A man and woman have been sentenced to seven years and two years in jail, respectively, after a teenage survivor courageously testified against them in court. The survivor was forced into commercial sex work when she was just 14 years old after originally applying for a job as a restaurant waitress.
Ratana*, who is now 15, was rescued during a police operation at the premises in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital. She was referred to our Lighthouse, a safe haven for children who have been sexually exploited. She told us: “I learned a lot from my time in the Lighthouse and I will make sure I am never re-exploited. I will use the knowledge I have been given to prevent any more bad things happening to me.”
Ratana’s perpetrators were arrested and are now behind bars after she bravely gave evidence against them in a provincial court. Our key workers provided counselling and other support throughout the judicial proceedings. The traffickers were sentenced under the Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation Law.
Ratana is also a survivor of long-term sex abuse. Our team has provided specialist support for the trauma caused by this abuse and that of her recent exploitation. Following several months of counselling and medical treatment for multiple health issues and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), Ratana has finally been reunited with her family.
A counsellor at our Lighthouse, Linat, said: “Initially, Ratana’s family did not realise that she had been exploited. They believed that she was working in a legitimate job as a waitress. Following discussion, the survivor and her family agreed that the Lighthouse was the best place for her to be. While Ratana was in our care, it became evident that she had not only been sexually exploited but also been sexually abused over a number of years.”
The survivor attended some 30 appointments with a specialist doctor, our in-house nurse and counsellors to receive medical treatment, support with her mental health and trauma-informed care. We also educated her around her rights as a child, about sexual exploitation and human trafficking, and her safety, as well as providing catch-up school lessons and opportunity to play and simply be a child.
Maggie Crewes, our Cambodia Country Director, said: “Following this support, Ratana’s health has improved drastically. She is calm and able to speak easily. She is smiling again and has a very friendly attitude. With the expertise provided by our team, we believe that the risk of Ratana being trafficked for sex or exploited again is greatly reduced.”
At the age of just 14, Ratana’s family was plunged into extreme debt. Her mother was unable to work due to a chronic illness, and her large family was reliant on their stepfather’s income. He was the main breadwinner, earning a living as an event supporter. Some additional financial support came from one of Ratana’s older sisters, who worked as a shop assistant at a local store. But the family was struggling to make ends meet. The fourth oldest of six siblings, Ratana* was left with no option but to drop out of primary school in her fourth year, and search for a job.
A friend of Ratana’s connected her with a man and woman, who invited her to dinner. She took up an offer from a local restaurant and bar near to her home in a province of Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh. She had applied to become a drinks server but was instead forced into commercial sex work.
Ratana was rescued by the police and one of our partner non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Cambodia. She was referred to Hope for Justice at the end of 2021 and enrolled at our Lighthouse, a safe haven for young survivors of human trafficking and modern slavery.
Intake Officer at our Lighthouse, Channan, said: “Aged just 14, Ratana did not even realise that she was a victim of sexual exploitation.”
This young survivor will be supported by another NGO near to her home. We will continue to follow up with Ratana to make sure she stays safe until she can be transferred into the local community-based project to access vocational training when she turns 16. This will enable her to earn money to support her family.
Channan added: “For now, she is happy to be home and enjoying begin with her family after being separated for so long.”
*Name and image changed to protect identity of the survivor