It happened ten years ago, but I still cannot forget it. I remember everything they did and relive the images, sounds and the smells of it in my mind. I lived in hopelessness, fear, and darkness for many years afterwards. Even today, my health is bad.
I was 11 years old then. My mum had woken up early that morning with the chickens crowing. Dad drank too much and was sleeping. When he was drunk, he would hit us, but I didn’t hate him. I just pitied my mum because she worked hard every day. She was tired, not just her body, but her mind too. Sometimes I cried silently in my room when they fought each other.
I loved school and was the highest-ranking student in class, number one. The school had organised a ceremony to give gifts to the top five students, and they invited the students’ families to the celebration. My teacher asked about my family, she wanted to meet them. I replied to her with a trembling voice, trying not to cry: “sorry, they are busy, so they cannot come.” Other parents came to encourage their children, but my parents didn’t have time for me.
When the ceremony ended, I didn’t want anyone to see me cry; I didn’t have parents who brought gifts and flowers like the others. I held the present that I got from school tightly and ran home.
Home, alone and sad, I saw an advertisement for a “Finding Friends” service in a local magazine. I called the number and started talking to a man who seemed to understand how sad I was, and he urged me to meet him. He said that he really wanted to see my face and told me his location. It wasn’t far so I thought I could go and meet him then be back home in time for my class in the afternoon. When I arrived, he was in the coffee shop waiting for me. He told me he would take me home after we had talked in the car. In his car, he gave me a cup of milk. I drank it, and I felt sleepy.I didn’t know how long I slept, but when I woke I felt something heavy on my body and I could hardly breathe. I felt so hurt inside and tried to open my eyes.
I was naked, and tried to sit, but couldn’t lift my arms and legs as I was being held down and his body was on me. I was terrified, and I cried. I saw three men, and they were naked too and I could smell alcohol and sweat. One of them came to me. He used his hand to cover my mouth, and I tried to bite his hand. He hit me hard several times until my mouth and nose were swollen and bleeding; I could taste the blood in my mouth. I tried to wriggle away from him but couldn’t. The other two men laughed at me and held me down. They came one by one to rape me and did anything they wanted to me.
I wanted to go home, so I tried to talk to them as I didn’t want to die there. But it was useless. They planned to take me to another place and sell me. They took me to the bathroom where they raped me again in there, on the cold, mildewy floor. Then they dragged me back to the bed. I saw my blood. I knew my parents would be worried about me. I felt sorry for them and cried with shame.
In the morning, they took me to another place. I didn’t know where it was. I was so tired, and my body throbbed with pain, inside and outside. I only knew I was far from my house and my family. They tried to feed me with rice and water and didn’t rape me as often as before, so it was a bit better. Two of them left and one stayed to guard me.
He shouted at me when I told him I wanted to go to the bathroom. I told him I was hungry, and he told me to wait until his friends came back. I tried to talk to him: “If your mother, daughter or sister were in the same situation as me, how would you feel?” He shouted at me: “Don’t talk so much. If you’re hungry, just wait here. I will buy food for you, but don’t try to run. If you run, I will catch you and I will kill you.”
He left and locked me in the room. It was my opportunity. I couldn’t go out the front door since it was locked but I managed to open the window and jumped down. On the ground, there were rocks and broken glass which cut my feet quite badly. I wasn’t wearing shoes because I was in such a hurry and scared he would follow me. My feet bled a lot. I tried to run to a place that had a light showing. I was free and thought it would be a safe place. But then I fainted. When I woke up, my hands were tied, and I was being pulled from the boot of a car then thrown into a filthy room with several other young girls. I wasn’t free after all. My terrors had hardly begun.
Sophea’s name has been changed. Her story is true. It is not exceptional, but it should be. She survived, thousands of children don’t. They die from brutality, HIV, drugs, starvation and disease. Her story is the basis for “Blue Lotus”, an upcoming novel by Lily Yang.