"Chanthol" in happier days
A YOUNG garment worker who escaped from a brothel after being sold into prostitution
has filed a complaint against the trafficker, despite threats to her life and that
of the union representative who helped her, according to the victim and the human
rights group Licadho.
"Chanthol" (a pseudonym) said that she wanted to proceed with a civil case
against the people who kidnapped and sold her in the hope it prevented other women
meeting a similar fate.
However her stance has met with a vicious response. The brothel owner who bought
her is married to a policeman. Both she and the Free Trade Union of the Workers of
the Kingdom of Cambodia (FTUWKC) representative, Nget Dara now fear for their lives.
Union officials said that on April 26, four policemen surrounded Nget Dara's house
and made threats, which were overheard by neighbors.
They added that police have also come to Dara's factory in search of him.
"They said that they'll shoot us dead if they meet me or my mother or Nget Dara
anywhere," Chanthol reported.
She, Dara and his family have spent several nights in hiding. But she says she is
determined to carry on with her case, despite the intimidation.
"I would like to appeal for the Royal Government to crack down strictly on trafficking
girls, and they should capture these offenders and prosecute them following the law,"
Abductions and forced prostitution are in no way unique in Cambodia. Chanthol's story
is typical of how the trade operates.
She said that on April 13 she had gone to visit a friend, Rim, in Tuol Kork district.
Rim then persuaded her to go for a walk to visit Rim's sister. To Chanthol's horror,
the sister gave $150 to Rim and Chanthol realized she had walked into a trap.
"After handing over the money to my friend, the brothel owner threatened to
kill me if I sneaked out to escape," Chanthol said.
The brothel owner's husband, whom she said was a policeman, also threatened her.
"[He] threatened to destroy my face if I did not listen to his orders or did
not follow him," she said, adding: "I was afraid when he threatened me."
She said he told her she should stay at the house and that she would have a good
life if foreigners or rich Cambodians took a liking to her.
Chanthol stayed at the house for seven days, unable to find a way to escape. She
was not allowed out of house and was kept under constant guard.
At times she was displayed to brothel customers, but was not forced to serve any.
On Apr 20, the house owner attempted to sell her and four other women to a trafficker,
but he balked at the price of $450 per person.
Chanthol knew she had to get out.
Her chance came on the 20th, when her captors ran out of food and took her to a market
for lunch. When their backs were turned she hopped on a moto-taxi and drove straight
home. She changed her dress to avoid being identified and hid in the home of Nget
Dara, a union representative at the garment factory where she worked.
Dara brought her to the offices of the FTUWKC, where she told her story to union
officials and Licadho.
A happy Chanthol said, "I didn't think I would be able to escape from the house,
because they were guarding me all the time."
She told the rights workers the location of the house; Licadho enlisted the help
of municipal police to raid it Apr 23.
Unfortunately, the owners had been tipped off and had already moved most of the captives
out of the house before police and rights workers managed to obtain a search warrant.
But 15 people were seized outside the house, police said.
Six young women were released and placed with women's shelters.
The other women included one who appeared to be a nurse or doctor - she possessed
gynecological equipment, presumably in order to examine girls for proof of virginity,
rights workers said. Police charged only one woman, Iem Saroeun.
"We always cooperate with human rights NGOs," said municipal police chief
Ek Kreth, but added his force was constrained by court procedure. "If we have
no permission from the court we cannot go inside to check."
"It's a hard issue to work on here, I can't say I'm really pleased with it,"
said a rights worker, noting that up to 50 people had been in the house prior to
"I think that most of the girls are back in business again . . . but it was
good cooperation with police and we are happy with that."
Rights activists said traffickers often target garment workers like Chanthol because
the victims are often from the provinces with no family in Phnom Penh and are not
usually missed if they disappear.
In addition, brothels and traffickers often rely on the complicity of local police
to keep their networks going.
The rights worker said that neighbors must have known what was happening in Chanthol's
house but were afraid of the owner's husband, the policeman.
Chanthol is determined to make sure that at least these traffickers are stopped from
preying on young women.
She has enlisted the help of the union to file a complaint for $10,000 in damages
against Iem Saroeun and Chhouk Kim Don, the woman who bought her. Licadho has also
filed a complaint on her behalf.