“T”* is a story of temptation and transformation.
She is the oldest among four children in her family. Born in Cambodia’s capital city of Phnom Penh, she was sent to Vietnam at a young age to live with relatives and go to school. At 11, T was relieved to return to Phnom Penh.
“I wasn’t happy there [in Vietnam],” she says. “I tried to study hard. My parents wanted me to study there. During the nighttime, I cried all the time because I missed my parents.”
But the family she missed so much was disintegrating. T’s parents separated, and she ultimately decided to live with her mother.
A downward spiral
She stopped going to school. “I did not go to school because my family is poor,” she says. “My family could not earn money to support me to go to school.”
Peer pressure was T’s undoing. “I have friends. I went for a walk with my friends. One day, they encouraged me to use drugs,” she recalls.
They encouraged her to try meth and another unknown drug. “It smells very good. It looks like sugar,” says the girl, who was just 13 or 14 years old at the time.
“I needed money to buy the drugs, so I fell into the prostitution work,” T says. “I was living in a prostitution place. There were seven or eight girls. The owner also used the drugs. She was good with me. The owners also made friends with the police to protect the shop.”
T worked every day, seeing around five men a day at a rate of U.S. $5 per transaction – but she only got to keep half. “Since I am too young, the owner only let me have Cambodians only. The older ones would have the foreigners,” she says.
In 2009, police raided the shop. “They had arms, but they didn’t use them,” she says. “The police handcuffed the owner – but for us, for the girls, we were not handcuffed. They brought us to the police station and they asked us questions.”