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Asian women forced into sexual slavery in California
June 14th, 2012
08:48 PM ET

Asian women forced into sexual slavery in California

By Traci Tamura and Thelma Gutierrez


The pursuit of the American Dream was what brought Soo (not her real name) to the United States from South Korea. It was 2001, when she befriended a group of people who offered her the chance to invest in a business opportunity in California. Soo jumped at the chance to live and work in the U.S. Shortly after Soo arrived in the States she realized that her friends were operating prostitution-related massage parlors. They took her ID and passport after bringing her up to San Francisco, where they told her she owed them $15,000. Her dream was slowly turning into a nightmare. She was left at a massage parlor and forced to prostitute herself to pay off the debt. The pain of having to sell her body against her will, and the treatment she received from clients, are still fresh in her mind. "They would like to choke me and people pulled my hair and hurt me. When I scream nobody hears and nobody comes," Soo remembers.

Soo tried to refuse prostituting her body but without her legal documents or English language skills, and not knowing where she was, she was vulnerable to their threats of being reported to the authorities and sent to jail. So she says she complied and was even beaten into submission if she tried to flee or seek help from the patrons. Soo and 30 other women were forced to work around 20 hours a day selling their bodies for the repayment of debts. If they didn't, there was a price to be paid. "In the beginning, I said no all the time and I got beaten a lot. Even with all of my bruises I still had to work. Sometimes, I would plead to my customers, even though I don't speak English. I'd try my best but I'd just plead with my customers. But they would just tell my manager and then I'd get into more trouble."

It's been five years since Soo was able to escape from her situation with the help of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, but the memories are just as vivid as if it was yesterday. When we sat down to talk to her about her experience, the anguish and pain are evident. The reason Soo decided to come forward and tell her story was to help others in her situation and give them hope that there is help out there. And her message to the men who are customers of these types of establishments: think of the women you are dealing with. "We are humans. We are not animals. I want to tell them we are not machines. It's so hard for me to live my life. It's very hard to live. Please think of us as your child. Just once think of us as your child."

Soo is still pursuing the American Dream but it's been altered now. The trauma she suffered being forced into sex slavery has taken its toll on her emotionally. Everyday continues to be a challenge for Soo, but she finds solace in her tiny apartment filled with rescue cats and dreams of having her own pet grooming business someday. For now, she is thankful for her freedom but is still held hostage to the memories.

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Filed under: backstory • CNN Freedom Project
April 12th, 2012
02:57 AM ET

Healing after Liberia's Civil War

A CNN Writer-Producer returns to Liberia to find it has changed in many positive ways.

Brenda Bush is from Liberia. She spoke to Jonathan Mann about returning to her homeland, and about her American born daughter deciding to move there.

Filed under: Africa • backstory • Interviews • journalists
April 12th, 2012
02:52 AM ET

The Making of An Independent Film: “Faisal Goes West”

Making an independent film takes blood, sweat and tears. And scrounging up the financing can be a major challenge. So, young American filmmaker Bentley Brown decided to take a different approach to make his latest feature: “Faisal Goes West”.

BackStory took a closer look at the challenges involved in making “Faisal Goes West” – a story about a Sudanese family that immigrates to America – from concept to completion.

Filed under: backstory • Entertainment • U.S.
April 9th, 2012
09:41 PM ET

Preserving Titanic History

It's been 100 years since the Titanic struck an iceberg and sank into icy waters off the coast of Canada. Today, the mystery and drama behind the tragedy still captivate people of all ages.

Titanic lies some four kilometers under the surface of the North Atlantic. The wreckage is a memorial to the more than 1,500 people who perished when it sank. Oceanographers discovered the shipwreck site back in 1985.

Ever since then, scientists and historians have been poring over the massive debris field. Backstory producer Chris got a rare look inside the lab where items from the ship are being conserved for future generations.

Filed under: backstory
April 6th, 2012
05:25 PM ET

Memories of reporting on the siege of Sarajevo

Journalists gather in the city of Sarajevo 20 years after the start of the war. Nic Robertson takes us to some places that have stuck with him through the years.



CNN Photographer Dave Rust is a history buff and a collector. He preserved some items of significance from his time in Bosnia during the war. He came on Back|Story with Nic Robertson to share.

Filed under: backstory • Europe • journalists
April 4th, 2012
07:31 PM ET

The little team that could

The tiny town of Kiryat Shmona in Israel wins the Israeli football league title. CNN's Matthew Chance takes us to one of their matches.

Filed under: backstory • Israel • Sport
March 28th, 2012
05:18 PM ET

Covering a deadly beat in Tijuana, Mexico

Mexican journalists risk their lives to report on drug cartel activity. CNN's Kaj Larsen rides to work with Adela Navarro Bello who is the Director of the Zeta newspaper in Tijuana, Mexico.

Filed under: backstory • Cartel Violence • journalists • Mexico
March 8th, 2012
10:41 PM ET

Journey into the abyss

Lt. Don Walsh & Jacques Piccard made the decent to the deepest part of the ocean in 1960.

Filed under: backstory • History • Interviews • Science and Technology
March 8th, 2012
05:36 PM ET

An American in Cuba

In recent years, you've seen CNN's coverage of events in Cuba fronted by our friend, Shasta Darlington, but Shasta has moved on to a post in Brazil... and friend-of-BackStory Patrick Oppmann has taken over in Havana. Being the ultimate self-sufficient reporter that he is, Patrick documented his entire journey to Havana... including his long wait for a truck load of belongings to show up. Take a look...

Also, be sure to check out one of our all time favorite Back|Story pieces from CNN photographer Jose Armijo and, then, Havana producer David Ariosto as they made one of the most unique commutes we've seen back in 2009:

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Filed under: backstory • Cuba • journalists • Latin America • U.S. • Uncategorized
Iran Votes
March 5th, 2012
09:41 PM ET

Iran Votes

CNN Photographer Joe Duran gives us a look at life in Tehran as citizens vote in parliamentary elections.

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Filed under: backstory • Iran • photography
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