Help a Trafficking Survivor Heal From Her Trauma

by Lotus Outreach
Van's daughter in front of the new chicken coop

We arrived at Van Kun Phet’s family’s tiny hutment, located precisely in the middle of nowhere about an hour’s drive from Sisophon, Banteay Meanchey’s provincial capital. The last six miles of the journey took place on a deeply rutted dirt track which even the 4WD had difficulty managing.  Van, a mere 23 years old, is single mother of a three year-old daughter and lives with her mother and father. Van’s dad, now 53, is a landmine victim from his short stint fighting against the Vietnamese as a child soldier where he lost a leg at the tender age of 14.

Van herself was a victim of labor trafficking in Thailand after accompanying her brother to work on a construction site in Bangkok.  The owner absconded from the project without paying anyone. “I then went to work at a Japanese-owned factory making machine parts,” Van shares. “After a month I didn’t get paid there either. I was very despondent having been cheated twice and absolutely broke.  I walked three days and nights until I reached the Cambodian border.  I did not have the proper papers and was arrested by the border police in Thailand. They kept me overnight and deported me the following day. The whole experience was disappointing and painful,” she continues. “I went to Thailand in the hope of earning money as we were facing dire poverty and then in the end didn’t earn anything and was beaten and abused.”

Unfortunately, cases like Van Phet’s are not rare. The Khmer Rouge genocide halted economic and industrial growth and good paying manufacturing jobs are scarce even today.  With few domestic employment opportunities, Cambodia’s poor are drawn to foreign countries for any opportunity for paid work and are highly vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous factory owners and labor brokers.

Van’s choice to illegally migrate to Thailand in search of work is hardly surprising, given her family’s hunter-gatherer mode of subsistence. “My father forages in nearby forest land for firewood to sell and in the rivers and streams for fish and frogs to eat and support the family,” Van shares. “My mum searches for reed to make roof tiles to sell.”

Fortunately Lotus Outreach has provided some cushioning against these hardships in the form of shelter-based training and reintegration assistance, where trafficking victims like Van can seek refuge, learn about the dangers of migrating on a “promise”, and obtain valuable entrepreneurial skills.

“I arrived at the shelter in February 2012 and graduated in November. I applied for and received a small business grant of $250 to start a chicken-raising business, as well as $50 as new-life start up assistance. My father and I designed and built the chicken coop ourselves and we spent $100 on chickens as stock. The chickens are free-range, and we supplement their diets with a feeding formula that I learned to make in the shelter.”

In the training, Van also learned to keep and manage a journal of income and expenditure and is very clear about the investment against returns. “When the chickens reach 1.5 kg I’ll be able to get $3 per kg return and will sell some while keeping back enough to increase my stock through breeding.” With a beaming smile Van tells us, “I feel very happy to have my own animal raising business, I had always dreamed of raising chickens and now I am doing it! I now have 3 roosters, 11 large and 3 small hens with 15 chicks.”

We are delighted to have met Van and her family. Van is such a nice person, and so lively and full of enthusiasm. We are excited that someone like her--someone who has been cheated and exploited through no fault of her own--is now getting a chance and establishing herself and her family on a sound economic footing.

Van Kun Phet
Van Kun Phet
The author (right) with program staff and Van
The author (right) with program staff and Van


Small group counseling session
Small group counseling session

Srey is a 14 year-old girl from Pailin province, which remained a stronghold of the Khmer Rouge well into the 1990s. Poverty drove Srey’s mother to migrate to Banteay Meanchey to seek work as a cook in the bustling but impoverished town of Poipet. An eighth grader, Srey was left at home alone with her father and her three younger siblings.

After her mother left, Srey’s father began to repeatedly and brutally rape Srey, threatening to hurt her if she told anyone. Crushed, terrified, and desperate to escape, Srey eventually mustered the courage to tell her mother and her uncle what had happened. With their support, Srey filed a police report and her father was arrested. While awaiting trial, Srey came to stay at Lotus Outreach’s safe shelter where she could receive legal assistance, counseling, healthcare, and social services.

When Srey first came to the shelter, her shame and sorrow consumed her. She refused to interact with the other clients, and told her counselors that she thought she was “the most shameful person in her village.” Srey suffered from depression, anxiety, and insomnia and was quick to anger. She was traumatized by the incident as well as the overwhelming fear that her father would be released from jail and come after her.

Through individual sessions, Srey’s counselor gradually built a trusting relationship with the girl and Srey began to open up about what had happened. She soon began to attend group counseling sessions and spoke openly about what had happened to her, offering support to other clients who had also been raped. Over time, Srey developed friendships with other girls at the shelter, returned to school during the weekdays, and even started taking a sewing class. She released her stress through reading books, writing down her incident and then ripping up the paper, drawing pictures, and practicing mediation. Soon Srey told her counselor that she now loves and values herself, and no longer blames herself for what happened. Srey has recently expressed a desire to finish high school and continue on to college to become a nurse. And with the support of the shelter’s legal staff, Srey’s father has now been sentenced to prison for rape. 

Srey's case is unfortunately not unique. During 2012, 19 other rape victims stayed at the safe shelter, nearly 80% of whom are children. To date, eight of the perpetrators have been convicted and another five are awaiting trial. This represents a remarkable sea change in the attitudes of both rape victims and the courts, as in 2009 there were just 468 recorded cases of rape in Cambodia despite the fact that one in four men in the region report having raped a girl or woman. Today, approximately half of rape cases to come through our shelter result in a conviction.

Thank you for giving young girls like Srey hope for a brighter future. To learn more or pledge additional support, please visit


Dear friends,

Because of your generous support, 41 women and children received individual and group counseling at our Cambodian safe house this past quarter, including 10 victims of human trafficking, 13 victims of rape and 18 victims of domestic violence. Our two psychologists additionally accompanied clients to court hearings on 14 different occasions to provide emotional support to the girls as they courageously pursue legal action against their perpetrators.

Our team was also successful in reintegrating seven clients (and their children) back into Cambodian society following their treatment and stay at the shelter. Each family was provided a $50 life support package (including food, clothing and kitchenware) to help them get on their feet.

We are also pleased to share that we have started piloting a new economic empowerment model for reintegrated clients and other at-risk women in their communities. Currently, we are operating two financial cooperatives or "Self Help Groups" consisting of 11 women total. This model for client economic empowerment shows tremendous promise over traditional microfinance and grant programs, as the women are immediately plugged into a system of social support and business collaboration. One of these groups established a large chicken farming operation, and their first hatchlings will soon be ready to take to market!

We'd like to thank you again for extending a loving hand to these women and girls, and for giving them a chance at a new life. To learn more about Lotus Outreach, please visit us online at or drop us a note at

Wishing you health, peace and prosperity in the New Year!


Small business grantee Srey Ma
Small business grantee Srey Ma

With your generous support, Lotus Outreach provided loving care to dozens of abused women and girls through our shelter-based counseling project in Cambodia.  Here is just a partial list of our achivements for 2011:

  • Provided 127 victims of trafficking, rape and domestic violence with trauma therapy, allowing them to overcome the ravages of abuse and regain the self-worth and self-confidence needed to successfully rejoin society and lead safe, healthy and productive lives.
  • Our social workers helped 106 clients find housing, employment and/or enroll in public school, paving the way for their futures outside of the shelter.
  • Provided 25 clients with start-up support packages—including food and kitchenware—to aid them in their reintegration into Cambodian society.
  • Provided 26 at-risk and abused young women with small business grants.  Grants were used to purchase sewing machines, establish pig and chicken farms, grow vegetable gardens and more.  By the end of 2011, some of the grantees were already earning as much as $100 per month as a result of the grant.
  • Provided 30 at-risk and abused young women with agricultural training—including hands-on support and bookkeeping assistance—so they could establish pig and chicken farms.
  • Repatriated 21 victims of violence and trafficking to their home provinces, following a comprehensive family-tracing assessment.
  • Established two victim support groups for reintegrated clients and members of the broader community.
  • With moral support and encouragement from the victims’ counselors, oversaw the conviction of 14 child rapists who are now behind bars in Cambodia.

We thank you again for your generous support of Lotus Outreach, and for joining us in the fight again modern-day slavery.  When the world turned its back on these women and children, you stepped in and provided an environment from which courageous, strong and empowered survivors could emerge.

Warmest regards,

Erika Keaveney
Executive Director

PS – Want to learn more about our efforts to combat poverty and its consequences in the developing world?  Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter here:


Huon in session with her counselors
Huon in session with her counselors

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!

Drawing therapy
Drawing therapy



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Lotus Outreach

Location: Ojai, California - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Alexandra Land
Ojai, CA United States

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