Free to Be Me: A Journey Out of Sex-Trafficking - Hope 103.2

Free to Be Me: A Journey Out of Sex-Trafficking

"To the girls, God is saying, 'I see you.'" The power of trauma informed aftercare for trafficking survivors.

By Joni BoydWednesday 13 Mar 2024Hope DriveSocial JusticeReading Time: 6 minutes

Human trafficking is not an easy thing to talk about, or even hear about. But awareness brings it from the darkness into the light, enabling it to be eradicated for good.
Key points
  • 80% of trafficking survivors who return home are re-trafficked. Bloom Asia provides trauma informed aftercare to prevent this.
  • Nary recognised her younger self in a photo. “You can see my broken wrist that got broken in the brothel, and they never fixed it. That’s me.”
  • Free to Be Me screens FREE in Sydney at Dendi Cinemas in Newtown on March 19 at 7pm. Register online.

Warning: The following article contains mentions of child sexual abuse. If you need support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit lifeline.org.au. If you have been impacted by sexual assault, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. 

Brand new documentary Free to Be Me is coming to Sydney next week, telling the story of one woman’s journey, from being trafficked – to rebuilding a brand-new life as an empowered and free woman.

It’s impossible to understand the breadth and depth of the long term mental, emotional and physical impacts of being trafficked.

Ruth Larwill is a Psychotherapist from Australia, now living fulltime in Cambodia. She is the Executive Producer of Free to Be Me and founder of Bloom Asia. Ruth chatted with Hope 103.2 Drive’s Georgia Free about this project – and the importance of trauma informed aftercare for trafficking survivors.


The long term impact of trafficking

“There [are] a lot of things that happen once you’ve been in fear for a long period of time.

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“We’ve discovered, and the documentary really highlights that without trauma informed aftercare that helps to rewire the girls’ brains [they’re vulnerable to being re-trafficked],” Ruth explained.

80% of trafficking survivors who return home are re-trafficked.

“There needs to be this aftercare for the girls who are going back into very vulnerable situations because traffickers target the vulnerable populations, and if they return [home], 80% or more, are actually just re-trafficked.”

Bloom Asia partners with rescue organisations to provide aftercare for trafficking survivors in Cambodia by equipping and empowering them as they take steps toward creating a better future.

Why Free to Be Me?

Free to Be Me is a powerful demonstration of what is possible, when people answer the call of God, and bring healing to these precious souls.

The story behind the documentary began when Ruth was chatting at an event with staff member Nary.

“Look at my wrist. You can see my broken wrist that got broken in the brothel, and they never fixed it. That’s me. I know it’s me,” Nary said.

“I was actually showing Nary, one of our girls, [a short clip about sex trafficking], because I thought, ‘she doesn’t actually know much about trafficking,”‘ Ruth explained.

“She was about to speak at an event with us, and I was just showing her this three-minute clip of what was happening in Cambodia.

“And as she’s watching it, and all of a sudden she just goes red.

“‘That’s me [she said]. That’s me in the photo!'”

Free to Be Me, Promo Photos supplied by Bloom Asia

Nary travelled from SE Asia to Washington to meet the team that rescued her.


Confused as to how Nary could recognise herself in the photo, which had all identities blurred, Nary explained, “Look at my wrist. You can see my broken wrist that got broken in the brothel, and they never fixed it. That’s me. I know it’s me.”

Nary is now a businessowner in Phnom Penh, a mother and a wife – and she looks out for vulnerable girls in the community, helping protect them from traffickers. And it’s this story, of Bloom Asia’s work with Nary, which is told in Free to Be Me.

The risk of being re-trafficked

The team at Bloom Asia work hard to empower survivors to break generational cycles, rather than simply rescuing them and allowing them to be “sent back out there – they have time to be discipled and to really let the roots grow deep and [find] healing and become leaders within their communities,” Ruth said.

“All of that actually makes sure that each and every girl knows that there’s a God who loves them,” Ruth said.

“These girls are so traumatized, their nervous system is either in this hypervigilant state where they’re just startled at any sound because they’re feeling not safe, [or they’re] having flashbacks where they’ll actually go back to feeling they don’t trust people.”

“Then after a while, with all that adrenaline and cortisol, that crashes and they shut down, become numb.”

What about the future?

Bloom Asia also helps survivors build a career, by providing training and opportunities.

“We make it fun,” Ruth said.

“We help them to stay present when they’re having flashbacks – we might put a little rubber band on their wrists that they can just keep flicking so that they don’t dissociate when they feel stressed.

“All of that actually makes sure that each and every girl knows that there’s a God who loves them – and that’s the beautiful thing about Nary’s story.”

Free to Be Me, Photos supplied by Bloom Asia

Nary now helps other survivors find hope and freedom through her work with Bloom Asia.


God’s love changes everything

Ruth remembers visiting a survivor in hospital, who had been recently rescued and sent home.

“She had been taught that there was a God, and she was saying, ‘Well, where are You God? If you’re so big and You love me so much, where are You?’

“God was saying, ‘You matter! I see you, and this is not okay,'” Ruth said.

“I was able to be able to share with her that God was speaking into the heart of a mother on the other side of the world, saying, ‘You matter! You matter, and I see you, and this is not okay.'”

This particular woman is now a trainer with Bloom Asia.

It takes a team effort

Having begun in 2009, Bloom Asia has cared for hundreds of survivors.

In Nary’s own words, it takes people all over the world, listening to God’s call on their life, to create the freedom she now lives in.

“God moved hearts all around the world so that I could experience freedom,” she said.

“My life is a testament to the power of people around the world following God’s call to pray, give, and serve.

“God moved hearts all around the world so that I could experience freedom,” Nary said.

“My dream is that by sharing my story, people will understand that we can all, in some capacity, support survivors on their freedom journey.”

“We’d love to do this all around the world and to tell the girls, there is a God who sees you, you’re made for more than this, you’re made for a purpose and a calling,” Ruth said.

“Many of the girls, when they come in, are so angry, [saying], ‘There’s not a God. If there was a God, how on earth could He have let happen what happened?’

“We watch them [as] they come in with their Buddhist bracelets and then slowly, slowly, they see the other girls and their joy, and are able to [begin to] tentatively pray.

“And then we get these miraculous answers to prayer that happen.

“To the girls, I’m sure God is just saying, ‘I see you.'”

Free to Be Me screens FREE in Sydney at Dendy Cinemas in Newtown on March 19 at 7pm. Register online.

If you need support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit lifeline.org.au. If you have been impacted by sexual assault, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. Or if you need someone to listen, care and pray with you, the Hope 103.2 Careline is available 7 days a week, 9am-11pm, including public holidays. 02 7227 5533 (free to call).


All images supplied by Bloom Asia.