There are an estimated 403,000 people living in modern slavery in the United States (GSI 2018). Sex trafficking exists throughout the country. Traffickers use violence, threats, lies, debt bondage and other forms of coercion to compel adults and children to engage in commercial sex acts against their will. The situations that sex trafficking victims face vary, many victims become romantically involved with someone who then forces them into prostitution. Others are lured with false promises of a job, and some are forced to sell sex by members of their own families. Victims of sex trafficking include both foreign nationals and US citizens, with women making up the majority of those trafficked for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation. In 2015, the most reported venues/industries for sex trafficking included commercial-front brothels, hotel/motel-based trafficking, online advertisements with unknown locations, residential brothels, and street-based sex trafficking.
Chong Kim’s family moved to the United States from South Korea when she was a toddler. At the age of 19 Kim met a man on a night out in Dallas, Texas whom she began dating. After a few weeks of dating, this man abducted Chong Kim and destroyed her naturalization documents. She was forced into prostitution, sent out with other women to a variety of places across the country. After a year and a half Kim was able to escape while working a casino in Las Vegas, befriending people on the maintenance staff who helped her escape.
Thank you for having me.
I am a survivor of human trafficking that happened here in the United States, even though I wasn’t born here and I was born in South Korea. I came here as a toddler. So basically, I’ve been a naturalized citizen. I grew up in Oklahoma and Texas. By the time I was 19, I went to pursue a career in law and by then I went to a vocational college and studied criminal justice. By that time I wanted to do something more and they said for me to go to Dallas, Texas, to study the police academy.
So I moved to Dallas, Texas. I went through one of the trade schools out there and then one night me and my friends, we decided to have a girls night out. We go to a night club, it was a country bar, and I met this guy who started out being my boyfriends. I didn’t know that he was one of the recruiters. And he was wearing a marine dress suit. One of the things that a lot of people don’t realize is that you can go to an army surplus store and buy authentic uniforms. The downfall is, even though law enforcement may say, well these uniforms do not have medals or name tags. But the average daily person may not realize that. You see a person in uniform, you automatically assume that they’re in that profession. And that’s the same thing that I did.
He went by the name Keith at the time. I don’t know if that was his real name, but we started dating. And one of the things I had to learn the hard way, is that I did not know that abusive personalities, especially if they are the perp, they will ask you more questions so they can learn more ways to manipulate the situation. For example, he would say “tell me what you like to do for fun,” and I would tell him “I like to write, I like music”. If I deferred the question, if I said well thy don’t you tell me about you? He’ll say “no, no, I’d love to hear more about you.” And when you’re young and naïve and haven’t been taught what is a healthy relationship, or what is healthy communication, then to me I thought, not to sound ignorant, but I thought yay! He wants to hear so much more about me and he like everything I like, you know. And so from that point on we dated for about a couple of weeks. And during that couple of weeks at that time I lived in Dallas, Texas, but we weren't too far from the border of Oklahoma.
I didn't realize until last year when I was finishing up on my book, when we had to go back in detail, the red flags that I didn't realize were red flags is that he would take me to the border of Oklahoma as our dates. One of the things, it would be about two, three-hour drives. How many dates are considered healthy where a guy would take you out on two, three hour drives to go somewhere, but I didn't think about that. He wanted to test my limit. Because I didn't know what healthy boundaries were. I just thought hey this neat, this is amazing we get to go on a road trip. You know, so it didn't dawn on me that, that was actually considered a red flag.
Then after a couple of weeks he told me that he loved me, and from that point on that's how I was abducted. And from that when I was abducted, a couple of times I tried to escape, I escaped into a woman’s arms. which I didn't realize she was also the culprit of this organized crime that was actually in cahoots with Russian mafia, Albanian, Korean, and Japanese mafia. So we're not talking about a guy on the corner of G love, you know that's a pimp, like I said in the conference today, one of the things that I really liked about the conference for the first time is that you had three survivors giving three different perspectives. Because whenever I get asked to share my story, I have people asking me, what is the bottom girl? Did you guys call him daddy? Did you guys have bar codes, or tattoos? That was very unfamiliar for me. We've never called any of our traffickers daddy's. We've never, like I said, none of our clients were African male, or Black male, or even Latino male. They were mainly very Caucasian male or European, or Middle Eastern, or Asian. Most of the Asian clients that we had were more so like Chinese, Japanese, and Korean.
To me it was instant [the trafficking]. But as I look back, there were some red flags. But like I said before, I didn't know what those red flags meant, like the two-three-hour drives. That was a red flag. The fact that he didn't talk about himself, he didn't talk about his family. He didn't associate his childhood, that was also a red flag. But the instant was when we went to the abandoned house. I remember seeing, and I remember sitting on the passenger side thinking, I hope he doesn't live here, I hope his family doesn't live here, and one of the funny things is, he said he wanted to take me to Florida, but we went up north of Oklahoma. By the time we got there I said “Florida does not look like this, does it?” And I thought if this is Florida, this is not very pretty right now. That was my first thought because it was drizzling, it was raining and everything and I remember I said “well I'll sit here while you go in,” that's what I said. And he came over to the passenger side. By the time he opened the door, I remember he grabbed me by the neck and my first thought was, why are you mad at me, what did I do wrong? Let me change instead of, I'm assuming most normal women would say, this man is putting his hands on me, he's crossing a boundary. I need to do something, I need to escape.
But one of the downfalls is when a child who has grown up in abusive environment all their life, we don't know what that boundary is. Our immediate thought in a victim world is I did something wrong. I need to change this. And I remember I would start having flashbacks when he would caress my face, when he would tell me how much he loved me. It felt real to me. That I said don't get mad, I’ll do whatever you want. And also that PTSD that comes with it, because whenever I was abused by my foster parents, I would always say “I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'll do it, I'll do it, I'll fix it”. And so that was where that instinct came from.
And so, when we came in he pulled out these handcuffs, he handcuffed my wrist to the doorknob. and from that point on I didn't think about, I'm going to be used as a slave. I thought it was a joke. I said “can you take these off?” you know. And he went through my purse, he had the luggage that had the cell phone, and back then we thought that was cool. That was our iphones back then. I remember he would talk to whoever was on the other line, which I'm assuming was the traffickers. He went through my purse and because I wasn't born here, but I was naturalized, I was just as American as someone who was born here. Well, he destroyed all of my documents. My INS papers to prove that I was a legal resident. he said without these, you're no longer… he basically said you're a nobody.
Growing up in America, I had the American dream. You can do whatever you want, I'll just go to INS and get a paper. I slowly learned that that's not how it worked because the sad part is different people have different perspectives based on the color of your skin. When I eventually escaped from him that landed me to the woman, just before that, I went to an INS office in Oklahoma ity, and I said I need your help, I'm a naturalized citizen, I came here when I was a toddler. And I said I need help. And you know what the lady said at the INS office? She said “what you need to do, is go back to Korea, get your birth certificate, and come back here.” But what she didn't realize, or maybe she was being ignorant towards me, is that back in the 70's, Korea didn't have birth certificates. They do now, in the 2000s, but not in the 1970's.
There was sense of denial that this is not me, I'm dreaming, wake up. This is just a nightmare. Once it started settling in, is when I was taken to the warehouse. That's when it started settling in, when I started seeing the other girls. I remember when the door rolled up, I saw this group of girls and they were standing doing this. And when he said welcome to your new home and he slammed the door down, they had these old mattresses, I remember seeing them, like the old army mattresses that had the white mattress, but black stripes. and it had the rope on the side that you could pull. Those were the mattresses. And they were covered in old urine smell, vomit. We didn't use the bathroom. So, when people see the film Eden, they actually had a lot more luxury than what we ever did.
We had, I don't know if you remember those paint buckets that you can get at home depot, they had two of those. one was covered with cardboard, or an old towel. and that was our bathroom. And you had the one that was filled with water with a silver bowl floating in it. That was what we had to use. We didn't get to shower unless we had to service a client. Which means a person who would buy us for either sexual pleasure, or whatever crazy fetish they had. One of the things that…well first, I fought. I did everything I could, but when you're five feet and you have most of these men that guard you, they're about 5'8" to 6'3".
They're bigger, they're stronger, and I remember I would spit in their face. I would yell and scream. I can't raise my right arm, they grabbed my wrist and twisted my arm all the way back. They busted both my knee-caps. They tied me to a porcelain clawed foot tub and they took like a belt and wrapped around my wrist and had the belt all stretched out to the legs of the tub. And they would fill my naked body with ice up to my neck.
But when you start to accept that you might be dead, or you might die. Then for some other reason, an incredible strength starts to rise within. With me, I was begging for death. I didn't want to go through this. If I didn't service the client, I wasn't personally threatened, but one of the traffickers, I'll give you an example. I remember it was over 100 degrees outside. I remember I was soaking in my own sweat, in my own body fumes because I hadn't showered. We were on our way, we were in this warehouse truck where there was no windows and everything. And so, we stopped at this motel place that was owned by the traffickers. We had to go to this one motel room and they would have us take a shower. And I remember sitting in and curling my knees up to my chest, and I could feel the burn on my back because I hadn't showered for so long. And after I showered, I remember seeing the bed, the mattress-the bed was made, and it had a lingerie dress just kind of gently hanging at the foot of the bed. And I was sitting at the side of the bed and I just cried. And then but then I thought I can't do this, I can't do this. So what I would do is I would change into the lingerie and then I would look for something and I remember I saw that--remember those clock radio's? and I would… I noticed that the cord was cut off. So, it wasn't plugged in just basically there for staging. So I remember taking it and I took one of the chairs that were in the hotel and I hid it behind the door. So when the customer would walk in, I'd hit him over the head and I was trying to run away.
Once I hit him over the head, the trafficker was standing right there and he said “that's it. I'm done with you. You're defiant. You do not comply.” He would say this. By then, they tied me to a chair, they brought a little girl that's about 7 years old at the time, and they threw her on the twin size mattress and they handcuffed her wrist and her ankle and I watched her get raped and sodomized. And the trafficker would whisper in my ear and he would say this is your doing. And I said “stop, stop i'll do whatever you want.” And that's what I meant by it's almost like they're raping your mind to where you feel completely helpless.
So when people ask me why didn't you run? If I ran, I would always be thinking about that
girl I left behind. If I ran, I can't run just for myself. If I ran, my life would never be the same. It feels very unfamiliar, it takes time to create a new different type of normalcy for me. To this day, every time I see a little girl playing outside, do you know what I do now? I actually look around to see if there's any other parked cars and I'll call 911.
How did I begin to think about getting away? It didn't happen until sometime in '96 '97 when I had become a madame. I ranked up as madame because at that point. You get to a point in your life where you start to believe that this is all you are, this is all you'll ever be. I never thought in a million years I'd be sitting here talking to you about this. I never thought in a million years I’d be saving someone else’s life, I'd be doing trainings for FBI and local law enforcement nationwide. I literally thought I'm going to die as a prostitute or I'm going to die as a sex slave. That was the ultimate thing that came into my mind. So transitioning and ranking up to be a madame was not a hard thing for me to do because I thought, it’s kind of like the old saying, if you can't fight 'em, join 'em scenario. And it wasn't so much that I wanted to victimize other girls, it was more so of a survival.
I've had people judge me, I've had hate mails, I've had people say how dare you do that? And sometimes I smart off and say well, you tell me what you would do different. Go back and do what I went through, go back and go through what I went through and tell me what you would differently that I haven't already tried.
How I escaped.
Basically...I was actually one in the casino's which I can't say the name, and they had this big vent. And one of the things, me and the trafficker, I don't remember exactly what had happened, but I started an argument because I wanted to start a riot with him. And so he said you're...it's kind of like he was grounding me, so he said you're not allowed to leave. And he took all my clothes so all I had on was this lingerie dress and that was it. And so I would act like I was taking a shower. And so I was knocking on the door because I couldn't leave even though I was in a hotel room. I was basically being locked in.
So I told the two guard guys in the casino, I said “i'm going to take a shower.” They're like go ahead. And so I crawled through the vent because one of the things I remember when I was little, me and my dad used to love watching James Bond and by watching James Bond, I remember he would go through the vents and I thought why not? But this idea didn't come into fruition in one day. I remember when one time I got angry, it was about three months prior to me running away, and I hit my stiletto heel shoes, I was throwing it across the room and it hit the thermostat and something, triggered something and then the maintenance guy had to come. And I remember the maintenance guy would be the best person to know the blue print plan. So I would mess with the thermostat almost every single day just to see the maintenance guy.
And I seduced him, I said “have you ever been with an Asian girl, do you think I'm pretty?” and he was like yes, and I was like “can you help me? Cause he beats me,” you know, and he was like I can't tell you. and I was like please? So I would try harder, you know, every time he'd come over I would play some song and pretend like I'm strip dancing you know and that it would make him want to look you know. And then eventually we started seeing each other. It was my manipulation to him and then I would tell him I’m falling in love with you, you know. He's like really? and I was like yes, but we can't be together if I'm stuck here. And so, he's like okay. So, then he told me the blue print.
So, then I would--what I would do is I would pay attention to how the guards would come to the door. The routine of his business, being in his car, having to see where he came and go. So, on a day that I decided, I consider myself a Christian, and that one day I knelt down and I cried. I said god, I know you and I haven't talked in a while if you can help me. I said give me this moment, to give me that time that I can run away. So, I crawled through the vent and I ended up like in this laundry shoot because that's what the guy, the maintenance guy, told me. So, when I ended up in the laundry shoot it was a bunch of linens and stuff. By the time I got out all I had on was a lingerie dress. When I opened the door, one of the johns, which we call johns are customers, he saw me and I said yes let me come in your car and I'll do something for you and he's like okay. So i said let's go down the alley so no one can see us.
My heart was palpitating because at that moment I said I'm already out, I need to get out and i cannot have anyone stand in my way. And so i took off my stiletto shoes and I was like dear god forgive me for this, and I start beating him over the head to where he became unconscious. And then I pushed his body out and then I stole his car, dumped it at, I don't remember it was like a church parking lot. I remember it was probably, I drove about an hour to two hours away from the strip. We call it the strip. and from that point on I just hitch hiked and all I wanted to do was get out of state.
So, once I got out of state, I believe I ended up in Phoenix, Arizona, I went to a cemetery and it was the first 24 hours I was away and like I said, I threw up. I was scared. I was constantly on the run.
Narrative provided by Global Perspectives for WUCF TV