February 29, 2012

“I was brave because I was encouraged.”


The locals call the burnt-out, rotting structure “the Anarchy Building.” What was once an apartment building has deteriorated into a mere shell, patched together with cardboard and tin. It is infested with rodents, cockroaches and disease, and home to drug dealers, pimps, weapons merchants and a cast of other criminals.    

This is the prison where Kunthy* was held against her will, drugged and violated, after being trafficked at age 14. This is the graveyard where she lost her childhood, enduring serial abuse by strangers, enforced by violent pimps.  

Jim*, IJM Cambodia’s Director of Investigations, remembers the Anarchy Building well – and he doesn’t mince words about it: “It is a horrible, evil place.” When he received information that there were young girls held there, Jim knew his team had to act.   

On a humid summer night, he went to the building with a goal as urgent as it was difficult: document clear proof of crimes without givinghimself away as an investigator. He was escorted into the crumbling structure by a pimp, where he was presented with three young girls held there in forced prostitution – among them, Kunthy. When he left with undercover video proof of the girls’ captivity, Jim had what he needed to get them out.   

Jim and his team built a strong case and presented it to the Cambodian National Police, who obtained arrest warrants for the perpetrators and agreed to partner with IJM to free Kunthy and the other two children.   

The IJM investigative team and the Cambodian police organized a sting operation. Upon arriving at a nearby hotel with the three children, the shocked pimp was placed under arrest – and Kunthy and the other girls were free.  

“I felt nervous and happy and worried and delighted,” Kunthy remembers. After enduring three months of unspeakable abuse at the Anarchy Building, she was brought to a loving aftercare home where she began receiving counseling and care. In this safe place, Kunthy began to know something of the life that had been intended for her.  

With the girls free, IJM’s next critical step in the case was to ensure that justice was served, and the perpetrators were convicted for their crimes under local law. The investigative and legal teams continued to build the case, conducting followup surveillance, preparing additional briefings and meticulously documenting evidence.When the day of the trial  against her abusers arrived, Kunthy was strong and courageous.    

Well prepared by their IJM social workers for the courtroom experience, Kunthy and the two other victims stood boldly and told the truth. The pimp was sentenced to 10 years in prison. The brothel owner who trafficked them was sentenced to 15 years. Both are currently serving their sentences.  

And Kunthy has a new life. In the loving care of the aftercare home, she was able to go to school, where she discovered a love of computers and an aptitude for English. “I like[d] studying and learning,” Kunthy said of her time at the home. “I like[d] going together on a motorbike and having fun and coming back home and watching TV, having dinner together  and listening to music together.” In aftercare, Kunthy also discovered that she had something to offer other girls like her: hope.  

After several years healing, Kunthy began to mentor other victims as they took their first steps toward a new life and was considered “staff in training” by the counselors and social workers she supported. Several months ago, Kunthy transitioned from the aftercare home to living independently in her community. Today she works as a receptionist at a local yoga studio.  

Kunthy also remains active with the staff and girls at the aftercare home, teaching computer skills  and English lessons there several times a week. IJM investigators’ great risk and extreme commitment have yielded a high return: A young girl has new life, hope and dreams. Kunthy is now working toward her goal of someday owning an Internet café and is blossoming in her life of service to others

Read this and other real-life rescue stories at IJM.org



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