Chong Kim can tell you what about the harsh realities of human trafficking and what it takes to survive. A survivor of sex trafficking within the United States, Kim is now working to educate the masses about human trafficking and its American ties.
Kim, who became a sex slave at 18, is now touring colleges to educate students about domestic human trafficking and promoting the film “Eden,” with a plot loosely adapted from her life experiences.
In an event sponsored by Free the Slaves, Kim shared her story Tuesday night in Textor Hall. Staff Writer TinaMarie Craven spoke with Kim about her experiences in the trafficking ring and her advocacy.
TinaMarie Craven: From 1995 to 1997, you were a sex slave in a human trafficking ring. How did this happen?
Chong Kim: Well, actually I met this guy who I thought was my boyfriend, and unlike a lot of fictional human trafficking stories where it happens in one day, this guy, I was convinced that he was my boyfriend. And so when you’re that in love, you don’t think about, “OK, he’s going to traffic me,” if that makes sense. So we were living in Dallas, Texas, and he told me about after two or three weeks of us dating, and he said to me, “I want to take you out of state to go meet my parents.” And my girlfriend said that if a guy says that to you that he likes you, so there was no ‘be careful’ — none of that. I was real excited. I call it the Cinderella syndrome, where we write our names with their last names and future kids’ names. But what happened was instead of ending up in Florida where he said he was going to take me, I ended up in Oklahoma handcuffed to a doorknob in an abandoned house, and from that point on, he contacted the traffickers to come pick me up. So I was transported to Nevada.
TC: How did you escape?
CK: It took a series of planning — it’s not a one-day thing. The first year I was in there, I literally became numb, I thought I was going to die as a sex slave. … When I started to become defiant with the traffickers, the traffickers would look at the girls we were close to, and with that, they would actually tie us to a chair and make us watch the girl that we were close to or the child we were close to get tortured, sodomized and raped for hours and hours on end. We went through beatings, we were held in the bathtub with ice, so from that point on, the only way I felt that I could get out was — it’s kind of like you’re in this hole, [and] you have rocks around you, [and] the way you get out is to climb out and get to the people on top, which are the traffickers. Basically, I had to manipulate my way to carve out their power, to make them think that I was on their side to free myself. And that’s how I got away.
TC: Can you elaborate on how you manipulated them?
CK: Manipulated means … I will always be there for you. I will be the girl that’s there for you. I will die for you. If the cops came in, I would say I did it all just to cover you. It’s all about loyalty. It’s about letting them know that as long as I’m loyal to you, they don’t have to worry about me snitching on you. I played that role to them. I made them think that I was loyal to them, [and] then I was safe.
TC: This was a very personal, traumatic experience for you. How did you find the strength to tell people your story?
CK: I didn’t start telling my story until almost six years later. What provoked me was, in 2003, I was at the University of Minnesota, and there was a panel and a woman from Ukraine who is a victim of human trafficking. I was working as an advocate for a battered women’s shelter, and I remember they said they’re going to talk about human trafficking, and I said, “Boy they’re really getting down there on the ticket.” The next thing I knew, this woman was telling her story, and I just started crying and thought, ‘That’s me, everything she is saying is me.’ And then this college girl raised her hand, and this so-called expert asked if she could help her. The college girl asked if that couls happen to Americans, and the expert said, “No, it can’t,” and that’s when I got angry.
TC: How do you introduce this topic to people who might prefer to be ignorant about human trafficking in America?
CK: I’m going to show them a documentary about trafficking in East Asia, and then I’m going to ask them, “What if those were American girls? Why is it any different?” Challenge those thoughts, [and] then I’ll ask for an address and show them the registered sex offenders listed in that area. If you don’t want to talk about sex trafficking, fine, but you do need to talk about sex offenders. How do we defend the children we care about?