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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - "I swear I will not come to Phnom Penh again"

"I swear I will not come to Phnom Penh again"

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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

lonely.

"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

anymore.

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

wanted jobs.

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

said.

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

that man."

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

could.

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

complaint nonetheless.

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

Oct 21.

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

resolved.

"I hated that job," said Sa-Man. "I

swear I will not come to Phnom Penh again."

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