Women News Network / February 1, 2014
by Cameron Conaway
New York, UNITED STATES, AMERICAS: The story of Shandra Woworuntu is, as she often says, “Probably not the form of human trafficking you imagine.”
Shandra attained a college degree in her native Indonesia and was employed as a financial analyst at a major international bank. But in 1998, due to the merging of political unrest and an economic slowdown, Shandra lost her job. Desperate in her quest to continue supporting herself and her family, she expanded her job search internationally. That’s when she responded to an advertisement for a stable job at a prominent hotel in Chicago.
After checking and double-checking the legal documents and paying the $3,000 recruiter fee, Shandra, a 25-year-old, thought with her ticket to fly into JFK Airport she also had a first-class ticket to create her own version of the American Dream.
But upon landing at JFK, Shandra was kidnapped by friends of this “recruiter.” Her passport was taken from her and for months she was forced into sexual slavery in a variety of upper-class neighborhoods throughout Connecticut and New York. “I just couldn’t believe that people in these neighborhoods didn’t put the pieces together,” she told me. “With ten, fifteen, twenty different men entering the same house at various hours of the night—my only hope was that someone would understand what was going on.”
Eventually Shandra escaped because she jumped out of a 2nd story bathroom window and ran to freedom.
Law enforcement officials simply didn’t have enough information to find the many men who abused her. “Some of the victims were able to return back to their country, and the perpetrators always flee. Both of these issues make it very difficult for law enforcement to follow up on anything,” she said.
Now in her mid-30s, Shandra has been healing her trauma while working to increase awareness and studying the practical ways to fix the broken system that allowed predators to make her life a living hell.
She’s advocating for stronger laws and a transparent database so that foreign labor recruiters and contractors can be verified and monitored. Her life’s work right now is to help pass the Fraudulent Overseas Recruitment and Trafficking Elimination (FORTE) Act of 2013 (HR 3344).
According to Shandra, “This piece of legislation will require that potential overseas workers receive accurate information, that recruitment fees will be waived, that both recruiters and contractors will have to register with the Department of Labor and that their information will be visible as part of a transparent database.”
Perhaps Shandra’s most heartfelt moment came when she said:
“America is a true leader. We have some of the best modern slavery awareness practices and even some of the best laws in the world when it comes to these issues. I am so proud to be a part of this great country. However, the Department of State has a human trafficking awareness video that is ready to be shown at all immigration centers around the world. When is this going to happen? And when will these great laws be implemented and then also enforced? Not until all of these systems are working together can we make serious improvements.”
She also spoke eloquently about the need for government officials not just to educate themselves on these topics, but also to educate those on the frontline in this fight so that those leaders can be better anti-slavery educators for the general public.
In addition, she believes it is essential that, “We discover creative new ways to allow the community to work with law enforcement. There is too much separation between the two.”