(The names of the children have been changed to protect their identity and safety)
Some people can be very disgusting and monstrous when it comes to their sexual desires. It’s no secret that there are predators who lust for sexual relationships with young girls.
These predators come in all shapes and sizes; they are not limited to the older foreign men as media commonly portrays. As is the case with this particular story, a predator may very well be an affluent businessman from the Southeast Asia region.
The lavish, successful businessman who uses underage girls for their sexual pleasure tends to throw extravagant parties and treat everyone to food, drinks, drugs, and girls for willing participants. The failing businessman who engages in sex with underage girls, and with virgins in particular, sees this as a way to drive away their “bad luck.”
The latter describes the perpetrator of this story. In this story, “Beyond the Act of Robbery,” you will read about a true story of a child who fell victim to one of these predators.
In general, predators who seek sex with a girl will choose one between the ages of 12 and 14—right after they’ve had their first period. They pay brothel owners somewhere between $400 to $1000 US dollars to live with these girls over a period of five to ten days. The brothel owners tend to choose hotels that are familiar to the girls because they don’t want the girls worrying about servicing their customer in an unfamiliar location.
Girls who are drugged during this time are considered “lucky;” they were unconscious and too unaware of what was happening to them. Girls who weren’t drugged were considered “unlucky;” they actually had to fully witness and experience their own rape. From my seven years of experience helping young women and girls escape and recover from sexual abuse and sex trafficking, I would say about 20-30% fell into the “lucky” category. The rest weren’t as fortunate, if one could even call it that.
Those who woke up from their drug-educed delirium had to face the reality that they had been terriblyrobbed. Robbed physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. They were robbed of their wholeness. Those who weren’t drugged not only had to endure all of the physical pains, but also the mental and the emotional turmoil spurred by the vivid memories from their own rape. The severity of this kind of pain goes far beyond the threshold of any girl their age.
A few times a year I make undercover trips to Cambodia to better understand the sex trafficking situation and provide some modicum of comfort to the victims. I pose as a foreigner, a sex tourist with lots of money to spend. Each visit starts the same. I visit a familiar brothel, see who is available, and make my rental payment.
During one particular trip to this brothel I took immediate notice of the petrified faces of two unusually young girls, and I knew right away that I had to choose them for this visit. For the brief moments that I would have with these girls, I wanted to alleviate some of their fears and give them the comfort they so rightly deserve. In addition to these two young girls I chose two girls who I had rented in the past. My hope was they would feel more familiar and communicative with me.
As always, I had reservations for us to stay in a hotel suite that had two connecting rooms: a bedroom and a TV room. I slept on the couch in the TV room while the girls slept on the two beds in the bedroom. It was our first night together so we hung out in the hotel suite and I ordered room service for all of us; this would be an ideal time for them to get to know me and for me to earn their trust. Promoting my affluent personae and wanting to make this experience comfortable for them, I made arrangements with the hotel staff to change the TV room into an elegant dining room for our dinner.
Our first meal together would also be a good chance for me to work my charm and reinforce my character. To the brothel and its inhabitants, I’m known as a Singaporean businessman, down on his luck and in town because of an argument with his wife. I did not speak Vietnamese (nor Khmer, for that matter); I only spoke English. However, communicating with them would be hard since I’m forced to limit myself to English to keep up appearances. Over dinner I made a number of attempts to start a conversation with the intent of explaining that I would mean them no harm when they were with me, but I failed miserably. I also had to stay in character and appear solemn and dejected, I needed to portray a man who was going through a difficult time in his marriage.
Despite my attempts to communicate in the most basic of English, the girls much preferred to speak to each other in Vietnamese, mostly talking about trivial matters and jumping from one topic to the next. Even though I wasn’t able to communicate too much to them, I felt that we had bonded quite well by the end of our dinner. For dessert, I presented to them some of the chocolate that I had brought over from the States.
Hoa, one of the girls who had previously stayed with me, whispered to her companions: “I knew it! I knew he was going to have candy for us!”
The two new girls, the ones who stood out as much younger than the rest, were still visibly timid as they took the chocolates from my hand.
“Don’t be afraid. He is an admirable man, he won’t try to trick us,” Hoa said to the younger two, giving her own stamp of approval.
“Perhaps tomorrow he will even take us to tourist attractions and buy us new clothes! He did that last time. You guys don’t need to worry or be scared; he’s not like those old perverted men,” Duyên added. Duyen stayed with me in the past, as well.
“Sometimes I wish that he and his wife would argue more often. That way, he can come back and visit us more,” Hoa said, followed by a burst of laughter.
“Hoa, don’t try to jinx him. You’re lucky he doesn’t understand Vietnamese, otherwise, you’d be dead meat!” Duyên snapped.
We didn’t go anywhere that night because I was exhausted from the long drive here from Vietnam. After watching a bit of CNN, I made myself comfortable on the couch and attempted to get some rest. I couldn’t sleep well; I couldn’t keep my mind from wandering and from feeling slightly uneasy and worried. I felt anxiousness, the same anxiousness I always feel during these kinds of visits.
Before I could fall asleep, I heard footsteps coming from the bedroom. I then discretely noticed two heads peaking from behind the door that separated the bedroom and the TV room, which I had intentionally left opened.
“He’s asleep,” I heard Bong, one of the newer girls, say.
“I’m so scared! The guy who raped me last week was also a Singaporean,” the other younger girl, Nga, whimpered to Bong, “I really hope that Hoa and Duyên are right… that he isn’t the barbaric type.”
“You two go to sleep and don’t disturb him while he’s sleeping,” Duyên commanded in a whisper.
When I heard what Nga said about her last encounter with a Singaporean predator, my blood was boiling with rage. My heart and mind were racing. I couldn’t stop thinking about all the horrible things that must have happened to her, about how she was violated, about all the things that she had to go through at her young age. Inside I was burning with a desire to dismantle the person who did Nga and the rest of these girls harm, but I had to control myself, for I was supposed to be fast asleep.
The next morning after breakfast, we rented a ‘tuc tuc,’ a compact motorized carriage, to drive about the town and shop. While we were shopping, I let them each pick out a bracelet and an elegant dress, one that they would wear for our dinner at a fancy restaurant later that night. Their bracelets and dresses cost me nearly $200! Naturally, the thought of how beautiful they would feel and how happy they would be going to a five-star restaurant made it all worth it!
We ate lunch at a nearby market. The girls were very surprised when they saw me use my hands to eat just like the local Cambodians. After lunch we took a rest back at the hotel, recharging our batteries for a trip to the beach for a swim later that afternoon. Finally, evening came and it was time for our fancy dinner. I wore my “Ralph Lauren,” fitting for the character I was playing. The girls were elated to wear their new dresses and bracelets for the occasion. We left the hotel and walked toward the Camry that was already waiting for us at the front. Our presence captured the attention of many passing pedestrians and hotel guards; I knew what they were thinking, and I couldn’t care less. I knew I was 100% legal and safe, so I didn’t mind the attention.
The car stopped in front of a breathtaking Hong Kong restaurant. This was the kind of place where businessmen came to celebrate successful contracts and new business partnerships. I had arranged for us to eat in a private dining room so that we could avoid any unwarranted attention or untoward stares. We entered the restaurant and we hurried off into our reserved room. All four girls seemed to be quite happy; even the two younger girls were warming up and were noticeably less shy than the day before.
I glanced at the menu and ordered all of the items on the specialty menu, one being the salt and garlic roasted lobster—my favorite. Everyone was so happy; we all ate and talked as though nothing else in the world mattered, albeit the conversation was limited since it was in English. At some point during the dinner, Bông stood up to go to the restroom and Nga followed. They left the room and must have walked no more than a few steps before Nga darted back into our dining room. Her face was pale and her eyes were full of tears. She crawled under the table. Her whole body was shaking as though she was having a seizure and she wouldn’t let anyone comfort her. I tried my best to ask her what was wrong and to comfort her using the simplest English I could, but it didn’t do any good. I glanced at Hoa and Duyên and shifted my eyes to Nga below, signaling them to ask her what had happened.
In her shaken state and through the hiccups from her cries, Nga explained that the man who had ‘bought’ her virginity just a week before was eating at the same restaurant and sitting near the restroom. No amount of effort from Hoa and Duyên could get Nga to leave her hiding place from underneath the table. There was tension in the room and I knew this dinner was over, so I proceeded to the counter to pay the bill. I wanted to catch a glimpse of the man who made Nga terrified, but there were far too many people in the restaurant for him to be noticed among them. After paying, I returned to our dining room to collect the girls and take them home. I helped Nga come out from underneath the table and covered her beneath my vest. We left the restaurant. We left behind what remained of our interrupted, joyful dinner together.
That night, she told her friends what had happened to her. Here is what I overheard:
Nga was not one of the “lucky” few who were actually intoxicated or drugged. After being bought, the predator took her into the bedroom and raped her. She resisted vehemently. She cried, screamed, and even tried to scratch and claw, but her resistance was met with threats and abuse. The predator then tied her hands and feet to the four corners of the bed and stuffed her mouth with a towel.
Still a virgin, she struggled through the agonizing pain. After he finished, he forced her into the bathroom and told her to wash off all the blood that covered her body. In the two days she had to spend with him, he raped her five times.
Sitting on the couch, I grew enraged listening to Nga tell her story to the other three girls. My heart, my stomach, everything inside of me felt like it turned upside down. My eyes were staring at the TV, but I felt like I was staring straight into the eyes of that predator. I wanted to demolish everything that was around me. I wanted to run to her, hold her, and comfort her, but I couldn’t do any of those things. I couldn’t risk exposing my cover. To do so would put all of us at risk of violence or death.
Over the next three days, I walked around like a soulless being. I didn’t have the courage to look Nga in the eyes; I was afraid that I would break down into tears if we made eye contact. I only had enough courage to look at her when she faced away from me. Once in a while I would quickly glance her way when I knew she wasn’t looking back. Every time I looked, I would send her every ounce of love I had in me, because she deserved every ounce of love I (and you) had to offer.
My dear friends, nobody wants to listen to sad stories because it will only bring them sadness. When I sat down to write this story, “Beyond the Act of Robbery,” I still had goose bumps, I still had the uncontrolled tears and that same “crazy angry” feeling that I had when I first overheard Nga tell it to her companions. While writing this story, I had to walk out of the room, get a drink of water, and look up to the Crucifix and pray; pray that I can pull myself together to finish this story.
You (the reader) and I have probably been exposed to our fair share of distressing experiences that make us want to break down and give up, but chances are that there was always someone there to pull us up.
My intention for writing this story was not to make you sad. It’s actually quite the opposite. I want everyone who reads this story to love these children. Simply put: These children need you!
I want everyone who reads this story to know that they can be a part of the solution. If after reading this story you find that your soul has been moved, that your ears hear a voice that calls you to action, don’t ignore it. It’s an invitation for you to share what you have, be it tangible items that could supply someone with their daily needs, be it basic skills and talents that could benefit those with none, be it the mere act of sharing Nga’s story with others. You never know who will hear this story and receive their own call to action to come to Vietnam and Cambodia and join in the fight against sex trafficking.
These kids need a voice to be heard by the outside world. Please be that voice. Use your voice and help us in our actions to rescue them from their ‘hell,’ help us give these kids the chance to see a safer, brighter future.
As Jesus said in the Gospel of Mark chapter 10 verses 13-16: People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.
Can you be the hand and the voice of Jesus extending His blessings to these kids?
An excerpt from “True Stories” by Father Martino Nguyễn Bá Thông. Vietnamese original link from "Ngõ Cụt? – Chuyện Thứ 2 - Chuyện 'Mua Trinh'"
Edited by: Jesse Robbins
Please check back for more "Undercovered Stories" from Father Martino’s experiences in rescuing children from the cycle of sexual abuse and sex trafficking.