Trafficking persists, enslaving children in sexual exploitation

There are more slaves in the world today than during any other time in human history. Ruse*, in Cambodia, is one of millions of young people trafficked each year.

By Sok Vichheka, World Vision
Published May 7, 2013 at 12:00am PDT

Now 23, Ruse* was first prostituted at age 13.

“Everybody called me a prostitute girl,” she recalls, “and I never wanted to hear that word in my life.” 

With no options, an offer she couldn’t refuse

When Ruse was a young girl, her mother suffered from chronic illness. Without income, her mother’s illness could not be treated; the children regularly went to bed with empty stomachs.

Ruse and her family lived in Svay Pak, an area of Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh, known as an informal red light district where children are trafficked. Their neighbor, who owned a brothel, approached Ruse’s mother with an offer.

“She asked if my mother wanted to sell my Zhin (virginity) because it’s [worth a] high price and that this would help the family,” explains Ruse. “My mother and I seriously discussed about selling my Zhin, and we cried because we didn’t want to do so.”

But out of desperation, Ruse agreed to the offer. “I wanted my mother to be healthy, and I wanted to help my family’s living conditions to be improved so that we could have enough food to eat,” says Ruse.

‘I thought my life would be prostitution forever’

“My first time, I was with a foreigner…it was painful,” says Ruse. To make things worse, the brothel owner refused to give Ruse’s mother any money unless Ruse slept with the foreigner again. 

Ruse continued to work in the brothel, servicing male clients daily, most of them tourists. The brothel owner paid her mother a meager amount monthly.

After working in several brothels in Phnom Penh, Ruse and her family moved to Siem Reap province with some other girls. There, Ruse was prostituted in a coffee shop and massage club. As is common practice in areas where commercial sexual exploitation is rampant, the massage club was a cover for the brothel. Ruse's mother also worked at the brothel, cleaning clothes and the building.

“Many other girls and I were sitting behind the giant glass for male buyers to choose,” recalls Ruse. “I saw lots of men, both local and foreign guys, come for sex; some of them used a gun to force girls to service them.”

Ruse was despondent. “I never dreamt of having a better life…I thought my life would be prostitution forever.”

A global practice persists

Ruse is one of millions of children enslaved each year for sexual exploitation or labor. Human trafficking — the use of fraud, force, or coercion to exploit a person for profit — is modern-day slavery, and it occurs in every country in the world, including the United States. 

Slavery has not been abolished. Rather, it has evolved over the centuries. “The abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade in the 19th century did not eradicate the practice globally,” explains UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

“Instead, it took on other forms, which persist to this day: serfdom, debt bondage, and forced and bonded labor; trafficking in women and children, domestic slavery, and forced prostitution, including of children; sexual slavery, forced marriage, and the sale of wives; child labor and child servitude, among others.”

Police raid leads to freedom

An eventual police raid freed some 40 girls, including Ruse and her mother, from the brothel. However, Ruse’s mother was accused of selling her into prostitution and was jailed for three years.

Ruse was referred to World Vision’s trauma recovery center. At the center, Ruse received counseling, medical care, and vocational training, along with the love and care of the staff. She formed relationships with the other girls in the center, and she found comfort in sharing her experiences.

While working in Seim Reap, Ruse became dependent on drugs in an attempt to make the daily abuse bearable. The recovery center staff helped Ruse break her addiction.

World Vision also helped Ruse find a job at a hotel when she was released from the center. Today, she is a nanny for expatriates in Phnom Penh. Her mother was released from jail and now lives in Vietnam. Her younger siblings are in school, and their living conditions have greatly improved.

A dream for her future

“I dream of having a family and marrying a good guy who doesn’t discriminate [against] me because I have a bad past,” says Ruse. “I now have hope to have a good family in the future.”

And Ruse hopes that she can help girls who were trapped as she was. “I really want to help other girls who work as prostitutes because, for some girls, they have no choice and they are forced,” she says. “I hope I will become a person who would rescue those girls.”

Note: Ruse is not her real name.

How you can help

Pray for children and families who have been devastated by trafficking, and pray for the political will to effectively fight this horrific practice.

Make a one-time gift to help provide hope for sexually exploited girls. Your donation will help World Vision provide protection, counseling, education, vocational training, and more to girls and women who were formally subjected to abuse or exploitation.

Donate monthly to help exploited children find hope and new life. Your monthly gift will support recovery centers for children, which offer safe shelter, food, medical care, and trauma recovery assistance for girls and boys who have faced abuse. You’ll also help us advocate for the protection of these children at the local and international level.

Contact your members of Congress. Urge them to support robust funding to fight human trafficking. U.S. government funding to fight modern-day slavery accounts for only 0.003 percent of the federal budget. With Congress deciding where limited amounts of money should go, we want to ensure that anti-trafficking programs are not cut.