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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
soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. andrijpfgj

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    July 26, 2012 at 5:53 am | Report abuse |
  2. Carola

    CallmeLizza S / I completely undrastend you. My acne was located mostly on my face and I was lucky, but I followed in my cousin's footsteps who had bad bacne and cleared it up. Her method was purely holistic. She is a model so she needs to keep herself looking great and in shape to keep up with her agency's demands and the demands of the fashion industry. She went on a diet that was inspired by many nutritionists and Natural doctors she visited for her skin condition. She cut out many of the foods she has intolerances to. She cut out all nuts, dairy, most grains, and lowered any form of sugar to almost none. It's scary, but it worked and it also worked for me. To know yourself better go on a elimination diet to see what you are intolerant to. I persoanly don't eat fruits at all because I tend to breakout very easily from them. Yea i know FRUIT what! But it's sad and true. I eat many vegetables, however, to replace the vitamins in fruit and I also take a multivitamin. I eat no grains at all personally, but I don;t breakout if I eat a small amount (1 serving) a day of grain. It's my body, however, remember you'll have to experiment to get to know your own body and it's reactions.Pay attention to1)all fruit2)all nuts3)all grains4)all forms of sugar5)hydrogenated, refined, modified, or partially hydrogenated oils6)All Dairyand see how your body reacts to all of them when your on an elimination diet.It's not completely hopeless tho, you can use stevia for a natural sweetener as a replacement for sugar. Stevia is found in healthfood stores. It tastes best in teas. If you eat small amouts of sugar you'll be fine, but be careful.I basically eat grassfed beef of grainfed(less often when it's grainfed about 1 or 2 x a week), free range or hormonefree/antibiotic free chicken, wild seafood of all types ex.mackerel, salmon, some shellfish and likewise, etc, I also eat turkey(less often because expensive), and other forms of white meat such as lamb or rabbit(whatever floats your boat).I eat almost all veggies except potatoes because i dislike themI eat fruit very occasionally. I avoid the genus prunus family(apricots, peaches, cherries etc).. I usually go for apples, lemons(in my tea or lime), or berries if I ever do eat fruit.I also will eat junk maybe once a month but I keep it to once a month when i'm gonna go out with a friend, just don't junk out or your diet will be worthless in trying to help your skinBasically go to search the Paleo Diet. Explore that diet since MANY people have had success on that diet!GOodluck!

    July 26, 2012 at 5:59 am | Report abuse |
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    September 7, 2012 at 7:33 am | Report abuse |
  4. Umbu sylvanus emmanuel

    I want to go abroad,

    September 13, 2012 at 2:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Francisco

      Simon,I'm totally isrsepmed by your efforts so far, having run a number of Marathons, I know some of what you've been going through, but nowhere near the intensity of what you've been doing. Please don't give up, just take it easy for a week or two to get your strength back, enjoy the ride on the truck, and then look forward to the rest of the journey down through Africa. At the end of the day, you've paid for the whole trip and there's absolutiely no shame in spending some of the time resting. Big Respect!

      September 30, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Report abuse |
      • Ayse

        I LOVE your blog!! I made a pumpkin trpaioy for my front porch, similar to the one you did last year. I also linked to your post. 🙂 If you get a chance, check it out at http://www.thesimpler-life.blogspot.comJan

        October 31, 2012 at 6:27 am | Report abuse |
  5. Umbu sylvanus emmanuel

    Lust child

    September 13, 2012 at 2:58 am | Report abuse |
  6. Felica Quach

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    April 20, 2013 at 9:51 am | Report abuse |
  7. Philip Harshbarger

    My wife is the first Asian woman I have ever dated and had a meaningful relationship with. I once had a fling with a Chinese American woman in my college days but it didn’t give me “yellow fever.” I’ve been attracted to every spectrum of the rainbow for whatever reason. `.::

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    May 31, 2013 at 1:54 am | Report abuse |