Lawan and Mali* were just 9 years old when their lives were changed forever.
Lawan Mali* were just 9 years old when their lives were changed forever. It was a hot summer day and the girls were playing alone in Mali's house, a bamboo hut hidden by tall trees and grasses near Lawan's house. Their only neighbor, a close adult friend who was like a brother to the girls, entered the house and offered them cold sodas. Grateful for the chance to cool down, the girls drank. What happened next was a blur.
Lawan and Mali both became dizzy. They lost their strength. And then their neighbor, a man they knew and trusted, carried their limp bodies to a wooded area about a half-mile from their homes and raped them.
Lawan, half asleep, was aware of what was happening. Mali was unconscious. When the man left, Lawan woke up and dressed her friend, and they walked home. Lawan’s little heart was heavy and broken, but she vowed to protect her friend and never tell her what had happened.
But her silence was an advantage for her abuser, and he continued to rape Lawan over the next two years.
Lawan lived with her grandmother and uncle, and her abuser would watch to see when her grandmother and uncle left the house. On weekends, when the grandmother and uncle were feeding ducks in the fields, the man attacked Lawan again and again. She screamed each time the man violated her, but nobody came to her rescue.
When Lawan could no longer bear the pain, she told her grandmother about the attacks. But her grandmother accused her of lying — and her abuser became bolder.
One day, Lawan’s older brother saw the man abusing her. Filled with rage, he dashed in to rescue his sister. But the man, bigger and older, punched him and went back to finish what he had started.
Mali’s mother also witnessed one of the rapes. Shocked, she did not know what to do. She lived with Mali and a niece and was afraid that if she intervened, the man would harm her and her girls. But she knew she had to do something for Lawan.
So she consulted the village leader, who advised her to inform the local government school’s headmaster. Shocked to hear Lawan’s story, the headmaster immediately pulled Lawan out of her community and let her stay with his family while he notified the authorities and Oranut Ketkaew, Lawan’s Compassion center director.
When Ketkaew learned about the situation, she immediately took the girls to the hospital and worked with other Compassion leaders to contact the International Justice Mission (IJM). A team of attorneys and social workers filed a lawsuit, and an IJM attorney acted as the co-plaintiff with Lawan and Mali’s caretakers. IJM also covered the legal fees of about 50,000 baht (just under $1,700) per case.
Ketkaew accompanied the girls to court and provided emotional and practical support to the families. “We wouldn’t have known where to start. Ketkaew ran all the errands for us. We are forever grateful for her support in our difficult time,” says Mali’s mother. IJM, reports Ketkaew, “helped prepare the children before they were going to give any testimonies, gave us instructions on what to do with the legal matters, and introduced us to the prosecutor. They were with us in every step.”
It took seven months to investigate, gather evidence, and file the lawsuit. The months dragged on for the girls as they gave testimonies to the investigator, took trips to the courthouse, stood in the court as witnesses, and relived the abuse through court accounts.
The long process paid off. The girls won their cases, and their abuser received a 63-year prison term — the most severe punishment allowable — which ensures he will spend the rest of his life in prison.
The girls’ cases were a great victory. But there are many sexual assaults against children in the poorest neighborhoods in Thailand, and members of these communities who are not receiving help through Compassion or other child advocacy organizations make around 150 baht (about $5) per day and have few resources to fight against predators. With no education, money, power or advocates to fight on their behalf, they are silent victims of abuse.
Today, with Compassion’s help, Lawan lives with her family in a different neighborhood close to other relatives. Many people joined hands to help. Compassion provided 5,000 baht to relocate the family. The local municipality office also contributed a roof and poles for the construction of their new home and the church members donated electricity wires and light bulbs needed for the house. And both girls are slowly healing from their abuse.
“It is easier for Mali to get on with her life because she barely had any memories about what happened to her,” Ketkaew says. “Lawan is different. We have assigned a Compassion center worker who lives close to her to be her mentor. We affirm to her that she is protected and loved. It takes time to heal, but we are getting there.”
*Children's names have been changed to protect their identities.