FOR BETTER OR WORSE
Ming Sa-Man and husband Ly Ra after they were rescued
"WHEN poverty comes in at the door, love flies
out the window," runs the proverb.
Ming Sa-Man, a 28-year-old Prey Veng woman, has faced
a life of poverty and its sometimes horrifying
consequences with two different husbands by her side. The
first betrayed her, but the second proved the proverb
wrong - staying with her when disaster struck.
Sa-Man was deserted by her first husband, who stole
13,500 riel - which had taken her years to save - and
some other valuable property, leaving her penniless and
"I sat down on the streetside and cried,"
she recalled. She tried vainly to track him down, but
instead found and fell in love with another man,
18-year-old Ly Ra.
They married, but the young couple was destitute and
Sa-Man's father was seriously ill. They came to look for
work in Phnom Penh on Oct 16.
Unfortunately, they could not find any jobs and their
money ran out the same day. Unable to afford even a few
thousand riel for a taxi fare, they decided they had no
other choice but to trek the 100 kms home, begging for
food along the way.
They had walked 60 km, to Neak Loeung, when darkness
began to fall, and Sa-Man was sick and could not walk
Ra went to a restaurant, asking for porridge when he
met a man who seemed the answer to their problems. He
promised them work in Phnom Penh factories if they would
just come with him.
"If you want to get jobs, don't tell people that
you are husband and wife. If you do, I can not help
you," the man said. The couple agreed because they
But in fact, Sa-Man and her husband fell for an old
story. They were taken back to Phnom Penh and sold to a
Tuol Kok brothel for $300, where their nightmare began.
"I don't want to think of or talk about that
story. That was the worst day in my life," Sa-Man
She was separated from her husband, locked in a room
and told she had to serve the clients. Every day for five
days she refused - and every day the brothel owner beat
her into unconsciousness, she said.
On the first day, a client came to her room.
"[The brothel owner] threatened me by saying that I
would be shot to death if I didn't go into the room with
Luckily, she convinced the client to leave her alone.
"I tried to beg him not to rape me. I told him my
story and he agreed," Sa-Man said. He gave her 3,000
riel and then he left.
But the brothel owner knew what she had done. He
pulled her out of the room and kicked her, whipped her
with a thick twist of wire and hit her head with a pistol
till she was unconcious.
He dragged her bleeding body into the room and locked
the door. When she woke up she cried for help from her
husband, who had been kept outside the house and did not
know what was happening.
When Ly Ra heard her, he rushed in and valiantly broke
down the door. But the brothel owner arrived to find him
cradling her bloody body on the floor, and began to whip
and beat him too.
"I could not defend my wife. He put his pistol at
my ear and wanted to kill me if I still wanted to help my
wife," Ra said. He grasped the legs of the owner,
begging him to stop beating him and his wife, but the
sadistic owner didn't listen. Instead, he forced them to
beat each other.
Ra reluctantly hit his wife, but as lightly as he
The owner was enraged and beat Ra unconscious.
When Ra woke up, all he saw, to his dismay, was bloody
marks where his wife had been dragged away. He was pulled
out of the house and tied to a column outside.
He managed to escape by fraying the rope all night
against the column and climbed over the wall at dawn.
But, lost in a strange city, Ra did not know what to do.
He wandered around in the rain, frantically looking
for help, not knowing if his wife was dead or alive.
Finally, he found a policeman. But his relief turned
to shock when, instead of helping Ra, the officer
proceeded to radio the brothel owner and ask him what to
do. The owner, clearly known to the police, said to let
Ra go to the police station, as he believed the police
wouldn't act on Ra's story.
Ra made his way to Toul Sanke station and filed his
After two days an arrest warrant was issued; police
and the Cambodian Women's Crisis Center Task Force raided
the brothel and rescued Sa-Man and seven other women on
After being tortured every day and being forced to
hide in a sewage pond during the raid, Sa-Man is now
physically and mentally severely traumatized and
undergoing medical treatment.
The owner was arrested along with his wife, but she
has been released, according to the CWCC.
The brothel owner is Loeung Sarith, a soldier in a
unit of E-70 battalion, a subordinate branch of Second
Prime Minister Hun Sen's bodyguards, according to police.
The CWCC has helped the couple to file a complaint
against Rarith in municipal court. But they say they are
going back to their village as soon as the case is
"I hated that job," said Sa-Man. "I
swear I will not come to Phnom Penh again."