“Dara” was enslaved for sexual exploitation as a child in Cambodia. Here she discusses her enslavement and the psychological impact that this has had on her, explaining the difficulty of reintegrating into society after her enslavement, and that she feels “finished” and “dead.” She also talks about her work as a volunteer helping other survivors of slavery to train and take control over their lives. Despite significant attempts to curb the commercial sexual exploitation that Cambodia became famous for in the 1990s, NGOs report the industry has been pushed underground and sex offenders are still able to purchase sex with children through an intermediary rather than more overt selling of sex in brothels.
I don't know my name exactly. I don't know my birth date. I don't know where I was born. I don't know my parents. I just grew up alone. The people in the village took care of me. They gave me food. Sometime I slept in their house. So I don't have a name. No parents. I don't know nothing about my family. It's too hard for me. I need love and I never have love.
When I was sold I was maybe nine, ten, I don't know. I don't know the age exactly. One day an old, old man arrived and he looked at me and he said he's my real father. He said he knows my family. So I think maybe this time I have my family. I agree to come with him. And then they start to treat me very bad. And he start to sell me.
When I was around 12, I don't know, he sell me for marriage to another guy, then after he send me to the brothels. I was there in the brothels for more than four years. They hit people and put them in cages. Every day is not easy.
I think from my own experience it's not the brothel that make me pain. I think I miss maybe love. I miss my family. I don't know who I am. I'm dead. My life is finished a long time. It's finished. I'm so sad. I'm dead. Okay, I cannot lie, before I have tried to suicide.
Right now I'm better for sure because I have children. But it's not easy to survive like this. I don't want to survive like this. I have nothing right now. So I try to make out that everything is beautiful to make me happy. Sometimes my children say to me, "mommy you look so great and so beautiful." I am happy. But last month I realize, I'm so tired. I didn't want to even shower. It's made me dead and dead and dead. And I have my friends. They come to me every day. They say to me, "do you want to die like this? You know, you are so dirty."
You know, in Cambodia you understand that when a woman has no virginity, they have finished their life. And then can you imagine I'm in the brothel. Nobody can love me. I have no future, I have no man who can marry me. And then I feel like my body's very dirty.
Everyday I hear the story. Everyday others talk to me about their story. When they talk to me I feel like them. I feel my life too, because of my past. When they say to me, "the man raped me and I have pain, why they rape me?" And oh my god, I feel mine because I have survived the same thing.
Sometimes I hate men. I think we should educate men and I think that we should ask the woman to educate their children too. We can ask a woman to teach their sons. We should start when they are young, because after it's too late. We all matter. Women matter. Please educate your son.
For my organization, I have already the idea when I was in the brothel. They kill my friend in front of my eye. You know, we are all together, I remember that. And then she was very sick. She say to me, I cannot have another client, because I'm so sick. And the pimps just her killed in front of us. "If one of you refuse a client, I kill you like her." Everyone cry a lot. Not me. I look at him and, you know, I want to be military, I want to be rich. If I am rich I buy gun and kill him. In my head I just kill. I like my movie, my stupid idea. When you have money you can kill him back. I don't have money. I have my very stupid idea.
Later I am a volunteer. They have a teen arrive and she say to me, "so are you going to help me?" I said, "why?" "They rape me. So if really you want to help me, please, take me out." So, that’s my life. My life's finished long time. I just want one thing, if I can help. We take care of others. We have focus and training, then after micro-business when they go back to their family or into society. We can help them to finish school. I had some idea like if volunteers can take one week with the children and play with them, bring them in the seaside. It's great because I want them to get love. Love. I want them to get everything. In the shelter we have nearly two hundred girls. We start at five years old but if they had been forced, even they are 40, we take them. I don't have limit on age.
One girl had been raped by her father when she was nine years old. And then she had been raped by her brother. When her mommy knew, she sent her to her sister’s house. She arrived there and she was raped by the husband of the sister. And when the sister knew she had been raped, she bring her to the brothel. She give the money to the brothel owner to make a punishment. So she had been in a cage for two years. When we help her, she so afraid of everyone. She didn't like red color, anything red, I don't know why. She say like, he's raped me, he hit me, he raped me, he hit me. One time my staff, he was like clothes, red clothes....she said, this one is raped me. All red, you know the red color. She has HIV, AIDS. She's going to die. It's her fault? No.
Narrative as told to International Organization for Migration (IOM) affiliates in Siem Reap, Cambodia, in June 2007.