Fai’s traffickers eluded the law for years — it was five years from the time she was recovered and released from her ordeal until she saw justice. But it was worth the wait.
Growing up in a hill tribe village in Northern Thailand, Fai explains, “We didn’t have much, but we had some, and I was happy.” Her dad made charcoal and sold it while her mom was a day laborer when she could find work. Her family didn’t have much money, so paying school fees for the four kids in the family was a challenge. Fai went to school inconsistently, taking days off to help her parents at work. Eventually, she stopped going altogether and started working full time to make money to feed herself and have some to send her family. The money she sent home provided for her sister to stay in school.
Fai tried selling clothes. She worked at a small market selling snacks and drinks. Eventually, when she was 15 years old, someone asked her to come serve drinks at a karaoke bar. They paid for her to get to the bar and set her up to live nearby — to her, it seemed like a great offer. She was totally unaware that the bar also sold sex services to customers. She didn’t know something like that existed. When she was told that she had to sell sex, she said she just immediately felt like she would fall down. “I didn’t have another option,” she says. “The karaoke bar owner had paid for everything and I needed to pay them back.”
Fai was severely traumatized by the sexual abuse she endured working at the karaoke bar. Even though she was released after a few months, her traffickers evaded justice for five years. Left to pick up the pieces of her life, “It was really hard to live my life, to start life after that,” she remembers. “I didn’t feel valued. Even if other people don’t know my story, I know my story. I feel like I’m dirty. I was embarrassed with my parents, I was embarrassed even alone with myself.”
LIFT International’s attorney, Pik, met Fai five years ago. Pik wanted to help Fai sue her trafficker for civil compensation, but first, Fai had to want to be a part of the process and be willing to fight for herself. Fai had told her story to officials repeatedly, each time being traumatized by the ordeal of having to re-live it. Fai explains, “It’s very hard to trust people. I told my story again and again and again to police. It was never ending.” Pik convinced her that it was important to believe in herself and share her story. Fai decided to trust Pik and to tell her story once more. She wanted closure.
Fai explains why she decided to trust Pik despite all the people that had hurt her: “Before meeting Pik, I felt something ongoing, incomplete and unresolved within myself. I couldn’t spend my life like this. Someone told me Pik was brilliant, and I was confident she would help me. I had just gotten married, and wanted to put an end to my past and begin my new life. I made a decision to be open with Pik because I believed it would end the unresolved and make it clear that I could move forward.”
Pik walked Fai through the court process. She had to testify in front of the court and in front of her traffickers. “When I had to tell my story of my abuse to court, I was so proud of myself that I could claim justice for myself. I finished something that was really important.”
When Pik told Fai she had received US$8000 in compensation and that her trafficker got sentenced to eight years in jail, Fai was overwhelmed with emotion. To Fai, justice felt better than the money. In addition to feeling like she closed a painful chapter of her life, she was able to help other people who the defendant hurt by putting him away. With the compensation money, she bought land for her family. On it, they grown corn and beans. Every time Pik goes to visit Fai’s family, her mother kills a chicken, cooks it and serves it to Pik out of gratitude.
Fai’s life is moving on. LIFT’s social workers continue to meet with her and help her navigate ongoing challenges. “I feel so much better,” she says hopefully. “I feel like the chains that had been dragging me were released, and I broke through. The most important thing I can do now is to heal my heart.”
Fai recently gave birth to her second child, a son. She wants to spend time with her new baby and focus on her kids. As with many survivors who share their story, Fai shares hers with the hopes of helping others. “I want to target my message to other survivors and encourage them,” she explains. “I want women in the same situation to value themselves.”
*The name Fai is a name we use to protect her real identity.