Nurul* was born in Temanggung Central Java, Indonesia. Coming from a poor family and having had only a rudimentary education, when her husband died and left her with a small child to feed she saw no option but to try her luck seeking employment abroad. “I looked at my son and my family and knew I could not meet their needs,” she explains. “A neighbour told me that there was an opportunity to work abroad in Hong Kong as a waitress. Since I had worked in Singapore previously, I thought this would be a similar, if not better, opportunity.”
Criminal networks quickly took advantage of her vulnerable situation and preyed on her illegal status with the promise of work. Soon after her arrival in Hong Kong, Nurul was met by a contact person and taken shopping for new clothes and make-up. “After dinner, a man came for me and took me to a hotel room nearby to start work. That was when it finally dawned on me that it was not a waitressing job.” Nurul was held captive for four months by middlemen who forced her to do sex work.
“I was being made to work as a prostitute.”
“We were watched closely, there was no opportunity to escape. Our passports were taken away, and we did not have access to a phones either.” Nurul chose not to try and run away because she saw what happened to the other women who tried – they were beaten and threatened – and she was too afraid. But she decided to tell every client her story, many of whom were unmoved and did not care.
Nurul was fortunate that one she day met a client who was different. “I told him that I was being forced to do this work against my will. He did not touch me. He gave me a cell phone and I called my family in Indonesia.”
At the same time, the traffickers holding the women captive began to get nervous because the Hong Kong authorities had received a tip-off about what was going on. The women were moved from location to location in an effort to mislead the police. In the midst of this, a fellow captive also called her family in Indonesia, who contacted another relative who eventually rescued them. “I don’t know how he did it, but at last we were free.” She finally escaped, but with a grim reminder of her past – she was infected with HIV.
When she returned home, Nurul did not tell her family about the work she had been forced to do in Hong Kong. “I was ashamed,” she adds.
“I did not talk about my HIV status for two years because there is a lot of stigma and discrimination attached to it.”
But eventually, as Nurul learned more about HIV and how it was managed, she decided to tell her family and friends and went on to form a support group in Indonesia to assist people living with HIV and AIDS.
*All names & identifying information have been changed to protect the identity of the survivor.
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A version of this story was originally published at www.stophk.org on May 31, 2016. Story provided by an anonymous partner.