Chanty* was 12 when a wealthy foreigner lured her into a trap. She was a street child, collecting garbage and recycling materials to sell, like so many of Cambodia’s poor. Her mother was killed by a land mine four years earlier, and her father was ill.
“I did not go to school,” Chanty says. “I always had to think about food first.”
At first, the Russian was kind to Chanty and gave her a treasure trove of empty cans to recycle. He asked Chanty and some of her friends to take a boat ride to an island off Sihanoukville, a popular tourist destination in Cambodia.
There, he raped them.
Chanty did not tell her father, who died the next year. An orphan at 13, Chanty took a job as a waitress. But it turned out to be a ruse; she was forced to become a sex worker. Her body still bears the scars from that nightmare.
Finally, a way out of the sex trade
Freedom came for Chanty in 2007 when the Russian, 46-year-old Alexander Trofimov, was arrested for buying sex from girls. Authorities sought out Chanty as a witness.
She was taken for protection and therapy to World Vision’s Trauma Recovery Center in Phnom Penh. At the center, Chanty was rebellious. “My temper raged,” she says. “I threw a clay pot.” Learning was a struggle, so she was privately tutored.
Her housemother, with whom she battled ferociously, introduced her to a Baptist church. Though she had no interest, Chanty went only to escape the confines of the center.
And then she had an epiphany. “I realized that one day the preacher was preaching my own story,” she says. “That’s how I became a Christian.”
Now 21, Chanty looks back on her time at the center with gratitude. World Vision helped her find the perfect job at an upscale bakery in Phnom Penh. She bakes and decorates beautiful cakes. And at church, she met the man of her dreams. “He is a kind person,” she says. “He supports me emotionally.”
Cambodia’s largest-ever pedophilia case
In 2008, Chanty’s testimony helped put Alexander Trofimov behind bars in Cambodia’s largest-ever pedophilia case. In 2010, he was handed an eight-year prison sentence.
But a year later, Alexander Trofimov was pardoned. Soon he returned to freedom in Cambodia, visiting his development on a tourist island called Koh Pos, or Snake Island. He was chairman of a Russian-led investment group that built a $300 million resort there in 2006.
“The man was in jail, but the king provided him forgiveness,” says Chanty. “I wanted him to be in jail, as the court says.”
Chanty was not alone. Alexander Trofimov also was wanted by Interpol. World Vision and 13 other nongovernmental organizations in Cambodia petitioned the Kingdom of Cambodia to revoke Trofimov’s visa. In June 2012, he was arrested at the home of a teenage girl and deported to Russia, where he was arrested at the airport.
Plans for the future
Now, Chanty and her husband are expecting a child — to be named Elijah if a boy, Manna if a girl. “I would like to raise my child with my belief in my Lord Jesus,” she says.
Chanty has career dreams as well. “I would like to start my own little shop.” She echoes Jeremiah 29 when she considers her future. “God has a great plan for me,” she says. “That’s how I became who I am today. I just know I was transformed by him. The house mother encouraged us with the Word of God. It was revealed again and again.”
The headstrong girl of yesterday has transformed from selfish to selfless. When asked what she would like prayers for, her answer surprises. “Instead of me, pray for the children of Cambodia, that they will have the courage to live and the strength to survive,” she says. “That they would know that the Lord is with them.”
For Chanty, life is in full bloom, and her greatest desire is to see others blossom as well.
*Name changed to protect identity.
How you can help children like Chanty
- Pray for an international will and action to protect all children. Millions of children and young people like Chanty are at risk of being exploited — in developing countries and right here in the U.S. Around the world, children are used in sex trafficking, hazardous and bonded labor, domestic servitude, armed conflict, and more. As individuals, organizations, and nations work together, these intolerable practices can be eliminated.
- Give to help every girl and woman feel valued. In developing countries, poverty and harmful cultural traditions often deny girls the ability to thrive — forcing them into child marriage, keeping them from an education, and subjecting them to abuses like child labor and sex trafficking. Together, we can empower girls and women to overcome poverty and abuse and reach their God-given potential.