Sex trafficking hits home

by Emily Kaiser

YEDITOR’S NOTE: This article is the first of a two-part series that examines sex trafficking in the United States. Today’s article features one woman’s experience.

You couldn’t spot them on the street, but right now there are slaves living in local neighborhoods, hidden in basements and being transported along area highways.

The CIA estimates 50,000 women and children are transported each year throughout the United States by being conned and forced into a life of sexual exploitation. The FBI estimates that the average age of a prostitute in the United States is 13.

These women and girls are considered modern-day slaves and can be found throughout Minnesota, even being recruited at local malls and teenage hangouts.

According to federal law, sex trafficking occurs when people are transported by force, fraud or coercion to perform sexual acts.

One woman’s story

Chong Kim, a survivor of sex trafficking in the United States, said she is using her story to show people that sex trafficking does not only occur internationally, but right in their own backyards.

Kim is now working as an advocate in the Twin Cities area to help women get out of prostitution.

“I feel I experienced holocaust in my own concentration camp,” she said.

After a childhood of abuse by family members and friends in Dallas, Kim said she experienced domestic abuse when she was involved with a man in the military at the age of 19.

To control her, he destroyed her identification.

“He told me that without papers I was nobody, and he was right,” she said. “When I escaped with no papers to prove who I was, I was treated like an immigrant.”

Without identification, Kim said, she was unable to find a homeless shelter to stay in, and was quickly approached by a woman from a Dallas escort service who promised to help.

Kim said she did not understand what an escort service is, but was assured it was only a dating service.

“When she had me go out on calls, she told me I didn’t have to have sex, but I would be raped,” Kim said.

When Kim finally approached the police, she said, she was turned away.

“The police said I had no rights because I was now a streetwalker,” she said.

Kim said she felt she was trapped with the escort service, and was soon trafficked to Las Vegas, blindfolded and handcuffed, and eventually kept in an abandoned warehouse.

The warehouse was filled with young girls, Kim said, many of them younger than 16 and unable to speak English.

To be more profitable, Kim said, she was forced to dress as a Japanese geisha and talk in broken English, despite being Korean and speaking fluent English.

“If a client assumed you were an immigrant, they paid more for you,” she said.

After being auctioned off and picked out of crowds, Kim said she felt like she was at a slaughterhouse.

“The men would look at us like we were cows and picked which body they liked,” she said.

Eventually, Kim realized the only way to escape was to be bought by one of the men.

The man that bought her was very influential, so he made Kim promise not to tell anyone, she said.

“I would say, ‘Me no tell, me say nothing’, and he said, ‘This is why I like Asian women, they don’t talk much,’ ” she said.

Kim said the man then taught her how to recruit other women into prostitution.

“After what I saw, I couldn’t believe I was doing this,” she said. “That’s how I got into drugs – to make me feel better.”

She said she became addicted to cocaine, and often overdosed.

“I did it because I couldn’t stomach what he or I was doing,” she said.

During one of the drug parties, Kim said, she was able to escape by convincing the man to let her go out alone to get beer and ice.

Once out the door, Kim said, she ran and didn’t look back.

She is often questioned now why she never asked anyone for help when she escaped, she said.

“How do you explain to someone what it’s like, what we were going through,” she said. “I watched women die in front of my face, and was constantly threatened Ö this is not a choice.”

Kim said she was always afraid of being caught and killed, and had several close calls with traffickers in the area.

She found herself in the same convenience store as a trafficker and was not seen, she said.

“I believe God surrounded me with angels,” she said. “The trafficker walked right past me.”

After contacting a local center for prostituted women, she was advised to come to Minnesota to begin rebuilding her life.

Kim escaped when she was 23 and is now 30. She has been sober for five years and now reaches out to women going through what she went through.

Kim said that through her outreach, she has helped as many as 22 women escape prostitution, and is currently helping five people get back on their feet.

“This isn’t a movie,” she said.

“These are stories you can see; look into their eyes and feel their fear.”