The pains of these victims have consumed my whole life. It has consumed me physically, mentally, and emotionally. Their vivid accounts of their trauma haunt my dreams. It's through the support of my friends, family, and OBV staff and supports that I was able to keep my emotions together and stay focused on helping to improve the lives of these kids.
There were many who suggested that investing the time to make these stories public might distract me from my work, or worse yet, that people wouldn't believe what I was sharing. They had their reasons. While championing the OBV mission I was also working as a Seminarian and was later ordained a Catholic Priest the summer of 2004. There were fears of questions and doubts.
"How can such a man speak of those 'outrageous' stories?"
"Who would believe me?"
"And even if they did believe me, they would still wonder, 'If you were a man of God, what reasons would you have to stumble into those places?'"
My dear friends, I don't fear these questions. These young women and children need a voice and it's time that their voice was heard. We will tell these stories to anyone and everyone who dares to hear the frightening and disturbing truths that make up the lives of these kids. The truth about the newfound slavery in Asia, the truth about how young Vietnamese children are sold, kidnapped, and forced into sex slavery in the brothels of Cambodia and Malaysia.
Please indulge me in this brief introduction so that I may provide you with a better understand what is happening in this area.
This mission began in 1997. Every year, I would spend my annual vacation helping homeless children in Vietnam and other countries. I chronicled these experiences in the my series "Part of My Journey." They are in Vietnamese. An English translation is in the works. Visit www.fathermartino.org and choose "chuyện có thật" on the left menu.
Three years later, in 2000, my life reached a new turning point. Like the last few years prior, I returned to Vietnam to live among the homeless children. One day during a meal I was unexpectedly introduced to a reporter who was taking a trip to Cambodia. He was investigating the lives of Vietnamese children who were sold into brothels to be sex slaves. His worked piqued my curiosity. I—still a seminarian in my first year of Theology—volunteered to join him on his investigation. Since then, I have been visiting Cambodia once a year to continue my work in the dismantlement of sex trafficking in the region.
Every time I went to Cambodia I would play a specific role to conduct my own investigations. I would assume the lifestyle of a Singapore businessman. I would pretend to only understand English; I would speak no Vietnamese while in Cambodia. In this role I would rent—yes, rent—four or five girls for about three to five days.
My purpose for renting these girls was pure and simple: To be with these kids and provide some modicum of comfort to their trouble lives.
I fabricated a story to explain to the girls why I rented them. I tell them that I'm married (complete with wedding ring), but that I have frequent arguments with my wife such that I need to take a few days off to unwind. I expound that I really love my wife and would never do anything disloyal to hurt her; rather, I only want someone, kids in particular, to hang around with as a distraction so that I can free my mind from stress. I tell them that being with kids is ideal—they don't talk back like my wife!
To add to my story, to diffuse tension, and also to limit the number of times they can offer the services they are normally expected to offer, I make sure to take them to various tourist attractions and other public places where there are many other people around. We stay out the whole day, often until the late evening; we're exhausted by the time we get back to the hotel. Once at home, we shower and head right to bed.
In the few days that I spent with the children, I was able to learn a lot about their experiences, both directly and indirectly—I could surreptitiously eavesdrop on their Vietnamese conversations with one another. I heard how these girls ended up in brothels, their living hell; I heard their desire to escape, but that they either didn't have a chance or didn't have the courage when the opportunity arose. I learned about the spine chilling physical trauma they had to endure, and I even learned about the predators who came to these brothels to have sex with underage girls. If that wasn't traumatic enough, they also have to endure beatings by their pimps—sometimes to the point of fainting. After these beating, they were left to starve. Gangs were hired to keep these young children from running away. Girls who refused to provide sexual services to brothel customers suffered the worst. Not only were they beaten and starved, but they were also given drugs so that they were no longer physically able to resist.
I want to you know what I've seen and heard. I believe these stories to be true, as I never once asked them to tell me their stories. These were experiences shared amongst each other and in Vietnamese. They didn't understand anything I said since I had to speak English to keep up appearances. For every ten English words I said, I'd be lucky if they understood one. This allowed the girls to speak freely and share with each other their stories in Vietnamese.
These stories, which I will relay to you in the following chapters, are those that I picked up from overhearing their conversations with one another and from the time we spent together.
I recognize the inherent danger and risk of personal harm in sharing these stories. My identity could be revealed during any of my future visits. That will not stop me from being the voice that these girls need. If I don't, who will? I pray for the physical and emotional salvation of these young girls. As for me, I have yours and God's protection.
Reader discretion is advised. If you think the following stories are too intense, then please do not continue. Use your best judgment. If you are ready for a first-hand perspective on the lives of these little girls, please continue to the first story: "Hitting Rock Bottom"
Excerpt from "True Stories" from Father Martino Nguyễn Bá Thông
Edited by: Jesse Robbins
Please check back for more "Undercovered Stories" from Father Martino's experiences working with victims of the sex trafficking industry.