Sixteen-year old Nan found herself lying on the bottom of a boat, illegally crossing the border from her village in Laos into Thailand. Along with her three friends, Fai, Soi and Prae, Nan* had been persuaded by Ms. Jat,* a woman originally from her region in Laos, to come to Thailand to work.
In Laos, Ms. Jat had promised Nan and Fai that they would work reasonable hours at a karaoke bar. But on their arrival in Thailand, Nan and Fai’s lives quickly descended into relentless exploitation. They worked every night at the karaoke bar from 6pm until 2am, after which Mr. Son,* the owner of the bar and Ms. Jat’s husband, would drive them to a farm. Here, they were permitted to sleep for only four hours until they were then awoken at 6 am for a day of unpaid, forced manual labour on the farm, without breakfast, and with little chance to rest. At 5pm, Mr. Son would drive them back to the karaoke bar.
During their nights at the karaoke bar, Nan, Fai and the other girls were sold to customers for 1000 baht per hour (USD $32) or 5000 THB (USD $160) a night. Nan and Fai were not only sexually assaulted, but they were never paid as they were told they would be. Upon their return to the bar, Mr. Son would take the cash from them and give them back half of the total amount in tokens, much like gambling chits. Although these could supposedly be cashed, Mr. Son refused to pay them, saying they must work for six months first. Mr. Son enforced harsh rules, for which the punishment was a deduction of tokens. Making the floor dirty, leaving hair in the bathroom, talking with the other girls and many other imaginary offences would result in him confiscating four or five tokens, sometimes more than what each girl would make in one or two days. In addition, Nan and Fai were promised payment for their months of labour on the watermelon farm. When they requested cash to send home to their families, Mr. Son told them that they must first work for six months.
Despite desperately wishing to return to Laos, escape was not an option for Nan and Fai. Aside from Mr. Son’s watchfulness, they had no money, no documents and no contacts. Mr. Son threatened to inform the police if they ran away, and then they would be arrested as illegal immigrants. So they endured this life of unending exploitation, day and night, for months.
One night, our investigative team and social worker, in collaboration with the Thai law enforcement, found and freed Nan, Fai and six other girls from the karaoke bar and arrested Mr. Son and Ms. Jat. In the immediate aftermath of the operation, our social worker comforted a shaking and terrified Nan, who was unable to believe Mr. Son could no longer control her. But Nan was finally free.
Support of survivors must not end at the conclusion of a police operation; it must continue through the criminal justice process and beyond. Nan and Fai’s case was the first that LIFT encountered in which the victims were subjected to both labour and sexual exploitation. Our teams work together to both identify and protect victims and provide them with the resources to become free and flourishing survivors.
*Not their real names