Criminal justice and victim support statistics, including the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) statistics noted below, confirm that forced prostitution and the commercial sexual exploitation of women and girls continues to be a reality in the Asian region. Rising internet usage rates, the availability of mobile phones, and poverty in many parts of Asia has facilitated online forms of child sexual abuse for profit. Natalie was born in South East Asia, where she was sexually exploited in an illegal brothel. She moved to Australia to work in a legal brothel, but found herself with a large debt for her recruitment, and was being charged for her expenses and as punishment. An NGO named Project Respect helped her to leave the sex industry by helping her to find alternative work.
When I was 20 years old, and my daughter was a little over one, I moved to the city. That’s when my life changed forever.
I looked for a job in my native country in Southeast Asia, but couldn’t find anything. I ended up sleeping in a bus stop, waiting for people to help me, because I didn’t know anyone. I met an old man who got me a job working for a Japanese company through one of his relatives. They helped me arrange accommodation at a hostel, and for a few months things went well.
One of the girls from the hostel introduced me to a man who was her friend. We used to all go out together. One night he took me out for dinner with one of his friends. We talked normally all through dinner — ‘how is life’, that sort of thing. Then the man I came with got a phone call and had to leave. He never came back.
It got late. The other man said to me that he had a hotel, and I could stay there and wait. As we walked to the hotel, he was nice, but once we got there, everything changed. It was not a hotel, it was an illegal brothel. He introduced me to the girls, telling them to instruct me on what to do. I had been sold. I felt like my life was over.
I didn’t know what was going on. I was hoping I would wake up and it would all be a dream. I had to sleep there and do whatever they said, but at least I could use condoms. I had to stay, and I had to work because he had bought me. I didn’t get paid anything. After a few months, I managed to run away.
I finally decided to move overseas—to Australia, so that I could one day return home with more options. I could study there and use the qualifications I earned back in my home country. I had so many dreams; I was happy. I went on my first ever plane trip!
However, Australia was worse than my home country. I was told when I got to Sydney that I had a debt of $6000AUD plus commission per job, plus rent, plus transport, plus cleaning, and everything else they charged for. If you were five minutes late they charged you $50. It all adds up. And this was in a ‘legal’ brothel.
I could not say no to clients—no way! I couldn’t even stop and sit for a minute. I had to do it as many times in one hour as the client could do it. Three months felt like 30 years. We could sleep for maybe three hours a night, starting work at noon, finishing at 6am. Eventually, I managed to run away from there too.
I was in the sex industry for seven years, on and off. I wanted to leave for a long time. For three years I tried to get another job to support me and my daughter.
Finally, Project Respect came into my life. A friend told me about them and introduced me to one of their staff members. If they had not helped to get me a job, I would probably still be there. I am in my 30s now and I have fully left, but it’s not easy. I don’t understand why trafficking happens. If women could earn proper money, it wouldn’t happen. Women go into the sex industry for the money, not because they like it.
Men should not be allowed to buy sex. Why do they want to buy sex? Men who buy sex are not good at all; maybe they are good in the outside world, but in ‘our world’ they are nasty. They think that because they pay, you are like a slave. Trafficking is the worst part. We can’t talk; we have to do what we are told. When I had my period I said that I couldn’t work, but you have to. When a customer is rough, you still have to do what he says.
I want to help people that have been through things like me. I want women to know that we have a chance; we have a life out there and I want them to know that they have options. How many people are out there who are not getting help? I want to write a book, so people can know the reality. Most people think that women go into the sex industry for sex. If men didn’t pay, women wouldn’t work there.
A long time ago, someone said to me that they didn’t think trafficking is real. What do they mean? I am real. I am here.
As told to Equality Now