Survivor Journey

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To understand our partners' approach, follow one girl's journey from slavery to freedom, through phases of rescue, recovery, education, and reintegration

1. Rescue.
Srey's new life began with a rescue mission conducted by our legal and investigation partners at AFESIP.

The team conducts raids on sex establishments when they have gathered evidence of trafficking, child prostitution, and other serious instances of exploitation. They plan for approximately six raids per year, though the actual number depends on the findings of investigations and informants, and the current situation in Cambodia. Srey was rescued from a karaoke bar on one of these raids. A Voices For Change leader comforted her, explained her options, and gained her trust. The team never takes a woman against their will. 

When authorities conduct their own raids, independent of AFESIP's investigations, they may invite AFESIP to oversee that the rights and dignity of the victims are upheld throughout the operation, and that these women and girls have options once they are released. At other times, the team is contacted after the raid if the authorities have victims of trafficking in their custody. In either case, the team must act quickly to build trust and explain victim services and vocational skills programs. 

Outreach Team and Medical Clinic:
Srey first learned about Somaly Mam through AFESIP's Outreach Team, who spend their days in brothels, public parks, karaoke bars, massage parlours, restaurants, and other places where sex is sold. They build relationships with women like Srey, educating them on HIV/AIDS, STIs, domestic violence, and drug abuse, and inviting them to use the free medical clinic in Phnom Penh. Both the social workers and the clinic staff also use this as an opportunity to further encourage the women to leave the sex industry and undertake training in one of the residential centers.

Other NGOs, government departments, and community groups frequently alert AFESIP when they become aware of cases of trafficking and sexual exploitation which are beyond their own remit. If the women and girls fall into the target group, AFESIP will take them in. In cases of cross-border trafficking, the team is contacted by partner organizations who are aware of Cambodian nationals who have been trafficked. Sometimes mothers, friends, or other relatives alert AFESIP to suspicious situations, or even bring in the woman or girl. This is common in child sexual abuse cases, which can bring shame on the girl and her family, making it difficult for her to remain in her home community.


2. Recovery.
Srey was then taken to a center for recovery and skills training. In addition to safety and protection, the centers offer medical and psychological assessments, evaluations of educational level and social development, childcare, and legal assistance.

As Somaly often says, "It can take five minutes to save a girl from the brothel, but it can take five years - or ten, or more - to recover them."

General and Community Assessments:
Srey underwent a series of initial assessments conducted by a doctor, nurses, counselors, and psychologists, to understand her background, her current family situation, and any physical and mental health conditions. Routine and responsive follow ups will then take place throughout her time with AFESIP, and sometimes it can take a matter of months or longer for a full diagnostic. 

Soon after arriving, AFESIP's reintegration team conducted a community assessment to better understand the socio-economic situation of Srey's family and community, as well as opportunities for work in her hometown or village. This helps to determine the safest location for Srey's eventual reintegration, as well as which skills she should ideally develop to meet market demand in her area.

Settling In:
New residents require different amounts of time to settle in to the routine of the shelter. Most will take a few days to a week to begin their training or education program, while some might require a longer period of rest or treatment before starting their training.

For Srey, life in the shelter was vastly different from the life she knew in the brothel, and the first month or two was a difficult adjustment. "False starts" are not uncommon, and some women will choose to leave within the first month, despite staff's best efforts. The Somaly Mam Foundation's Voices For Change program was vital to Srey during this period, offering powerful encouragement and motivation and helping her to feel at home. 

Srey starts each day with a morning exercise program, to stay physically fit and mentally stimulated for morning training and education programs.


Vocational Training: 

Residents at Siem Reap and Tom Dy centres choose between sewing, weaving, and hairdressing as their primary training. Training takes up the main part of their day, with classes from 7:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., then again from 1:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Upon completion of their training (which takes 18 months to two years), women receive an official graduation certificate from the Ministry of Labour. In some cases these women are now ready for reintegration; however, others might choose to stay longer for external internships or specialized skills training courses. The children at Kampong Cham can also learn basic skills in sewing and weaving in either the morning or afternoon, depending on their school schedule.

All residents at Kampong Cham are enrolled in the local public schools. In Cambodia, the day is split into two, where one group attends school in the morning and the other goes in the afternoon, changing monthly. 

In addition to Srey's vocational training in sewing, she is placed in a small group to take supplementary classes in English, Khmer literacy, computing, agriculture, life skills, and small business management. These informal classes usually last about an hour each, and fit into her vocational training schedule.

Ongoing Medical Services:
All residents receive a medical examination on arrival. They then receive a six-month check-up, and if specific health issues are identified (either through routine checks or if staff are alerted to a particular issue), more regular appointments and treatment might be necessary. The doctor makes monthly visits to the centers, and a nurse/midwife is based in each regional location (Siem Reap and Kampong Cham) to handle daily medical issues. For treatment and medical services beyond AFESIP’s capacity, women are referred to specialist facilities, including clinics and other NGOs. Examples include the administration of anti-retroviral medication for residents who are HIV positive, and obstetric care for pregnant women.

Ongoing Psychological Services:
As of 2011, each center has a psychologist on site. A counselor is based at the clinic, and a Head of Psychology, based in Phnom Penh, provides clinical supervision to all psychologists and is responsible for the management and development of the team and department.

At present, AFESIP conducts initial psychological assessments of all residents and routine follow-up assessments. As with medical issues, more frequent treatment is provided to cases as necessary. The psychologists are also on hand to deal with crises as and when they arise. In 2012, AFESIP implemented a series of new activities toward preventative care and trauma reduction, including yoga and meditation programs and expressive healing games and activities, built into residents' weekly schedules.

Chores and Relaxation:
Srey and every other every resident contributes to the day to day running of the center, helping with cooking, cleaning, and gardening. She joins the weekly resident meetings, where with no staff present, the women and girls discuss amongst themselves any issues they are facing, how they feel about life in the center, and improvements they would like to see at AFESIP, which are all reported back to head management. For Srey, this was the first time she felt the power of speaking out and asking for what she wanted. 

On weekends and evenings, the women can watch television, read (each center has a library), listen to music, play games, and make handicrafts. For those who have families who they wish to visit, AFESIP usually facilitates three visits per year, usually during the major holiday times such as Khmer New Year.


3. Reintegration.

Job Placement & Small Business Start-Up:
When Srey is ready to be reintegrated into the community, she can receive a 'start-up kit' of supplies and capital to the value of US$700. These grants-not-loans are made up of a sewing machine and fabrics, hairdressing materials and salon products, and any other equipment needed to start a small business. The reason for this: indebtedness is a major tactic used in trafficking and exploitation, and we don't want these women to enter the world with a debt on their shoulders. For the non-entrepreneurial types, a Job Placement Officer based in Phnom Penh helps women to find job opportunities in social enterprises or private companies.

Singapore-based partner, Lotus Culture, established a small social enterprise in 2011 called Kumnit Thmey, which currently employs six former AFESIP residents as seamstresses. Textiles and handicrafts made during the training period in the shelters are also sold in our online store, as a source of sustainable revenue. We are looking for additional partners for employment and training in 'good' businesses and social enterprises throughout Southeast Asia. 

Ongoing Support:
The team makes monthly visits to reintegrated cases during the first three months after leaving AFESIP. They then make twice-yearly visits for about three years post-reintegration. During this time, the women can access medical and psychological support, and in some cases we may offer small additional micro-grants (to the value of about US$300) in situations where their business stands to benefit from expansion, or in exceptional cases where the woman and/or her family is in dire need of support: for example during the severe floods in late 2011, or a case where the family home of a reintegrated woman burned down. Our holistic approach extends even after reintegration: once family, always family--for many who never knew what real family was. Srey will become a part of this extended family when it's time for her to leave the center, and an active member of a strong network of survivors creating next-generation change.

This is one journey to freedom; there are many, many yet to be saved. to help us bring more women and girls through a path to freedom.

Click to read more about the fearless, tireless Voices For Change leaders.