WITH tears flowing down her face, a trafficking survivor told a court of international jurists how she was condemned to a life with HIV by handlers who repeatedly raped her for refusing to have sex with strangers in a Malaysian brothel.
"I haven't talked to anyone about having the disease at all, except for my doctor," she told the Southeast Asia Court of Women on HIV, Human Trafficking and Migration on Thursday. "Whenever we talk about it, all I can do is cry, but I want to share my story so that if others are facing similar situations, they will have an idea of what to do."
The Cambodian, who uses the pseudonym Wanta and spoke only on condition of anonymity, was barely a teenager when she was forced into prostitution, but officials say she is far from alone in her plight.
Though the exact number is not known, it is estimated that more than 250,000 women and children are trafficked in Asia each year - one-third of the global total.
Caitlin Wiesen, Regional HIV/Aids practice leader and programme coordinator for the United Nations Development Programme, said: "These numbers are staggering and involve forms of violence that are numbing."
Trafficking is not only a "hideous crime" and "gross violation of human rights", but also a major contributor to the spread of HIV, Wiesen warned. "Sexual exploitation is an integral part of human trafficking, and unprotected sex is the major vector for the transmission and spread of HIV."
Wanta appeared with 21 other survivors of trafficking and exploitation, including the woman pictured above, at an emotionally charged 37th sitting of the Court For Women in Bali, Indonesia, set up to explore the links between HIV and human trafficking.