The day I talk to Kratay, she’s been at Freedom Home — The Exodus Road’s aftercare home for survivors of sex trafficking in Thailand — for just a month.
I, along with a social worker and a translator, have gathered to create space for Kratay to tell her story. We sit in one of the home’s bright bedrooms under the ubiquitous whir of an air conditioning unit.
Kratay is wearing a playful coral t-shirt featuring Winnie the Pooh. A simple sentence is stamped across the back: “Today, I was brave.”
The statement is deeply poignant in light of what Kratay has survived and all the ways this young woman has had to be unfairly, impossibly courageous.
From vulnerability to exploitation
“Sometimes, my stepfather would hit me and my sister without reason,” Kratay matter-of-factly remembers. “In everything that happened, my mother would take sides with my stepfather. Every time.”
That violence served as the backdrop for Kratay’s childhood. At just 13 years old, her parents pressured her to find work to support them. Young and curious, when a friend said that she knew about an easy job, Kratay trusted her. She followed her to what initially seemed like a normal job at a bar. But soon, her friend took her and left her at a hotel, where an older man raped Kratay for a price.
Afterwards, in distress, Kratay told her parents what had happened to her.
Instead of concern, her mom and stepfather were curious: “how much did this man pay for time with you?”
The answer was $30. That was the price put on a child’s body.
When her parents heard the price, they saw opportunity instead of horrific abuse. Kratay was forced to keep working at the bar, exploited in order to make money to support her parents.
The challenges of change
Most of Kratay’s teenage years were swallowed by the cycle of sexual exploitation. She fell in with older friends who became her traffickers, connecting her to clients and keeping some of the profits. Because she lived in an area where tourism was common, many of Kratay’s customers were Western tourists twice her age, men who had come to the area specifically to buy time with teenage girls. Meanwhile at home, her stepfather continued to physically abuse her.
Change finally came in the form of undercover police officers, who showed up posing as buyers and secured Kratay’s freedom. While a court case was in process, Kratay was placed in a government home for girls who had survived similar abuse. She would end up living there for nearly two years.
The government shelter provided structured days that included healthcare, education, and some basic job training. But for a fiercely independent young woman like Kratay, the structure often felt restrictive.
“When I first moved there, I felt very pressured. It’s like I needed to have a babysitter,” Kratay says. “For me, the strictness and the pressure, it made me feel like it was a boarding school.”
Once her court case was resolved, Kratay was still deeply in need of healing and support. She had just turned 20. In those two decades of life, she had never yet lived in a place that felt truly supportive and safe.
That’s when she found out about Freedom Home.
“I met new friends here that make me have less stress. And I get to do activities that help also.” Kratay wears a soft smile as she talks about this new chapter of her life. “Usually, I would be very isolated when I was stressed. When I got to meet friends here, including the staff, my stress level was decreased.”
I ask her what about her new friends helps with feelings of stress.
“Whatever we do, we do it together,” she says simply.
Kratay has been taking business classes, English classes, and yoga with her new friends at Freedom Home. She’s quick to say that yoga is her favorite, though she also enjoyed the day that business class involved budgeting for and then making mango sticky rice.
While at the government home, Kratay learned how to weave baskets that could be sold for a modest income. While at Freedom Home, she’s stepped into teaching the other residents how to weave the baskets as well. Often in the days that The Exodus Road’s U.S. team spends visiting, we see the young women clustered on the front patio, weaving — with Kratay contentedly in the middle.
She says, “I’m happy sharing with friends how to make the baskets.”
It’s a marked change from a history that has been shaped by people who consistently harmed her. Instead of friends that pressure her into cycles of exploitation, Kratay is surrounded by friends who are healing alongside her. And instead of her abusive parents, these days Kratay has a boyfriend who is consistently supportive. He is helping her learn how to hold boundaries with unhealthy family members.
Kratay says, “I don’t give money to my family anymore because he told me that the more we give to them, they will just give betrayal to me.”
After so many years of being taken advantage of, being pressured to be the one taking care of others, Kratay finally has people to support her.
When asked how that feels, she says, “I’m glad. Actually, I feel good.” She laughs, seemingly in disbelief at the ways her life has changed.
True freedom for the future
In this peaceful, healing space that supports her own wants and needs, Kratay has started to dream about the future. This has included volunteering with a local nonprofit, where she invests in young people who have either been exploited already or are at high risk. She had received care packages from the organization in the past. Now, she helps distribute those packages.
“Before, I got to receive from them. But now, I am the one who partners and helps to give,” Kratay explains.
Her hopes for the future are also an expression of her caring heart: Kratay dreams of being a veterinarian nurse.
“I really, really love animals,” she says enthusiastically. That love was developed through caring for many pets over the years, including a rabbit, chickens, dogs, geese, ducks, and fish.
Those interests are the kinds of things that have room to grow and bloom in the safe, nurturing space Freedom Home creates. Staff will continue to support Kratay through trauma-informed counseling and case management as she relearns what relationships can look like, what she’s capable of when she’s cared for.
“Here at Freedom Home, I feel freedom, truly,” says Kratay.
Kratay has been able to experience this freedom because of The Exodus Road’s community. Thank you for being a part of her story of healing! You can give today to continue supporting Kratay’s journey, and that of more women like her.
*Kratay is a pseudonym to protect her privacy.