Janna came to Daughters of Cambodia traumatized, terrified, rejected and lacking self-worth. Today, she wants to be a counselor.
“In the karaoke bar I welcomed customers standing in a line with other girls. The customers looked me up and down from my toes to my head, before deciding whether they would choose me. If a customer didn’t choose me, he would say and do derogatory things to me, such as throwing alcohol at my body. I saw many girls there being threatened with a gun or hit by customers, in order to force them to go to a guesthouse with the customer.
I felt like I was a game for the customer to play; when he needed me he took me to play, and when he didn’t need me he threw me away. I felt different to other people – I felt small. I was beautiful its' true, but my value was small. Other people had education and a good life, with value. I felt life was too hard because I had no value. At night I used to sweat all over and experience intense fear and hyperventilate. I wanted to kill myself.
Since I started to work at Daughters these feelings have reversed; I know I have self-worth, and people don’t look down on me. I feel happy and valued. Before I earned a lot of money, and at Daughters I get less, but here no one looks down on me and I feel peace in my heart, nobody despises me.
I would like to help other sex workers to stop that life-style and change their lives, this is my plan. I want to be a counsellor.”
(Pseudonym used to protect client’s identity)
My husband used to get drunk and beat me, and he had other girlfriends, he was not faithful to me. I tried so hard to stay with him, as we had 4 children together. One day he was drunk and was driving his motorbike with girls on it, and he had an accident and died. After that I had to be father and mother to my children. I did everything I could to feed them and care for them. Most of the time I didn’t have food. I used to ask other people to help me, by giving me food or clothes, but I refused to ever steal something, I knew that was wrong. Then I managed to get a job selling beer, and did this for 2 years, and after that I began to sell my body to customers because I didn’t have enough money to send my children to school, and also my mother became sick. I cried so much. I sent my children away to stay with my parents at this time. I also got pregnant with my 5th baby at that time.
I felt I was on a river, rowing alone. I had headaches, and stress and could not sleep at night. I had 100 problems in my head all the time. Sometimes when walking somewhere I would forget what I had to do. I used to lose concentration. The Doctor told me I had mental problems because I had lost my memory. Sometimes I could not breathe. I felt hopeless and wanted so much to die. When my grandpa died, I wanted to die with him too, as I believed I could be re-born into a different life, but the thing that stopped me was thinking again and again of my children. My friend bought me medicines and they helped me feel better. I also used to drink beer to try to reduce my stress. I used to try to avoid the places that reminded me of my husband having many girlfriends. Doing sex work, I had recurrent flashbacks and nightmares that made me scream at night. I had to take a pill to sleep at that time, and could not fall asleep until 1am.
But I feel so much better since coming to Daughters. Now I never have to take a pill. I still have bad dreams sometimes, but it’s a lot better and I can sleep now by 9pm. I always read my Bible before I sleep now.
At Daughters, I have such a great opportunity and am so blessed to work here. I feel thankful for all the people here that I can talk to, and I feel great release of my emotional pain, that I kept inside for so long. I stopped selling my body immediately. I don’t need a man in my life, I just want to be a good mother and care for my children. At Daughters they teach me how to care for my children and the nurse takes care of my health. I stopped drinking alcohol, and never drink it now. I think about how previously I was not aware of anything, and would walk in the road, and I could easily have been hit by a car. Now I don’t want to die, but I want to be there for my children, and live my life and face my problems.
Now I have hope and I have a plan for the future. I want to learn everything I can learn at Daughters, and then I want to have my own sewing machine to sew in my own home. The church program at Daughters makes me feel better. My leg was so painful, and I struggled to go downstairs to attend church, but then I put my mind on God and my pain disappeared! After that I was able to go to church. Other people in the community told me not to trust in Jesus, that people who trust in Jesus don’t have food to eat and hate their mothers. But I didn’t believe them. Now I am a Christian, and I know the truth. I have a new life, and its getting brighter and brighter.
A friend of my cousin sold me. She asked if I could babysit her child for a few days, and when I got there she asked me to carry her baby while she visited her sibling. So I carried her baby into the house, but it was a trick, she had taken me to a brothel. She took money from the brothel owners, and left me there. She said she would come back to get me, but she never came back. That lady has since died of HIV.
At first they didn’t make me have sex with customers, but they gave me food and took care of me. They injected me with drugs, telling me these would make me beautiful. I don’t know what drugs they were, but it made me feel happy. After one month of this, they forced me to have sex with customers. At first they asked me in a nice voice, telling me I could earn money doing this. I refused. So they beat me with a belt until I agreed to do it. The customers beat me also, and I realized I had no way out of the situation.
I was never allowed to refuse customers, even if I was sick. Some customers beat me with their gun if I refused or if I asked them to wear a condom. They threatened to kill me lots of times. I was so afraid. I was afraid I would catch a disease because customers would not wear a condom. In the end I did catch HIV. People told me about disease and dying of HIV, and I felt so scared. During this time I became pregnant and had a son. He is HIV+, and I could not care for him, so I took him to my mother to raise him, and she cares for him in the province.
At first I was desperate to escape. But after a while I realized I had nowhere to go so I stayed there. I wanted to go home, but I was too ashamed to face my family. I never received money for sex work. The pimp took all the money from the customers.
I had no hope and was full of fear. It was hard to breathe. I had no self-worth, and I didn’t want to live. Sometimes I tried to buy sleeping pills to try to kill myself, as I heard that if you take a lot you can die. But the pharmacist would not sell me a lot, only 2 pills at one time. Everyday I had nightmares and could not sleep. I always seemed to have a fever too. I had panic attacks and intense fears.
I came to Daughters 2 years ago. Daughters gave me a job, and helped me get treatment when I got sick. They gave me counselling and my feelings began to change. I know I have value now. Before, I felt so low, but now I feel so different. At Daughters, they don’t force me to do work that is beyond my ability, they are patient with me even though I can only do hand-sewing and I’m not good at anything else.
Now, I only have nightmares if I have a bad experience, usually I can sleep well at night. I am still scared of dying. But when I feel fear, I pray to God and my fear reduces. I go to church, and I feel very happy and at peace there, it has helped me recover emotionally. One time I got very sick and thought I might die, but I prayed, and God gave me back my life.