Human trafficking suspect Thang Kim Min was released from jail last Friday, and now the girl who says he forced her into the Macau sex trade has gone into hiding.
Han, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, was the sole witness in the case against Thang Kim Min, who was released Friday and reportedly sent to Vietnam.
She left the NGO Afesip, where she had been staying since June 2001, over the weekend, said Pierre Legros, ex-regional director for the NGO and now a volunteer adviser for the agency.
She left under the fear of prosecution for illegal immigration, having been threatened with it during the March trial of Thang Kim Min. She also knew of the 14 other apparent Vietnamese girls seized by police Friday for immigration law violations.
Another reason Han may have fled was because of the multiple threats she received from her traffickers. Han said they told her if she ever talked, she would be killed.
Before she left the agency, Han agreed to be interviewed. At times embarrassed, at times in tears, she retold a story that is sad but familiar throughout Southeast Asia and other parts of the world.
Han, now 17, came from a small Vietnamese village near the Chau Doc border crossing between Vietnam and Takeo province.
Her older sister is dead. Her 23-year-old brother repairs watches to support their father, who is older than 70.
She has had no contact with them since she left, but when she was living in Vietnam, they had no house. The family slept in pagodas or in shops.
Han said she often heard “older women” telling other girls about Cambodia. The older women would hang around a karaoke-cafe, offering work or sometimes free trips to the girls.
And one day, in December 2000, Han took one of the women up on the offer.
“I was bored,” Han said quietly of the beginning of her nearly 3,200-km trip from Vietnam to Macau and back to Cambodia. She boarded a bus with the woman, crossed at Chau Doc without any problems and arrived at Phnom Penh’s Phsar Kandal. The woman took her to Thang Kim Min’s house and dropped her off, Han said. Han said she never saw the woman again.
She stayed in Phnom Penh for perhaps five days, where she was told that if she wanted to move around freely, she would need a passport. Once she had the passport, she was told she was going to Macau. During that time, she said, she became a sort of prisoner.
“If you shout, I’ll have somebody kill you,” she said she was told.
After those first five or so days, she was loaded up with several other girls and taken to Pochentong Airport with a new passport and visas to get into both Hong Kong and Macau.
In Macau, she was sent to work at a club that included karaoke, massage, a casino and a bar.
She was undressed and inspected by several women there, and handed to her first client, she said. She hit the man who tried to pull her dress off.
She was locked in a room for three days afterward, Han said.
“They didn’t hit me, but they didn’t give me anything to eat,” she said. “Nothing to drink.”
After three days “they asked, ‘Now are you finished being shy?’”
She submitted. Han was kept under lock and key with 60 other girls, split into two 12-hour shifts. Han said she worked from 2 am to 2 pm, she said.
All of their room keys were kept on a “big key ring,” she said. She serviced customers who were 30 to 40 years old. She was there nearly six months.
It was an overweight Vietnamese girl that spoke Chinese who finally slipped out. The girl notified the police, who raided the brothel where the girls were kept. Han was given back her passport and told to leave the country.
She found some Vietnamese speakers who gave her a place to sleep and helped broker more clients for her. She earned $700 in less than a week, gave $200 to her new “landlords” and bought a ticket to Cambodia.
She landed on May 11, 2001, and quickly went to work helping police find Thang Kim Min, she said. He was arrested in June.
Thang Kim Min stayed in jail nearly a year. His case saw at least two delays and one change of judges.
In the end, the judge disregarded Han’s testimony—he cited 42 pieces of “evidence” that convinced she had not been trafficked.
“I don’t know how I feel,” Han said last week. “I don’t want to go back to my village. My village is very poor…. I want to earn money [in Cambodia] and return to my village. When I think I have enough money, I will go back.”