Escaping Sexual Slavery

Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher are taking up the cause of modern day slavery. Read incredible stories from former sex slaves and activists celebrated at the Freedom Awards this week.

Katy Winn / AP Photo

Katy Winn / AP Photo

Sina Vann

Sina Vann thought she was going on a vacation to Cambodia with a friend. But she was stepping into a trap. At 13, she was sold into slavery and was trapped in a brothel, where she was raped by dozens of men almost every day for two years, and was tortured when she didn’t comply with the owners’ every wish. "When I stepped into Cambodia, my childhood ended," Vann says, "and the dark side of my life started." Vann was saved by a raid organized by anti-slavery activist Somaly Mam. She was brought to Mam’s rescue shelter, where she now works inspiring other former sex slaves to rebuild their lives. She was honored this week with a Fredrick Douglass Award from the Free the Slaves Foundation. Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher presented her with the award.

Donald Bowers / Getty images

Somaly Mam

Somaly Mam is the founder of the Somaly Mam Foundation and mentor to many former sex slaves. Her inspirational organization rescues women and young girls from sexual slavery and then provides them with physical and emotional support. Somaly was sold into sexual slavery as a teenager and spent more than a decade in brothels before escaping with a French aid worker. Somaly’s young daughter was kidnapped and raped as a result of her rescue efforts, but was later found by Cambodian police. Mam has been interviewed by Marianne Pearl and written about by Angelina Jolie.

Courtesy of Timea Eva Nagy

Timea Eva Nagy

Timea, then a struggling 20-year-old living in Hungary, was tricked into believing that she could begin a new job in Canada working as a waitress at a nightclub. She came to Canada in 1998, where she was kidnapped at the airport by three thugs, who stole her passport and papers and told her she owed thousands of dollars for her airfare. They forced her to be a stripper at a nightclub and have sex with different men in the Toronto area. They controlled her every move, escorting her straight from the club to a hotel. After she eventually escaped through the help of a DJ and a security guard, Timea testified in court against her Canadian and Hungarian captors and has since devoted herself to living a quiet life in Canada. Timea has publicized her experience in a new memoir, Walk With Me, A Memoir of a Sex Slave Worker, in order to spread awareness about the issue. She also appeared in the Emmy Award-winning documentary, Sex Slaves, by Ric Esther.

AP Photo

Lee Young-soo

Forced into sex slavery by the Japanese government when she was 15 years old, 80-year-old Lee Young-soo became what was known as a “comfort woman,” a woman forced into sex slavery during WWII in order to please military officers. "I was put on a Japanese naval ship. There were 300 military men there and five girls, including myself,” Lee told CNN in 2007. Lee tried to escape once during the three years that she was imprisoned but was found and tortured until she lost consciousness. When she finally returned home, her parents thought she was a ghost. “They began to hit me and tried to get rid of me. But they finally realized it was me, and my parents fainted," she said. In 2007, Lee traveled with other former comfort women to protest a visit between President Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and ask for an official apology on behalf of the estimated 200,000 women forced into sexual slavery during WWII.

Jesse Pesta

Sreypov Chan

Sreypov Chan was sold to a brothel in Phnom Penh when she was 7 years old. Between the ages of 7 and 10, pimps forced Chan to have sex with up to 20 men a day. When she initially refused sex, a pimp forced her to drink a client’s urine, then covered her with biting ants, and beat her with an electric cable. When she still refused, he put hot chili peppers and a hot metal rod up her vagina, then let the client rape her. The woman who sold her to the brothel? Her mother. “I wanted to die,” said Chan, now 20, in an exclusive interview with Marie Claire. Although Chan’s experience is unfathomable, she is considered lucky to have escaped (after two failed attempts). Chan, who says she can’t be with a man ever again, now works for Somaly Mam’s center for rescued sex workers. A beautiful, “sparkly” young woman “with a feisty laugh and a love of Kelly Clarkson songs,” Chan told Marie Claire: "I can never forget my past or the cruelty of those men. I'll never understand it, but I use it as power to push for change. I feel better knowing that I'm helping other girls."

Nicholas D. Kristof, The New York Times / Redux

Long Pross

Long Pross, another mentee of Somaly Mam, was kidnapped and sold at the age of 13 to a Phnom Penh brothel. She sustained horrific injuries during her time as a sex worker. She is missing an eye after the owner of her brothel gouged it out, was left tied up in her off-hours, and was subject to routine beatings and torture. Pross was allowed to leave the brothel only after the area around her missing eye became infected enough that it deterred potential customers. She is now in recovery and receiving medical aid from the Somaly Mam’s foundation.

Katy Winn / AP Photo


Though never a sex slave, Veero, another recipient of the Frederick Douglass Award, escaped from a different kind of slavery—indentured servitude. A local farmer claimed Veero’s family owed him a debt, and kept them and other slaves under guard of hired men with guns and axes. The men wore leg irons. When Veero began worrying that the farmer wanted to sexually abuse her children, she took a terrifying risk to break free from slavery. She slipped away, alone and on foot, until she reached a local police station and staged a sit-in until they agreed to take action and free her family. Veero received the Frederick Douglass award for her work showing 700 other slaves how to break free from slavery.