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.
There is no shortage of brave, resilient women recovering from abuse at our safe shelter in Sisophon, near the Thai border. Yet the story of Pich, a 32 year-old woman who came to us after instigating her own rescue from a brothel, astounded our trauma counselors.
Pich’s determination and resolve were evident early in life. At 15 years old, she made a bitter sacrifice to help her struggling family. Introduced to a wealthy, older man by her cousin, she opted to sell her virginity to him for US$800 – a small fortune – and gave the entire sum to her mother. She married another man later that year.
By 24, Pich was divorced with two children; her husband had left her for one of her friends. Yet another “friend” told her about a job in Battambang, and after a few other fruitless searches nearer to home, she traveled there to work in a bar. Before leaving the following day, her acquaintance introduced her to the owner, and for four nights Pich sold beer.
The fifth night she had a rude awakening. Her boss told her she wasn’t there to sell beer; he expected her to sell sex. Pich then realized that her friend had sold her into a brothel for an unknown sum. Locked in the building with no way out, she was a sex slave.
Yet Pich never forgot who she was. She objected when customers didn’t wear condoms or when she was made to service clients when while ill. She even tried (unsuccessfully) to escape. But she paid dearly; each time she stood up for herself, she was beaten, strangled, or worse. By the time she reached our shelter, Pich had only two teeth left in her mouth.
To punish her protestations, the brothel owner had thugs hold her down while he extracted her teeth, one by one, with a pair of pliers. This happened time and again as Pich insisted on her rights, all the way through thirty teeth. Despite having no means of escape and no reason to hope, Pich kept fighting until finally she convinced a customer to let her use his phone to call the police. The police raided the brothel the next day, and brought Pich to our shelter.
In addition to receiving trauma therapy through the CTC program, Pich was provided with legal representation from the shelter’s staff attorney. In September 2010, Pich’s captors and torturers were sentenced to eight years in prison.
Today, Pich has a positive outlook on life. Her feelings of anger and isolation have been replaced by optimism, comradery and even activism: Pich recently participated in our local partner’s Violence Against Women campaign, proudly donning the symbolic white ribbon while passing out leaflets on preventing abuse and exploitation.
With assistance from the project, Pich has received dentures and will be entering a beauty skills training program. With your help, she will never again have to take a job in a strange city, work for someone she doesn’t know, or rely on the type of friends who would sell her into slavery.
We thank you for your support, which has paved the way for a new future for Pich and dozens of others like her.
Thanks in large part to the support we receive from our generous donors on Global Giving, our Consoling Through Counseling program is braced for a strong year in 2011. We extend our warmest thanks to you for helping us provide desperately needed care and nurturing to hundreds of girls and women who have suffered exploitation and survived to share their story. Here is one, told by a young woman seduced by the promise of honest work. After a terrifying foray into Malaysia’s migrant labor market, 17 year-old Lily* escaped to Thailand this summer where authorities referred her to our shelter in Sisophon.
Last year, Lily was recruited from her home province of Battambang for domestic work abroad. Her excitement at the prospect of employment was choked off even before she left Cambodia: at the recruiting transfer station in Phnom Penh, recruiters forcibly hacked her hair off and refused to give her a copy of her signed labor contract. Clinging to the prospect of a paycheck, Lily hoped for the best and continued to Malaysia.
Once in the home of her new employers, however, Lily lost what little of her autonomy remained. Discovering she had acquired a debt for her transport to Malaysia, she was informed that she would not be compensated for her labor until it was settled. She soon learned not to expect regular meals. Her travel documents and work permit were taken from her, complicating any scheme to find work elsewhere under new terms and conditions. On New Year’s Day in 2010, Lily was given $25 in a red envelope – the only pay she’d received in four months.
After nearly a year as a slave, Lily managed to flee by bus to the Thai border where she was referred to our partner, the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center. As a client in our Sisophon shelter, Lily has receive one-on-one and group counseling to process her feelings of violation and helplessness. Already, she is looking ahead to our reintegration services and getting back on her feet.
“Before I leave here I intend to apply for a loan/grant to raise pigs,” says Lily. “I’ve seen people doing it near my home and feel confident I can do it also.”
With such a positive outlook and the right resources, we also feel confident that Lily will be able to build her own secure source of revenue – eliminating migration and personal risk from the equation forever. Thank you for making this possible!
*name has been changed
Recovering from physical, sexual and emotional abuse is a delicate process, one which our Consoling through Counseling (CTC) psychologist, Sokny, knows all too well. There are currently 96 women and girls receiving trauma therapy at our safe shelter in Sisophon, Cambodia for domestic violence, rape and human trafficking. Twenty of our rape and trafficking victims are under the age of 18—with a few as young as four years old—underscoring the need for qualified counseling in a safe, nurturing environment where girls can receive the love and affection that was denied to them up until a few short months ago.
Srey’s* story underscores the immense need for quality counseling service, and her transition illustrates the tremendous effect that trauma therapy can have on an individual’s life. Thirteen year-old Srey was taken by her aunt to Thailand to work as a domestic servant for a businessman promising a lucrative job opportunity. Instead, Srey was repeatedly beaten and raped by her employer and never given a single penny. She eventually managed to escape to a neighbor’s house who took her to the local police station. Srey was then referred to our partner, the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center, for assistance and psychological evaluation at our safe shelter.
In her first few weeks at the shelter, Srey was aggressive and anti-social. She was filled with anger and often provoked arguments with other clients. She showed no respect for her elders (a cultural norm in Cambodia) and snapped angrily when staff tried to assist or talk to her. Her personal hygiene suffered and she refused to bathe or brush her hair.
In the course of a few months at the shelter, Sokny managed to convince Srey to attend regular counseling sessions and over time was able to build a sense of trust and comradery with the young girl. Srey gradually began to open up in individual counseling sessions and was shortly after sharing her story with other victims in a small group setting. She began to talk to Sokny about her past, drawing pictures and reminiscing about her younger years while opening up about the abuse she had endured while in Thailand. Soon her wall of isolation crumbled away and she began to communicate more positively and get along with her peers.
Today, as a result of her time with Sokny and the close bond they developed, Srey has completely transformed. She now takes care of herself, gets along well with others and actively participates in learning activities at the shelter. With continued love and encouragement, we hope to help Srey put her past behind her and eventually enroll in school and rejoin her society.
Our CTC project is a boon to young women and girls who would otherwise allow their anger and shame to consume them and sully their prospects for a health and happy life. Programs that supply professional counseling for victims of sex crimes are known to reduce related concerns like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), addiction and suicide. From one year to the next, our small team of qualified Cambodian professionals provides hundreds of girls and women with individual and group counseling.
Thank you for making this initiative possible!
*Name has been changed
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