Pot was introduced to an agent in Bangkok in 1990 at the age of 27, and was flown to Tokyo via South Korea. There were up to 20 women working in her brothel at any given time, and she was held there for 18 months. Her pimp was female. Of the estimated 600,000 to 800,000 individuals trafficked across international borders each year, some 80 percent are women and girls. Pot 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.
A friend I knew from the market in Nakhon Sawan told me about the opportunity to work in factories in Japan. I had divorced my Thai husband when I was four months pregnant and now my son was three years old and I had to raise him by myself and was finding it difficult to make enough money. My parents asked me not to go, but I thought if I went for just one year I could make money for my family and son. I didn’t realize what kind of work I was going to do until I was on my way to Japan, and I didn’t realize I was in debt for 380 bai [$30,000] until I arrived at the snack bar. I was told by the recruiters in Thailand that I would work in a factory and would get 50 percent of my salary until my debt was paid off. I was angry and freaked out about my situation. I was surprised to be locked up because I was not allowed any chance to say goodbye to my family, even over the phone. I heard the agents talking about the price for each woman being between 150-160 bai [$10,000-11,000] but I couldn’t really understand what they were talking about and did not realize that we were being sold into prostitution. I was feeling suspicious but still wasn’t clear about what was going on. In hindsight I believe that the immigration officer at Don Muang airport in Bangkok knew what I was going to do in Japan better than I did at the time, as the officer was buddy-buddy with my escort and just kept smiling at me and the other Thai women as he stamped our passports.
Most of the women were under 20 years old and from the north of Thailand. All 50 women were guarded, controlled, and watched by the men at all times. I knew that there was something wrong and began talking to the other Thai women there. This is where I learned that all of the women were going to work in prostitution, because some of the women had worked in prostitution before and knew that they were going to do so in Japan. I didn’t know what to do. I just thought that once I got to Japan I would change my job immediately.
Chan was trying to sell me and the others like cattle. Then, on the fifth day, a Thai woman bought me and took me to another woman named Chan in Ibaraki prefecture who paid 380 bai for me. I had known since Korea that I was being sold as a prostitute, but I didn’t realize until I got to the snack that this 380 bai that I was bought for was to be my debt.
In all, I worked for eight months to pay back my debt and I had calculated that I must have paid it back long ago, but the mama kept lying to me and said she didn’t have the same records as I did. During these eight months, I had to take every client that wanted me and had to work everyday, even during my menstruation. The mama also made me and the other women work for her during the day and wouldn’t allow us to eat much saying we would get too fat. I was like a skeleton during that time. While I was under contract the mama paid for everything except for my health care and birth control pills. This was all added to my debt. I tried to keep track of my own records quietly, but I didn’t know all the additional expenses that the mama was adding to my debt. And I did not want the mama to know I was keeping track for fear that she would get angry. I did not have any money to send home unless a client gave me a good tip. I just wanted to pay off my debt and get enough money to go home. But the mama was always swearing at me for saving money. The mama threatened me, saying that if I made any trouble she’d sell me again and double my debt. During the first three months I was never allowed out of the apartment except with the mama or a client. Even after three months I was allowed out only along with others and was warned not to make any friends.
Once a Yakuza member took me out for the night. He brought me to a hotel room and first injected himself with heroin and then tried to force me to inject. I refused and struggled. He beat me until I was almost dead. Then he took a rubber band out and strapped it around my arm and was just about to inject me when he passed out. I tried to move and after some time was able to get out of the hotel and fled back to my apartment. I didn’t dare tell anybody what happened or seek medical help for my injuries.
When the Japanese police came around I knew that I had overstayed my visa and that the mama had my passport. I never dared to run away or even considered running to the police without my documents. Without my documents I was sure I would be arrested and jailed. I tried to be cooperative with the mama and not make any troubles for myself.
Narrative as told to Human Rights Watch, June 1, 1995, in the Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan.