She walks into a cyber cafe and starts flirting with guys online through the internet relay chat or IRC. After some time, Pamela Lim, 29, strikes a deal to meet one of them at a hotel for sex. She gets $200 in return.
This was what Pamela did to survive in 2004. She was then homeless, jobless, and saddled with debt of half a million dollars. She had been conned into borrowing money for an investment that turned out to be a scam.
“I was naive and emotionally unstable back then, every bank was calling me for money. I was desperate. If there’s a way out, why not try it?,” said Pamela, in an interview with Happiness Notebook on 15 Aug.
Pamela went public with her past last year when she published her autobiography, Love Heals: How I Turn My Life Around. The 109-page book tells the story of how she was duped, cornered by debts, turned to prostitution, and met the man who would become her saviour and husband.
“It’s an inspirational story to tell people that there is hope and light at the end of the tunnel,” said the 43-year-old mother of three boys.
Her problem began in 2004 when her events management business went bust, leaving her with a $50,000 debt.
Anxious to clear the debt, she fell prey to a get-rich-quick investment scam. She borrowed heavily from banks as well as relatives and friends to invest. Each loan ranged from a few hundred dollars to $50,000.
The person behind the scam kept asking for more money to top up the investment. Otherwise, she would not able to get back her money. He constantly harassed her by calling her office. Pamela, who’s then working as a receptionist, left her job as a result.
“I fell out with my family because of the money issue. I even stole and pawned my mum’s jewellery out of desperation for a few thousand dollars,” said Pamela, who has a full A-level certificate and diploma in mass communication.
“My brother was angry and took my house keys away. I was jobless, penniless, and homeless. I was desperate, and ended up doing (prostitution).”
With no one to confide in, she turned to IRC, hoping to get to know people who could help her. Men started making indecent proposals. “I realised I could make money by doing it,” she said.
Her prostitution stint lasted eight months. She had about 30 clients, of which three were regular.
What was her worst experience?
She recalled a guy who forced himself on her without wearing a condom. “We did the first round, then he literally forced himself on me for a second time without protection. I ended up with gonorrhoea. The experience was horrible, I felt humiliated.”
She hated what she was doing but continued nevertheless. It was her hope to get out of debt.
Finding love and hope
Fate would have it that she met Eric Lim, who would later become her husband.
“Before I met Eric, all the clients I had had wanted my body only for their personal satisfaction. I was, to them, a tall and beautiful girl they could use as an object of carnal pleasure,” she wrote in her book.
“Eric was very nice, brought food for me and brought me to see a doctor. He was someone I felt very comfortable with,” she added.
In a phone interview, Eric said he lent her some money out of pity when he met her for the first time. Pamela later called him again to ask for more money. “This time round, she felt obligated to offer herself in return,” he said.
He gradually fell in love with her despite the fact that she was a prostitute.
Said Eric: “I did ask myself if I should get involved with her. But I told her I would always be behind her.
“I have this feeling that we’re meant to be together. I didn’t mind her past, the past is the past. This is life, right? We all have issues.
“This was not something that she got into on her own will. Everybody wants to lead a good life.
“But she went deeper and deeper into trouble, even her parents left her. She had no choice but to sell her body. She almost ended her life, but I slowly told her that life must still go on.”
After her dad found out what she was doing, Pamela felt ashamed and tried to commit suicide by drowning herself in the sea.
Miraculously, Eric was able to find her over the long stretch of the East Coast beach. She was rescued by the police and warded in the Institute of Mental Health (IMH).
They decided to tie the knot when Pamela was pregnant with their first child.
“Back then, I was just out of IMH. I hesitated because I was still going through a lot of stress but Eric wanted the child,” said Pamela.
They could only afford a simple dinner of four tables. No wedding dresses or photography. Pamela was still in debt, and Eric was then earning $2,000 as a technician. He supplemented his income by driving taxi part time.
“It wasn’t easy for us to set up this family, we went through a lot of hardship together. He could have walked out of it but he chose to stay,” said Pamela.
Pamela now runs a digital marketing business, and still owes debts of over $400,000. [Update on 25 Aug: She updated that her current debt is over $200,000 from her latest calculation ] The couple sometimes struggles with bread and butter issues.
“We are paying off bit by bit,” said Eric, now an operations manager in a local IT company.
Debt aside, they are leading a happy family life. They stay in a four-room flat in Punggol, have three boys, aged 11, 10 and 3. Pamela has also mended ties with her brother and mother. She often brings her children for visits during weekends.
“After my mother read my book, she became more loving and understanding,” said Pamela.
For Pamela, writing the book was a way to release her emotional pain. Until then, she had never had the courage to tell anyone about how she met Eric.
“It took a long time for me to get out of the pain and hurt that I was in. I felt very guilty of demeaning myself; I didn’t have any self-worth,” she said.
Does Eric feel embarrassed about his wife revealing their past?
“Initially, yes, but I am okay now. We cannot hang on to the past. What’s past is past. We should look forward to the future. As long as we can lead a normal life, I am contented,”said Eric.
As for Pamela, she hopes that her story can be made into a movie one day. She’s inspired by a friend who’s raising funds to help victims of sex trafficking in Thailand.
“I realised my story has a bigger purpose: to bring hope to women who’re forced into the prostitution trade,” she said.
Firstly, we should applaud Pamela for having the courage to share her story with Happiness Notebook. It’s a remarkable turn around: A former prostitute finding love, getting married and having a happy family with three kids. But I find it hard to pin point the learning points. I am a person who prefers to take steps to control my own destiny but Pamela’s journey is about hope. Perhaps, we can learn to avoid falling for get-rich-quick investment scheme in the first place. Getting into huge debts was what led her into depression and later desperation.
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