Cambodian human rights activist Vannak Anan Prum will share his extraordinary story as a victim and witness of human trafficking and modern slavery in a free talk on May 20.
Prum is the author of “The Dead Eye and the Deep Blue Sea: A Graphic Memoir of Modern Slavery” (Seven Stories Press), which recounts his experiences with human trafficking, using his own colorful, detailed illustrations. Too poor to pay his pregnant wife’s hospital bill, he left his village in Cambodia in 2006 to seek work in Thailand. Men who Prum believed to be employers on a fishing vessel promised him a job at sea for a few months. Prum was, instead, held hostage on this vessel and forced to perform hard labor for four years. He suffered countless abuses, and witnessed suicides and beheadings.
When an opportunity arose, Prum and a friend escaped the vessel by jumping into the water. The distance to shore was too far to swim, so they used empty containers as floats and reached Malaysia in the dark of night several hours later. At the harbor, they were taken to a police station. But instead of being rescued and allowed to go free, the men were sold, this time to work on a plantation.
Prum was kept as a laborer for more than a year before LICADHO, a Cambodian human rights organization, secured his return home. After a five-year ordeal as a victim of human trafficking, Prum was reunited with his family.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton honored Prum in 2012 with a U.S. State Department award as one of 10 heroes working to end modern-day slavery.
“The stories I draw are real,” Prum wrote in an email to UCLA undergraduates enrolled in Paul and Tania Abramson’s fall 2018 honors collegium course Art & Trauma. “I have already experienced them and seen them. I can’t believe people have now read my book all over the world. I thought it would only be in Cambodia.”
“It is an extraordinary story, and an extraordinary book,” Professor Paul Abramson said.
The public event, to be held from noon to 1:30 p.m. in UCLA’s Life Sciences building, room 5826 (southwest of parking lot 2, which is on the corner of Hilgard and Westholme avenues), is sponsored by the UCLA Center for Southeast Asian Studies and the psychology department. Prum’s talk will be translated, as he does not speak English.