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March 31, 2016

Shandra Woworuntu: My life as a sex-trafficking victim

Indonesian women are particularly vulnerable to trafficking for sexual & labor exploitation.

The number of Indonesians seeking work abroad remains very high, with an estimated 6.5 million to 9 million Indonesian migrant workers worldwide. Many of these workers voluntarily migrate but are later coerced into abusive conditions.
The International Organization of Migration (IOM) and a leading Indonesian anti-trafficking NGO estimates that 43 to 50 percent – or some 3 to 4.5 million – of Indonesia’s expatriate workforce are victims of conditions indicative of trafficking. Each of Indonesia’s 33 provinces is a source (and destination) of trafficking, with the most significant source areas being Java, West Kalimantan, Lampung, North Sumatra, and South Sumatra. The majority of Indonesian migrant workers face conditions of forced labor and debt bondage in more developed Asian countries and the Middle East – particularly Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Kuwait, Syria, and Iraq.

Root Causes
There are many causes of human trafficking in Indonesia, including poverty, lack of employment opportunities, unequal gender roles, and community and family pressures to employ children. A cultural acceptance of a young marrying age for girls often leads to false marriages or failed marriages; following which, the girls are sometimes forced into prostitution


February 4, 2015 - Shandra Woworuntu, Shandra Wowomuntu shared her testimony of how an educated woman was put into Human Trafficking.
a trafficking survivor, delivers testimony at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing titled “Ending Modern Slavery:



Shandra Woworuntu: My life as a sex-trafficking victim


 
 
Shandra Woworuntu arrived in the US hoping to start a new career in the hotel industry. Instead, she found she had been trafficked into a world of prostitution and sexual slavery, forced drug-taking and violence. It was months before she was able to turn the tables on her persecutors. Some readers may find her account of the ordeal upsetting. I arrived in the United States in the first week of June, 2001. To me, America was a place of promise and opportunity. As I moved through immigration I felt excited to be in a new country, albeit one that felt strangely familiar from movies and TV.
In the arrivals hall I heard my name, and turned to see a man holding a sign with my picture. It wasn't a photo I cared for very much. The recruitment agency in Indonesia had dressed me up in a revealing tank top. But the man holding it smiled at me warmly. His name was Johnny, and I was expecting him to drive me to the hotel I would be working in.
The fact that this hotel was in Chicago, and I had arrived at JFK airport in New York nearly 800 miles away, shows how naive I was. I was 24 and had no idea what I was getting into.
After graduating with a degree in finance, I had worked for an international bank in Indonesia as an analyst and trader. But in 1998, Indonesia was hit by the Asian financial crisis, and the following year the country was thrown into political turmoil. I lost my job.

So to support my three-year-old daughter I started to look for work overseas. That was when I saw an ad in a newspaper for work in the hospitality industry in big hotels in the US, Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore. I picked the US, and applied.
The requirement was that I could speak a little English and pay a fee of 30m Indonesian rupiahs (in 2001, about $2,700). There was a lengthy recruitment process, with lots of interviews. Among other things they asked me to walk up and down and smile. "Customer service is the key to this job," I was told.

I passed all the tests and took the job. The plan was that my mother and sister would look after my little girl while I worked abroad for six months, earning $5,000 a month. Then I would come home to raise my daughter.
I arrived at JFK with four other women and a man, and we were divided into two groups. Johnny took all my documents, including my passport, and led me to his car with two of the other women.
That was when things started to get strange.
A driver took us a short way, to Flushing in Queens, before he pulled into a car park and stopped the car. Johnny told the three of us to get out and get into a different car with a different driver. We did as we were told, and I watched through the window as the new driver gave Johnny some money. I thought, "Something here is not right," but I told myself not to worry, that it must be part of the way the hotel chain did business with the company they used to pick people up from the airport.
But the new driver didn't take us very far either. He parked outside a diner, and again we had to get out of the car and get into another one, as money changed hands. Then a third driver took us to a house, and we were exchanged again.
The fourth driver had a gun. He forced us to get in his car and took us to a house in Brooklyn, then rapped on the door, calling "Mama-san! New girl!"
By this time I was freaking out, because I knew "Mama-san" meant the madam of a brothel. But by this time, because of the gun, there was no escape.
The door swung open and I saw a little girl, perhaps 12 or 13, lying on the ground screaming as a group of men took turns to kick her. Blood poured from her nose and she was howling, screaming in pain. One of the men grinned and started fooling around with a baseball bat in front of me, as if in warning.
And just a few hours after my arrival in the US, I was forced to have sex.

I was terrified, but something in my head clicked into place - some kind of survival instinct. I learned from witnessing that first act of violence to do what I was told.
The following day, Johnny appeared and apologised at length for everything that had happened to us after we had parted company. He said there must have been a terrible mistake. That day we would get our pictures taken for our ID cards, and we would be taken to buy uniforms, and then we would go to the hotel in Chicago to start our jobs.

"We'll be OK," he said, rubbing my back. "It won't happen again." I trusted him. After the bad things I had just endured he was like an angel. "OK," I thought. "The nightmare is over. Now I'll go to Chicago to start my job."
A man came and took us to a photo studio, where we had our pictures taken, and then he drove us to a store to buy uniforms. But it was a lingerie store, full of skimpy, frilly things, the like of which I had never seen before. They were not "uniforms".
It's kind of funny, to look back on that moment. I knew I was being lied to and that my situation was perilous. I remember looking around that shop, wondering if I could somehow slip away, disappear. But I was scared and I didn't know anyone in America, so I was reluctant to leave the other two Indonesian girls. I turned, and saw that they were enjoying the shopping trip.
Then I looked at my escort and saw he was concealing a gun, and he was watching me. He made a gesture that told me not to try anything.
Later that day our group was split up and I was to see little of those two women again. I was taken away by car, not to Chicago, but to a place where my traffickers forced me to perform sex acts.
The traffickers were Indonesian, Taiwanese, Malaysian Chinese and American. Only two of them spoke English - mostly, they would just use body language, shoves, and crude words. One thing that especially confused and terrified me that night, and that continued to weigh on me in the weeks that followed, was that one of the men had a police badge. To this day I don't know if he was a real policeman.
They told me I owed them $30,000 and I would pay off the debt $100 at a time by serving men. Over the following weeks and months, I was taken up and down Interstate 95, to different brothels, apartment buildings, hotels and casinos on the East Coast. I was rarely two days in the same place, and I never knew where I was or where I was going.
These brothels were like normal houses on the outside and discos on the inside, with flashing lights and loud music. Cocaine, crystal meth and weed were laid out on the tables. The traffickers made me take drugs at gunpoint, and maybe it helped make it all bearable. Day and night, I just drank beer and whisky because that's all that was on offer. I had no idea that you could drink the tap water in America.

Twenty-four hours a day, we girls would sit around, completely naked, waiting for customers to come in. If no-one came then we might sleep a little, though never in a bed. But the quiet times were also when the traffickers themselves would rape us. So we had to stay alert. Nothing was predictable.
Despite this vigilance, it was like I was numb, unable to cry. Overwhelmed with sadness, anger, disappointment, I just went through the motions, doing what I was told and trying hard to survive. I remembered the sight of that small girl being beaten, and I saw the traffickers hurt other women too if they made trouble or refused sex. The gun, the knife and the baseball bat were fixtures in a shifting and unstable world.

Full story on BBC 

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