I grew up in Indonesia, and by the time I was 20, I had a good job as a financial analyst, a loving husband, and a young daughter, Tania. My husband and I separated, and when I was 23, he died of lung cancer. She was only 3 years old, but I feared I wouldn't be able to send her to college when the time came. A woman answered the door and pulled me inside to where a group of men sat on dirty couches.
In 1998, the Indonesian economy collapsed and I lost my job. My savings were worthless, and the job market was dismal—I knew I'd have to leave the country to find work. With money like that, Tania's education would be more than covered, so I paid a ,000 recruitment fee up front, and in June 2001, a week before my 25th birthday, I boarded a plane for America. As if to punish me for questioning him, the man led me at gunpoint to the garage and pushed me into a car. In that moment it clicked—I'd been sold into a sex trafficking ring. I realized that if I ever wanted to see her again, I had to do what I was told. When I objected to his advances, he pushed and hit me. In the morning a man took me back to the townhouse where the two other girls were staying.
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One day I saw an ad in a newspaper for a contract job waiting tables at a hotel in the U. When I landed at an airport in New York City, a Malaysian man named Johnny was there to meet me. Five other girls and one young man had also arrived from Indonesia at about the same time to meet Johnny. I had learned a little English in school, and said, "No! Johnny came in and said, "I'm so sorry about what happened to you." He was kind and warm, and rubbed my back. He told me to give him my passport and plane ticket home for safekeeping.
He divided us into two groups—I was with two girls who were 15 and 17—and drove to a hotel. Then he said he would take me to the store to get a uniform for work, but when we got there he led me to the lingerie section. As we walked out of the store, one of the men put a gun to my back. My real name, Shandra, was too hard for the traffickers to remember and not sexy enough. Every night we were trafficked from one brothel to another. Sometimes we drove north on the interstate, stopping at brothels and motels along the way.
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While inside a garage, prosecutors say the encounter turned violent."The defendant admitted that he no money for the second encounter and he tried to negotiate an additional free 15 minutes. After he punched her in the face and strangled here as she tried to call for help," assistant state's attorney Christina Dracopoulos said.Back then, I rarely saw daylight, ate a warm meal, or kept the money I made.That's because I'd been forced into a life as a sex worker.My day-to-day schedule isn't much different from that of most other mothers.Each morning, I wake up my 10-year-old son, Nicholas, cook him breakfast, and put him on the bus to school. I might get a text or phone call from my daughter, Tania, who is 20, or chat with my mother, Theresia, who sometimes stays with Nick and me.