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About sharing image copyrightLynn Savarese Shandra Woworuntu arrived in the US hoping to start a new career in the hotel industry.
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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 of the ordeal upsetting. I arrived in the United States in the first week of June, To me, America was a place of promise and opportunity. As I moved through immigration I felt excited to be in a new em, 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 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.
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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. 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 inIndonesia was hit by the Asian financial crisis, and the following year the country was thrown into political turmoil. I lost my job.
I picked the US, and applied. There was a lengthy recruitment process, with lots of interviews. Among other things they asked me to walk up and down and smile. I passed all the tests and took the job. 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 thee stopped the car. Johnny told the three of us to get out ms get parl 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 ta,k.
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 tbe to get in his car and took us to a house in Brooklyn, then rapped on the door, calling "Mama-san!
Parj 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 takl, as if in warning. And just a few hours after my arrival in the US, I was forced to have sex. 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 ;ark 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 ssx uniforms, and then we would go to the hotel in Chicago to start our jobs.
After the bad things I had just endured he was like an angel. Now I'll go to Chicago to start my job. But it was a lingerie store, full of skimpy, frilly things, the like of which I had never seen before.
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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.
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.
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To this day I don't know if patk was a real policeman. 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, par 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 talkk 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. They were told to pose. 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 ssx. 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 taok, unable to cry. Overwhelmed with sadness, anger, disappointment, I just went through the motions, doing par, 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. They gave me the nickname "Candy". All the trafficked women were Asian - besides us Indonesians, there were girls from Thailand, China and Malaysia. There were also women who were not sex slaves.
They were prostitutes who earned money and seemed free to come and go. Most nights, at around midnight, one of the traffickers would drive me to a casino. They would dress me up to look like a princess. My trafficker would wear a black suit and shiny black pafk, and walk silently alongside me like he was my bodyguard, all the time holding a gun to my back.
We didn't go through the lobby, but through the staff entrance and up the laundry lift. I remember the first time I was ushered into a casino hotel room, I thought perhaps I would be able to make a run for it when I came out.
But my trafficker was waiting for me in the corridor. He showed me into the next room. And the next tal. Forty-five minutes in each room, night after night after night, the trafficker always waiting on the other side of the door. Because I was compliant, I was not beaten by my traffickers, but the customers were very violent.
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Some of them looked like they were members of the Asian mafia, but there were also white guys, black guys, and Hispanic guys. There were old men and young university students. I was their property for 45 minutes and I had to do what they said or they hurt me. What I endured was difficult and painful. Physically, I was weak.
The traffickers only fed me plain rice soup with a few pickles, sxe I was often high on drugs. The constant threat of violence, and the need to stay on high alert, was also very exhausting. My only possession - apart from my "uniform" - was a pocketbook [a small handbag], and the things it contained.
I had a dictionary, tye small Bible, and some pens and books of matches I pilfered from hotel rooms, with the names of the casinos on them.