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Sonya’s story needs to be told

For the last year I’ve had a little side project: raise up a team of young women to go to Cambodia and help rescue the “bar girls” out of their life of horror. There are thousands of them, often sold by their mothers into prostitution. You can read about our team here. Our leader on the ground, A…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
For the last year I’ve had a little side project: raise up a team of young women to go to Cambodia and help rescue the “bar girls” out of their life of horror. There are thousands of them, often sold by their mothers into prostitution. You can read about our team here. Our leader on the ground, Alli Mellon, wrote this about the situation there. If you want to be a part of the effort to rescue the thousands of young girls like Sonya who are trapped in the sex trade, please let me know. You can make a difference:
Recently, several organizations held a forum here on media presentations. Basically it was outlining the way we should and should NOT go about raising awareness of the horrible sexual exploitation that happens in Cambodia. The head of the forum instructed everyone that an individual’s story should never be told; that we should only report statistics when talking about the plight of these children. This woman said that if anyone sheds tears during our presentations or over our newsletters, then we are manipulating people.
I strongly disagree with her statements, and want to take a minute here to explain why I tell the stories of our children. I tell their stories because they don’t have a voice. They don’t have a way to let the horrific crimes against their bodies out into the light. If no one knows their stories, Satan’s secrets and shame stay hidden where they grow and fester into lifelong wounds. When the kids tell their stories, the secrets can’t stay hidden. When the kids tell their stories, the shame disappears as others say, “hey, it happened to me too”, or “come let me love you and help heal your heart”. When the kids share their stories, they find freedom and release.
Sonya gave us permission to tell her story. She wants people to know what happened to her, so that others may be saved from the same kind of hurt.
Sonya doesn’t know exactly how old she was when she was sold by her mother, but it had to be as young as seven years old. Her mother handed her over to a foreign man who was living with a Khmer woman, and they moved her across the border to Thailand. She lived there for three years, and the man raped her on a regular basis. When Sonya refused to have sex with him, the Khmer woman would punish Sonya by beating her.  The beatings were severe, and Sonya was held prisoner there until she was sold to an American pedophile back in Cambodia.
The American man also lived with a Khmer woman. He told Sonya he was hiring her to clean the house, and at first, Sonya was so excited because his house was big and nice. She really wanted to live there. She worked very hard every day, and the man would give her one dollar at the end of it. Sonya saved up all her money to give to her mother.
One day, the man called Sonya to come to his room. He did not have clothes on, and neither did the Khmer woman. With the woman translating, the man told Sonya to undress. Sonya was ten, and was not sure what to do, but she was afraid so she obeyed the man. Then, the woman instructed Sonya on how to give a massage to the man. That first time, Sonya only gave a massage, and the man called Sonya to his room for more many times. The whole time none of them had clothes on.
After a couple weeks the man called her to his room again. They both told Sonya not to scream, because the neighbors would hear. When the man raped her, the pain was so great, Sonya could not help it, so she screamed. Then she passed out.
This happened over and over and over. Sonya lost so much blood that she became ill and the Khmer woman took her to the hospital and called Sonya’s mother to come and take care of Sonya there. No one ever noticed or asked if Sonya was raped. Sonya told no one. When she was well she was sent back to the American man’s house. He continued to rape Sonya until he lost interest and hired “another cleaner”. Sonya was then sold to a brothel about three hours south, on the beach. She still cannot talk about what happened to her there. That brothel was her worst nightmare, for 3 more years.
But that is not the end of Sonya’s story. It’s just the end of her nightmare.

At age 13 Sonya was rescued by International Justice Mission and brought to our center. She had never gone to school, never been loved, never told she was worthy of love. Today, she is on her way to America in less than a month to start a new life! She has thrived in our center, and in America, she will have a private tutor and a family who is ready to accept her with loving arms. She knows Jesus. She knows His plan for her. She knows she is free.

Comments (8)

  • Wow. This was horrific just to read. Makes me think of my usage of time and my resources. I love what ministry I do now but think about using my time for saving these young kids from this terrible situation. Dang.

  • Dear Daddy Seth,
    I am too much blessed by her story.I slute to her and your mission too.
    God bless you and Sonya.
    Emmanuel Sadiq

  • These girls are not statistics. They are not numbers. They are at the very center of our God’s heart. Thank you for telling their story. Thank you for giving a voice to those without one.

  • “Oh Jesus, this story never ends – on this side. Lord, please use me to bring true social justice to those who are broken and have no hope. Annoint my hands to bring freedom…”

    When I mention the term “social justice” around many of my friends, they look at me as if I am some bleeding liberal who has drank the kool aid. They don’t understand that my passion for bringing social justice stems from my drinking of the Spirit of God who has called us to bring Good News and hope to the hopeless.

    We live in an age of distortion! I sit here shaking my head. It seems so clear to me. My heart continues to break.

    “God, please raise up a generation of young and old alike who simply want to follow you into the homes of the broken and follow you to the poor…”

    “Break me, use me…”

  • Thanks Seth…The power of any message is in direct proportion to the impact of a story. You tell them well……

  • Thanks Seth for getting this message out there and giving time to raise up a team to help. I was just this past week watching a TV program on this very subject and I was appalled at how little I knew about what is happening. I then started praying asking God to please show me what I can do. I started praying for the victims. Then I remembered He said to “pray for our enemies.” Oh, this wasn’t easy but then I started praying for the traffickers and the abusers. Still haunted by the startling statistics, I began educating myself on the subject and found some websites (like A21Campaign and Polaris Project) that have lots of suggestions. Yes, there are many things that are outside of my capacity but I found a few I could do – like make a phone call. Then I called my representative and encouraged her to cosponsor HR5575, “The Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Deterrence and Victim Support Act of 2010” Now today your blog. . . so what next?

  • I appreciate the engagement with the issue, Naomi. As you pray, God will give you the next step.

    And please pray for Steph Tyrna and her team as they leave for Cambodia in less than 2 weeks. They are raising support still, but believe so passionately in the cause, they are leaving in faith, believing that God will supply. To read more, go here: http://stephanietyrna.theworldrace.org/

  • It’s interesting that I read this entry just after reading a chapter in Richard Stearns book, “The Hole in Our Gospel.” Rich was lamenting the necessity of providing statistics because they “numb the sensibilities.” He offered a 2006 study as proof.

    Three groups of ordinary folks were presented with the following: 1) group one read a true story with photo of a poor starving African girl named Rokia, 2) group two received the same info on Rokia along with general statistics of poverty and homelessness in Africa, and 3) group three received only the statistics. Afterward, all participants were asked to donate money for the cause.

    Guess which group donated the most money? It was group 1 (personal story only) followed by group 2 and finally group 3 donated the least amount. I thought group 2, which received the personal info plus the statistics would have donated the most, but apparently the added statistical info actually DIMINISHED their desire to give. Perhaps it’s a psychological reaction to the immense problem; feeling overwhelmed by the huge need. I can help ONE person in need, but knowing there are hundreds of thousands more in the same boat makes me feel totally inadequate and the help is just not worth anything.

    Anyway, this study tell us that Alli is correct to relay Sonya’s story. Yet, let’s always be careful not to sensationalize the details.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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