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When Sreypov saw her first client—"an Asian man with a cruel look in his eyes," she recalls—she changed her mind and said no again, and started to cry.Furious at her behavior, the pimp took his abuse to a new level, crushing up a handful of hot chili peppers with his foot and stuffing them in her vagina.I first met Sreypov three years ago when she visited the U. Seventeen years old at the time, she was so shy, she could barely look up at the people she met.
"You need to get an education," Sreypov recalls her father saying. When Sreypov was 7, her mother sold her, telling her she would be working as a housekeeper in another home. In Cambodia, Chanthan explains, "Daughters are like property: They are there to provide for the family."Indeed, Sreypov did do a little housecleaning—for two days. I was crying, trying to open the door." Sreypov's demeanor visibly changes at the memory, her usually warm, animated face turning serious, then expressionless. The road to Kampong Cham, a town about two hours outside Phnom Penh, is a bumpy one; punishing rains have left the dirt thoroughfare dented with colossal potholes.
When the class breaks up, the girls, dressed in their public-school uniforms—white cotton blouses, knee-length blue skirts—excitedly swarm around Sreypov, practically tackling her to the ground.
The girls live at the center, which is run by a former victim of sex slavery named Somaly Mam, and attend a nearby school, as well as learn job skills like sewing and hairstyling.
Still I wondered: Could she ever really get over her painful past? From the air, Cambodia looks like it's drowning in mud.
It's monsoon season, and we swoop through coal-black clouds, then hit the runway in Phnom Penh with a jarring boom.The walls are mostly bare, except for a big green plastic clothes-hook in the shape of a smiling bug.