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Cambodian village has disturbing reputation for child sex slavery

By Sara Sidner, CNN
updated 10:58 AM EDT, Mon October 24, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • One former sex slave says she was five or six years old when approached by a man
  • "No one could help me," she says
  • Don Brewster and his wife operate a rehab center for child sex slaves
  • "Just yesterday we rescued a five-year-old girl," Brewster says

SVAY PAK, Cambodia (CNN) -- Svay Pak has a disturbing reputation. The village outside Cambodia's capital of Phnom Penh is known as a place where little girls are openly sold to foreign predators looking for sex.

One of the girls who was sold into the sex trade told CNN that before she could read she was working in a brothel.

"I was about five or six years old," she said. "The first man said to me, 'I want to have sex with you.' At the time I didn't know what to do. No one could help me."

Dozens of girls have had the same experience in her neighborhood.

She says she was approached by a man while playing outside. He asked her to come over and talk to him, and before she knew it she was alone and being asked for sex. Some of the girls were actually sold into the sex trade by their own parents.

Many were housed with other girls her age in what looked like a cell. The room was pink had thick walls and no windows and was about 7 feet long by 7 feet wide. There were several rooms just like it stuffed into a building that had a gate over the front door and bars on the bathroom window. The brothel she lived in specialized in pre-pubescent girls.

The young girls were sought after by the foreign men who came to the area for one reason: They knew they could find young girls for sale.

Women rescue Cambodian sex slaves
Cambodian kids and sex trafficking

"At the beginning they talked to me gently but when they raped me, they also beat me up," the former sex slave said, her head bowed and tears rolling from her eyes uncontrollably.

She is now 18 and no longer trapped in a terrible and painful life. Three years ago she found a safe haven after Don Brewster and his wife moved into the neighborhood and began operating a rehabilitation center for child sex slaves.

"I really think it's an evil -- I mean there is no understanding it. The girls, I mean, they're in such pain and suffer so greatly and it is obvious to the man that's raping them," Brewster said.

Brewster says things have changed in Svay Pak in the past several years. It used to be girls who hung out in the open, beckoning from behind barred windows to the men who walked by. Pimps no longer descend on every foreign man who shows up in the neighborhood offering to sell them virgins. While the situation is changing, there is still a nasty underbelly in the area, but travelers have to go looking for it now. The sex trade has gone underground, but it is still there.

"If you just look on the surface you would say that doesn't happen but just yesterday we rescued a 5-year-old girl here in Svay Pak," said Brewster, who works with Agape International Missions.

Now there is a place that provides a secure environment for children to just be children.

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