Of the estimated 600,000 to 800,000 individuals trafficked across international borders each year, some 80 percent are women and girls. Nuch was one of the thousands of women trafficked annually out of Thailand for sexual exploitation. The major destinations include Japan, Malaysia, Bahrain, Australia, Singapore, and the US. Internal trafficking occurs within the country as well, usually from northern Thailand (where hill tribe women and girls are denied Thai citizenship). In Japan, where she was enslaved, women are trafficked from Thailand, the Philippines, Russia, and Eastern Europe, and on a smaller scale from Colombia, Brazil, Mexico, Burma, and Indonesia. Nuch left for Japan in March 1992 at the age of 27 and was held in Tokyo. She explains that she apparently owed money for the trip and had to work off her debt with clients. After three months in slavery, she was taken to a police station, detained for several months in solitary confinement, and transferred to an immigration detention center, where she was held until the Thai Embassy issued travel documents. She flew back to Thailand in March 1993. Her narrative describes the involvement of other women in the process of enslavement. Her experience was at the hands of a long series of women: a Thai woman who got “extra points” by betraying her, a female agent, a woman who was the “boss,” and the Taiwanese “mama” (brothel manager). The percentage of female traffickers is rising. Some have been trafficked themselves and then reappear as recruiters or pimps. Others are blackmailed by criminals. Female traffickers are often the most convincing at deceiving women and girls into accepting fake job offers and so beginning the journey into slavery.
The agent told me she could find a job for me in a Thai restaurant in Japan and that I could make several tens of thousands a month. She agreed to pay for all of my expenses, saying that I could pay her back once in Japan. I didn’t know anything about exchange rates or different currencies so I didn’t know how much 380 bai [$30,000] was, but it didn’t sound like a lot. I asked how long it would take me to pay it back, and the agent said five months.
I didn’t carry my own passport to go through Thai immigration. The agent gave both of our passports to immigration and talked to them. I arrived in Japan at night. At Narita airport immigration, the agent told me to go to a specific line and she went in another one. She went through first and then came to help me. She spoke Japanese and got me through. Then we took a taxi to a hotel in Tokyo. She told me I would work at a Thai restaurant that belonged to a Thai woman named Ice. Ice told me I was to stay here and that I shouldn’t speak Thai outside the apartment. She told me I couldn’t escape and not to even try.
Another woman took the three of us. We traveled all day by train. Once off the train, I was separated from the others and brought straight to a snack bar. I was very cold because I had no winter clothes. The snack bar was very small and had only four other Thai women there. They worked and slept at the snack shop. The mama was a Taiwanese woman. They told me there was no way out and I would just have to accept my fate. The snack bar had many customers who I saw drinking alcohol and singing. I was told I had to go to sit with them. I knew then what had happened to me. That first night I had to take several men, and after that I had to have at least one client every night.
When I first got to the apartment a Thai man slapped my face and said: “they told you not to meet other Thai.” Then Ice took me into another room. There Ice beat me, mostly by kicking me everywhere, while I sat in a chair. Ice beat me for over an hour saying: “I told you not to speak to any Thai.” I couldn’t fight back because there were many men outside the room. When Ice finished she took a visa photo of me and forced me to write a contract. I said I couldn’t write, but Ice forced me to write the contract by telling me each letter in Thai. I was forced to write that “if I try to escape again, I agree to be killed,” and then Ice forced me to sign it. Then Ice photocopied it and said she would give a copy to the next mama I was sent to work for. Ice then asked me: “do you want to go into a brothel where you’ll never come out or pay back a debt of 700 bai [$55,000]?” I didn’t know what a brothel was, but it didn’t sound good so I agreed to having my original debt doubled.
I had to take all the clients that were introduced to me and was never given a day off. I was given birth control and charged 1000 yen [$8] per month. The only money I ever had was the tip money I saved. With the tip money, I had to buy my own food, except for rice, with the other women. Once I slipped and said I was from Thailand. The client asked the mama if it was true that I was from Thailand. It was a big problem. The mama’s daughter slapped me, and the Japanese husband of the mama told me: “if you tell another person you are Thai again you will have a name, but no body.” This meant he would kill me and only my name would be left. The mama’s daughter slapped me again another time, when I was told to serve a very rude, drunk and dirty client whom I had been forced to have sex with several times before and couldn’t stand it. She slapped me because I wasn’t eager enough to take this particular client.
We were watched at all times. When we had to go out with clients, the mama hired taxis to wait for us at the hotel and bring the women back. There was never any chance to escape. We worked at the snack bar from 6pm to 3am, and at 9am we were woken up to clean the house and the snack bar before lunch. After lunch we worked in the field out behind the snack bar until dinner. We were given birth control pills and told not to take the white pills. So we never had our periods while working there. We worked and took clients everyday.
I asked another Thai woman to help me write a letter to send to my mother. It had been a long time since I had written to my mother. I had never told my mother what I was forced to deal with or the details of my life. I just wanted to tell my mother that I was well and everything was okay. But, while I was telling the other Thai woman what to write, I slipped and said, “sorry I haven’t written to you for a long time. I have moved to another restaurant.” The Thai woman who was transcribing the letter asked me for more details. I told her then that I got sick and my blood was positive. Then this Thai woman went and told the mama—to get some extra points by telling on me. In all my time in Japan only about ten clients ever used condoms and even then they broke a couple of times. I did not know about AIDS then or what “blood positive” meant.
One morning, the police came to arrest us. They asked me and the others in Thai if we wanted to go home, and if so to get our clothes. Only myself and one other woman got our clothes. Everyone was arrested, the mama, her husband, the two Taiwanese friends, and the seven Thai women. One Thai woman had just finished off her debt after two years and was about to be paid for the first time for 20 clients. She was especially upset.
Narrative as told to Human Rights Watch, March 3, 1995, in a shelter in Bangkok, Thailand.