Trang is naked and terrified in the photo.
She is clutching her arms over her nakedness. Deep bruises are evident across her shoulders. Her face is looking up at the camera, her lips gnarled in horror. Her eyes are pleading for mercy.
Trang is 24. As the coronavirus pandemic started impacting Vietnam just a few short months ago, she suddenly found herself unable to keep up payments on a small debt she owed.
With no prospect of finding a job, Trang was approached by a friend who told her about a job just to the north of her home, towards the border with China.
She was in a no-win situation. She didn’t really want to travel away from home, but if she didn’t then the loan sharks would be out to get her. So there only seemed to be one option: she accepted.
Within a day, Trang’s hope of paying off her debt had turned into a terrifying ordeal. Her friend took her to the border with China and sold her to a ring of traffickers. When they revealed their plan – to take Trang deep inland and sell her to a man who wanted a wife – she fought with all her strength.
And she succeeded. She managed to break free and run. She thought she had made it. But the traffickers hunted her down and took hold of her a second time.
They knew Trang was never going to submit to them, so they came up with another plan. They beat and tortured her, stripped her naked and raped her. Then they made her stand, took a photo, and sent it to her mother.
Along with it: a demand for $10,000. If Trang’s mother did not pay, she would be sold to a brothel and never be seen again. A fate worse than death.
When Trang’s mother called Blue Dragon, travel restrictions in China had already made rescue operations close to impossible. But somehow this was one rescue we had to complete. Trang’s terrified eyes told us that nothing in the world was more important than getting her home.
I can’t explain how we found Trang or got her to safety. We need to keep those details a secret, to keep people safe. What I can say is this: Trang crossed the border into Vietnam early on Thursday morning and we took her straight to a government quarantine centre, where she needs to wait out a mandatory isolation period.
She can’t go home right away, but Trang and her mother have had a reunion of sorts: over the phone, they have cried together and they talk constantly.
Trang is completely safe now, yet neither she nor her mother can believe that any of this happened. None of it.
The deception by a trusted friend. The attempt to sell her to a complete stranger. Trang’s courageous dash for freedom. The torture that followed. And finally, the rescue against all probability.
In text messaging with Blue Dragon staff, Trang’s mother has shared her state of shock.
All my life, I never thought there is such a kind person like you… I tell other people about you. Nobody believes me. When my child comes home, you must come with her. Please let me meet you in person so my family can thank you.
The terror of the past few months has shaken Trang and her mother’s belief that there is any good in the world. Helping them to heal through the coming weeks, months and years will involve restoring that belief.
Yes, there is plenty of reason to despair. Our world is in a terrible state – that’s plain for all to see.
But in these terrible times, there is still goodness to be found all around. Whether it’s the Blue Dragon rescue team finding a way to get Trang home, or the health workers on the frontline keeping us safe from COVID-19 every day, we have reason to see hope in our world.
No matter how dark things get: never, ever give up believing that better days are ahead.
Your help is needed to keep essential services going for Trang and young people like her. If you can donate the cost of a couple of cups of coffee a month, please consider joining Dragon Wings, an online community of people giving monthly for this important work. Thank you!