Like many teenagers, Nin* had a deep desire for independence. Unfortunately, that normal youthful desire would be taken, twisted, and manipulated until she was trapped. Nin is one of the survivors who has graduated from Freedom Home, The Exodus Road’s aftercare house in Thailand. She has generously offered to share her story, illuminating her path through traumatic exploitation and into hopeful advocacy.
Moving out on her own
When she was about 16 years old, Nin started hanging out with friends who spent a lot of time partying. They gave her a glimpse of life outside of school, and the freedom looked alluring. So she dropped out of school, securing a job at a restaurant.
“My boyfriend at the time paid for my expenses,” Nin explains. “But when we broke up, I stayed with a friend. I didn’t want to go back home because I didn’t want to get into a fight with my mom.”
Nin thought that she could trust Lawan,* the friend she lived with. She says, “We had been friends for about five or six months. We were close. After a fight with my parents…I then had to rely on her.”
For teenaged Nin and Lawan, it was hard to make ends meet. Expenses were piling up. So when Lawan told Nin that she had a job Nin could do to make enough money to pay their bills, it seemed to make sense.
“I was hesitant to say no to my friend because I was timid,” Nin admits.
So she went with Lawan to work at a bar. The nature of the work quickly became clear: timid teenage Nin found herself thrust into a world of sexual exploitation.
“I was surrounded in an environment where evil is the norm. The first time I worked, they forced me to drink, to take drugs, to do erotic dances, to serve drinks, and to sell sex,” Nin says.
Trapped in trafficking
This is commonly how trafficking begins: a seemingly innocent job referral from a friend. But often, once someone who is young and vulnerable enters those spaces, it becomes increasingly difficult to leave.
That was the case for Nin, who was working in an area that commonly serves Western tourists. While the customers she entertained might have believed that she was working by choice, to Nin, she felt like she had no choice at all. And, legally, anyone under the age of 18 is considered unable to give consent to sex work. Nin was being exploited.
“I had many different kinds of customers, but it took a toll on me. I felt terrible,” Nin remembers. “I didn’t want to do it, but I needed to do it because I had no money. I was young and wanted to earn a living. I had no other choice, and I was too young to find a better job.”
At first, Nin was making the equivalent of $55 a day. After a few months, she found that if she serviced many customers in a day, she could make around $270. It was more than she’d ever dreamed of. But there was a dark side: the boss was verbally abusive and cruel and often kept much of her earnings for himself.
Nin shares, “My trafficker pressured me to work. He forced me to work even when I wasn’t ready or didn’t want to. There was nothing I could do because he was older and had a lot of connections. He said I must go. When I didn’t go to some jobs, he asked me why I wasn’t at work. I told him I was feeling ill and couldn’t make it. He still insisted I go due to a shortage of workers. I was too afraid to stand up to him.”
Even the promise of the work — that it would provide a lot of money — evaporated as the trafficker skimmed off more and more from Nin’s pay.
“It felt like I was working for free,” Nin says.
She felt discouraged and low. So Nin did something astonishingly brave: she decided to leave.
“After being cheated so often, I decided I didn’t want to do this anymore. I felt like I wanted a better future. I wanted a new beginning,” she says.
Courageous steps into freedom
Even knowing how powerful her trafficker was, even with all of his verbal abuse in the back of her mind, Nin spoke with authorities. Police and a human trafficking assistance center heard her, taking her into the protection of a shelter.
That shelter happened to be aware of Freedom Home, The Exodus Road’s residential aftercare program for young women in Thailand who have survived sex trafficking. The shelter felt Freedom Home might be a good fit for Nin’s needs. After she learned about the program, she agreed.
Nin transitioned to Freedom Home, where she started therapy and went back to complete her education. Freedom Home has not only helped Nin with her education but also with employment and her mental well-being.
“In terms of employment, they help us find a job,” says Nin. “They have a psychologist here to talk to when we are stressed or tired. We can talk to them about anything.”
Nin settled into life at Freedom Home. Eager to learn, she was quick to experiment with the house’s coffee cart, a tool to teach survivors job and entrepreneurship skills.
“I feel like I have a new beginning,” the young woman reflects.
“I have improved and learned a lot. My thoughts have matured. My mental condition has also improved. For some people, they have nowhere to go. At least at [Freedom Home], they help us find a job, and it is safe here. There is a system in place to prevent criminals from harming us.”
That safety is key for every survivor who bravely left the control of a trafficker. Now that she’s found it, Nin is passionate about seeing other survivors receive that same comfort. She became Freedom Home’s first resident to speak at an awareness event, bravely telling her story in order to prevent other teenagers from being manipulated into sex trafficking. She’s continuing to make an impact in the fight against trafficking by sharing her story as part of Equip & Empower Thailand, The Exodus Road’s curriculum that educates school children about the dangers of human trafficking.
In the future, Nin dreams about taking this support to the next level by becoming a counselor or psychologist.
“I like listening to other people,” she says. “When they are stressed or suffering, I want to help them. At least I can be a good listener. I feel like I could make a difference. On the day they are discouraged, it is just like when I was discouraged. We need someone to be by our side, to listen to us.”
After Freedom Home
Nin graduated from Freedom Home’s program in mid-2023. Her independent, ambitious streak is launching her into the life she’s built for herself. She’s working as a sales officer for a life insurance company. On the weekends, she bakes treats to sell at a local market, using the entrepreneurship skills she gained during her time at Freedom Home. The Exodus Road’s social workers will follow up with Nin for the next two years, ensuring that she is supported in her ongoing path through a free life.
Speaking to teenagers who might be in a similar position to her, Nin is earnest: “I would like to tell everyone not to come to work in this field. It is dangerous and a risk to our health.”
Thanks to her determination to leave and choose a new beginning, Nin isn’t in danger anymore. Nin was able to live, learn, and recover at Freedom Home because your support allows us to keep it a safe, resourced place for survivors of exploitation. Thank you!
*Name representative for Nin’s privacy