Hong is 24. Earlier this year, an acquaintance asked her to travel to China. They planned to buy supplies to bring back to Vietnam and sell online.
This seemed like a good idea to Hong. Because of COVID she was out of work and needed to earn some money. She’d known this acquaintance for a long time. There seemed to be little risk of anything going wrong.
Once across the border, Hong was grabbed by a waiting gang. She was sold to a brothel, where she lived in terror for three months before police raided the building and found her.
Tham is 37. She crossed into China two years ago, believing she was on her way to a job. Instead she was sold to a man who wanted a wife so that he could have children.
Tham was held in captivity for two years before her rescue and return to Vietnam.
In the past week, both women have returned to their homes following an extended period in mandatory quarantine.
Tham’s family is of the Thai ethnic community. Her return home was met with tears of joy and amazement. After such a long time away, her family feared she was gone forever.
Hong’s reunion with her family was equally touching. Her ordeal, while over a shorter period than Tham’s, has been violently traumatic.
Hong and Tham should be in the prime of their lives, working or raising families or following their dreams, whatever they may be. Instead, circumstances completely out of their control mean that they are faced with the process of healing and recovery from terrible events that nobody but them will ever fully understand.
After the experience of being trafficked, returning home and starting over is no fairy tale ending. Survivors of human trafficking may face gossip and accusation over what happened to them. People may shun them, doubting their stories. Memories of their ordeal will live with them forever.
But being home also offers the chance of recovery. Families and friends are back together. There is always the hope of healing and rebuilding a life that was not lost, but put on hold.
Hong and Tham have their chance to start over. They will need a lot of support, and there’s no telling how their journey to recovery will play out. But in time, they can once again lead their lives with dignity.