The question really is this: how do we empower survivors to the level that they can achieve real, long-lasting success and live relatively normal lives?
In 1993, Dina Chan found herself owned by a pimp in northern Cambodia. An orphan who got into debt for overdue rent payments and tuition fees, Chan was trafficked from Phnom Penh to Stung Treng at the age of 17. Her narrative describes police corruption, starvation and gang rape.
“I was trafficked – I was raped, beaten and forced to accept men. I was humiliated and forced to be an object so men, yes men, could take their pleasure; I brought profit to many and brought pleasure to others. And, for myself I brought shame, pain, and humiliation.
I come from a poor family; they sent me to study at a cultural school in Phnom Penh. I was living with a family, but I could not contribute to my living, so they helped me find a job in a nearby hotel washing dishes. This hotel had many sex workers. But I just washed dishes and went to school. One night a man followed me when I was on my way home and raped me. I was only seventeen years of age. You cannot imagine how I felt and what impact this had on me. But after that, I was lured to becoming a sex worker under false promises. I was sent to Stung Treng; I was beaten when I refused to accept men. Shortly after I was taken to Stung Treng a man came to pay for me to go with him. He paid my maebon [pimp].
He took me to the pig slaughter house where he worked and locked me in a dirty smelly cell. Then he came back with six other men. They all, one by one, raped me; one man raped me twice. After a whole night of gang rape I felt faint with pain. When the morning came I heard the workers preparing to start their work. I heard the pigs being pushed into the pens, they were screaming. I knew what that feeling was like - I was no better than the pigs to these men; they could have killed me. Something inside me did die, and I will never be the same. I am twenty-four years old and my life has been like this since 1993.
After all these years I now work as a sex worker. I also run a union to unite sex workers to fight for basic rights and for freedom. We bring our voices to forums like this to educate people like you, with the hope you can learn from us. Many of my sisters are scared to join our struggle because they live in constant fear of abuse and threats.
Is it right? Is this justice? My sisters and I, we do not create the demand, we are the objects; the demand comes from the men, the men come to us. We are cheated, deceived, trafficked, humiliated, and tortured. Why? Because men want us, and we bring money to the powerful. But we are the powerless."
In 1999, after six years of uninterrupted sex slavery, Chan spoke out at the first National Conference on Gender and Development in Cambodia. She has been a member of the Sex Workers Union of Toul Kork and was the director of the Cambodian Prostitutes Union in 2006. Until then, she was still a sex worker who passionately fought for basic rights for herself and her “sisters” and demanded recognition of her humanity: “We are people, we are women and we want to be treated with respect.”
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