time at a safe shelter, Mouey received $20 in start-up support along with a $120 small business grant and now runs a highly successful vegetable grocery business near Poipet city. Her business allows her to earn about $50 per day—over 20 times the per capita income in Cambodia—and she has since been able to resume caring for her children.
“I did have a small vegetable stall earlier but it was not enough to live on and the grant allowed me to offer five times as much variety and volume,” Mouey shares. “Now I can afford pretty much whatever the children need to be well nourished.” Mouey’s 16 year-old daughter, Srey Mom, pipes in as well: “Previously I didn’t have the money I needed to pay for school tuition or buy food and medicine and now we do.”
The social stigma attached to divorce in Cambodian society is harsh. When Mouey's husband came skulking back to their improved financial situation, she let him in. The difference now, however, is that the physical abuse has ended. “I control the money in the family now,” Mouey tells us.
Thank you for helping dozens of families like Mouey’s get back on their feet this year through shelter assistance, start-up financial support, vocational training and small business grants.
Tuon Van has known little peace or consistency in her 25 years. She left the unhappy home of her brother at just 11 years old, traveling alone from Pursat province to Phnom Penh to look for her mother. Instead she met an older woman who took her to Battambang for work, where they stayed for a year before the woman sold her to a brothel for $100. The brothel owner was kind to her and did not make her work like the other girls, but she recalls two encounters – one for which she earned $650 and another for $500. Although Van didn’t specify, we believe this means that her virginity was sold twice.
The brothel owner found her a job in a bakery where she worked for a year. Yet at 14 years old, she decided to leave. She became a sex worker in a karaoke bar. Van was unable to explain why she opted to return to prostitution, but our counselor, Sokny, attributes her decision to guilt and shame. With Van’s self-worth severely eroded from abuse at such a young age, Sokny suggests that she gravitated to an environment that felt more suitable to her.
For years she worked in brothels in Pursat and Poipet, although after one raid police returned her to her brother’s home. Yet living in a home with family was too drastic an adjustment for her to make, and she returned to prostitution. Nearly a year ago four of her coworkers got into a fight; the police came and took the girls and Van to our shelter in Sisophon. Of the group, only Van has stayed.
“I wanted to leave almost immediately - I thought all the people here hated me because of what I had been,” recalls Van. “I was surprised when people spoke nicely to me.” Our program director for Cambodia, Raksmey Var, had this impression of Van: “I found Van shy and a lovely person. She has a ready smile and doesn’t carry a dark cloud over herself. I told her that it made no difference to me that she had done sex work.”
Sokny encouraged Van to see that her circumstances were not her fault, and to claim this perspective for her own. She reminded Van that many other women have had the same misfortunes, and urged her to notice that those women were not being judged but were worthy of empathy and compassion. They had suffered, and people could see and understand that.
Van had difficulty applying this vision to herself. She often said, “People look down on me, and that makes me feel ashamed.” Sokny insisted gently that people are generally helpful and caring - the sense of being judged and ashamed comes from within. “Sokny always advised me not to think too much - that’s what I do,” says Van. “She always talks to me, calms and encourages me. It’s a big thing for me to say, but I trust Sokny.” Van gave us her permission to publish her pictures and story, so that we can help others like her.
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