She remembers a home that looked fancy on the outside but ominous on the inside, a dark maze of bare chambers. She remembers the parade of men, one after the other, day by day, forcing her to have sex. She remembers contemplating death. She wasn’t yet 10 years old.
Her name is Sreypich Loch, and she was a slave in a Cambodian brothel. If she refused sex, she says, she would be beaten, shocked with an electric cord, denied food and water. “What else could I do?” she asks.
Loch, now around 20 years old, managed to escape that world and works today to rescue other girls. She helps grab them out of brothels, and she hosts a radio show in Phnom Penh, giving the girls a forum for their stories. It’s a groundbreaking effort for a young woman and former sex slave in this male-dominated society.
Loch’s story may sound extreme, but it is not some isolated incident. An estimated 27 million people are victims of slavery around the world, according to the U.S. State Department. The buying and selling of humans is a multi-billion dollar global business, ensnaring vulnerable people who are often kidnapped or tricked into the trade.
Loch’s nightmare began when she was a child in Phnom Penh. Her stepfather raped her, she says, when she was just a girl; she thinks she was around 7 years old. He threatened to kill her if she told anyone. She would be raped again that year, by a stranger who snatched her from the street. He made the same threat, she says: tell anyone and die.
She stayed silent. “I was young. I was scared,” she says, speaking softly. “In Cambodia, many fathers rape their daughters; brothers rape their sisters.” Consistently ranked as one of the poorest and most corrupt nations in the world, Cambodia is still reeling from the brutal Khmer Rouge regime, which massacred as many as 2 million people in the 1970s. Intellectuals and city dwellers were targeted and tortured in an attempt to create a completely agrarian society. Families were ripped apart.
One day Loch worked up the nerve to tell her mother about the rapes. She’s not sure how much time had passed since the assaults, she says, as she was just a child and memories fade. But she has a vivid memory of her mother’s response. “She hit me,” Loch says. “She didn’t believe me. I think: she does not love me.”
Loch ran away from home, having lost faith in her family, she says. She remembers a heavy rainfall and the feeling of not knowing where to go. She hadn’t thought that far ahead. “I cried and cried,” she says. And then she was found by a gang of men. “Five men raped me on the street,” she says. “I wanted to die.”
That might have indeed been her fate if a woman hadn’t come along, offering to help. The woman took Loch to her home—or so Loch thought. The house turned out to be a brothel. She was locked in a basement room and forced to “sleep with many, many men every day,” she says. “I couldn’t see light, just dark.”
Her eyes fill with water at the thought of it. Then she pauses, closes her eyes for a moment, and continues. “If I said no, pimp hit me,” she says. “I tell pimp, please kill me.” Then she adds, “I am people. I am not an animal. How could they do me that way?”
Loch’s story mirrors that of many rescued Cambodian girls, who report being drugged, locked in coffins, whipped, even covered with biting insects in order to make them submit to sex. While their stories can be difficult to verify independently, the U.S. State Department confirms that the enslavement of girls in Cambodia is pervasive. “The sale of virgin girls continues to be a serious problem in Cambodia,” the State Department said in its annual Trafficking in Persons Report released this summer. “Cambodian men form the largest source of demand for child prostitution, though a significant number of men from the United States and Europe, as well as other Asian countries, travel to Cambodia to engage in child sex tourism.”
Read the rest of the Daily Beast article by Abigail Pesta here.