During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in Cambodia, children had to adjust to a new way of learning through digital platforms and devices. For the 15-year-old Lina from Siem Reap, this was a difficult transition as lockdowns and social distancing became a norm. As Lina spent more time online to keep up with her studies, she also spent more time on using social media where she communicates with her friends. At times, she also makes friends with people she had never met in person. This put her safety and well-being at risk.
Her older sister rented a house to open a salon shop, which exposed her to a man that always visited the shop. The man and the girl added each other on Facebook where they started chatting and developed a relationship. Later on, they met each other very often, he also came to visit her at the coffee shop in her village. From day to day, their relationship became closer and they fell in love. Afterward, they started meeting and they had sexual intercourse in different occasions until the man began to groom her to send him naked pictures and videos.
The man promised Lina that he would get engaged with her, along with $7,000 for dowry. Due to trust and love, the girl took her own naked photos, filmed her naked videos and shared them with the man. Every day, he asked her to make videos and take sexual images to send. When she rejected his request, he threatened to publish the sex videos on social media.
The girl asked to break up with him, but he seemed unhappy and started using the photos and videos he obtained to threaten her for $500. Without obtaining the amount he demanded for, the man shared Lina’s videos on his Facebook story and in a Telegram group. Lina finally shared her situation with her older sister and her case is now being processed by the provincial police. The older sister submitted the complaint to the Siem Reap Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection (AHTJP) unit.
Seeking legal action, Lina’s family explored hiring a lawyer. However, due to the high fees, they could not afford one. Thankfully, a AHTJP police informed her about APLE’s legal aid service, a partner organisation of Terre des Hommes Netherlands that focuses on providing victim care and legal support. Despite this, Lina was still frightened about the legal proceedings because she realised that the offender has many connections and has financial resources to pursue the court case. Apart from the legal aid service, the girl sought assistance in removing her naked photos and videos from social media platforms.
Lina is one of many children in Cambodia who are experiencing trauma from online sexual exploitation. As a child, dealing with a difficult situation can be hopeless. With the support of APLE and TdH NL, she was able to be represented in court, testify, receive psycho-social counselling, and educational support. Lina stopped blaming herself for what had happened. Her family, especially her sister, also took good care of her to give her warmth and comfort during the rehabilitation. She feels less concerned about her court case, because she is being supported by two organisations.
Lina said, “I want to continue her studies at University and to have a good job in the future. I want to be a teacher which would allow me to share my knowledge with younger generations”.