Eden: a sex slave’s story
Wearing just their underwear, the girls line up with their backs to the wall, arms by their side, heads down, frozen to the spot. They dare not move.
Their captors walk up and down the line – picking them seemingly at random and tapping them on the shoulder – ‘You, you, you and you… come with me’.
In the back of a warehouse truck, they are driven for miles across the scorching Nevada desert until they reach a hotel. There, they are forced to have sex with up to 25 men one after the other.
This was life for Korean-born American Chong Kim who, at 19 years old, was sold as a domestic sex slave in 1994 to Russian gangsters and held captive for more than two years.
“The clients never came to the warehouse,” she recalled “That was just where we slept. There was nothing there but bed mats on the floor and we would just lay there.
“They would give us colouring books with fat crayons and we would colour. But then we would hear the knock outside the storage unit doors and have to all line up.
“If you were chosen, we would get in the truck and there would be a gallon of water between us. You could tell it was hot outside because it was made out of metal aluminium and it was too hot to touch.
“We were sweating when we got to the room and we’d get a make up bag and toiletries and they’d say ‘you have ten minutes to take a shower’. They would have lingerie laying on the bed.
“I remember sitting in the shower because it felt so good to be in water that I just cried. When I was done I had to basically lay in bed naked waiting for the customer to come in.”
About half of her clients were American and others were Russian but some had accents she wasn’t familiar with – they could have been British, Australian or European, she couldn’t tell.
“They all had one hour to spend time with us but most of the time they didn’t spend the whole hour, they just came in, raped us and then they would leave. And then we had to shower for the next client. That was pretty much our day.”
The traffickers would take up to 15 girls to ‘service’ hundreds of men in one day.
“One time, I could hear the screaming on the other side of the hotel room and I could tell another girl was being raped and she was screaming and it was really, really hard for me to concentrate.
“And when we got done throughout the day we would get so sore that I remember asking for a bag of ice and had to put it between my legs because it hurt so much.”
Sometimes the girls were returned to the warehouse, sometimes they didn’t. Any attempts at fighting back or escaping were met with brutal beatings and torture.
“I tried to escape numerous times,” says Chong, now 38. “I remember one time the warehouse truck stopped somewhere and we had to get out to get changed and use the bathroom and that’s when I started running.
“We were in the middle of the desert and I didn’t know where I was. The next thing I knew, I had what I think was a crowbar hit me in the back of the head. When I woke up, I was tortured. I was on a meat hook and beaten like a piñata. Other times they would bust both my knee caps or they would put me in a tub of ice naked.”
As time went on, she would witness as much cruelty as she was subjected to and she would regularly be transported with up to 50 other girls from warehouse to warehouse, state to state.
The girls were all ages and ethnicities, some having being trafficked through Europe or Russia before ending up in the USA.
“I witnessed murders, tortures, sodomy, rape,” she says quietly. “The youngest girl I saw there was just seven years old. They tied me down and made me watch her get raped by 12 adult men. It made me so sick to my stomach. I still see her face in my dreams.”
Forcefully injected with heroin, meth and cocaine and held in a dark, windowless warehouse, time ceased to exist.
“I never knew what time it was because we never had a window to look out. There were times when it would feel like forever,” she said.
“I turned into a puppet, I got tired of fighting back. There were moments where I asked for help and nobody helped me. The traffickers would say, ‘see you are nothing, that is why nobody is helping you’.
“We had no military guys or swat teams to come in and break down the doors and rescue us, that was a dream.”
Her only option was to gain the trust of her traffickers and rise up the ranks to find a way to escape.
“I felt that I would never get out and the other part of me was getting angry,” she says. “I kept looking at my situation, all the times I tried to escape I was unsuccessful. And so I wanted to know where were these people coming from, where were the parents? Why wasn’t anyone looking for them? And so the only way I thought at that time was to act like I was going to be a part of them so I could find out all of their secrets.
“I approached the head trafficker and I said ‘I could be the Madam, I am a woman, I can use my feminine charms and to manipulate and to get more girls. And I can help you make more money’.”
After gaining their trust, she soon found herself in the terrible position of recruiting young girls into sex slavery, just two years after the very same thing happened to her.
She was recruited into sex slavery in 1994 by the person she believed to be her boyfriend.
While studying Law at a technical college in Dallas, Chong met a man claiming to be a soldier in a bar who she knew as Keith, only later discovering that was not his real name.
She described him as chivalrous, adding: “He would say to me ‘you should smile more often you know’, he was very, very sleek. That’s what makes him poisonous.”
Estranged from her family, Chong was vulnerable and looking for her ‘Prince Charming’ and he manipulated this to recruit her, she says.
“It’s like a hunting game, they know how to hunt, they look for them, they watch, they observe. They’ll do a round of tests,: says Chong. “A man will go to the bar and he will say ‘who wants to get me a drink?’ and the first woman who says ‘I will’ without knowing him gives him the signal that she will do anything for him.”
After just two months of dating, he drove her to an abandoned house in Oklahoma telling her that he needed to help a homeless friend.
“I said I’d wait in the car and that’s when he grabbed me by the neck and said ‘you’re going to do as I say’. And my first thought was ‘what did I do wrong?’”
He chained her up in the basement and burned her passport and documents. There, she was raped and tortured before she was transported to the warehouse somewhere in an Indian reservation in Nevada.
“When I was taken to the storage unit and I saw the other girls, I was just shocked.” She says. “It was like a giant factory of children. And I literally thought I was in a different country because I was so Americanised that I thought it can’t be here.”
But when she became a Madam she learned about the scale of the operation and the so-called respectable people who were her customers.
“I learned about the corruption – there were politicians, judges, police officers that would buy a girl and pay the agency to keep quiet,” she says. “It scared me so much that I decided I need to run away.”
Her opportunity to escape came in 1997 when she was staying in a wealthy client’s hotel in a casino in Vegas.
“I remembered watching a James Bond movie with my father and he’d crawled out through the vent to escape,” she says. “I remember the vent being big enough and I thought ‘you know, it’s worth a try!’”
Making her way outside the building, a man pulled up in his car and spotted her escaping still wearing her lingerie.
“My heart was beating so fast,” she says, “I got in the car and took off my Stiletto shoes and beat him over the head. He was unconscious, I didn’t kill him. And I moved his body out and I stole his vehicle.”
For many years after her escape, she “lived like a hobo” fearful that her kidnappers would trace her if she used her social security number. After seeking help from a women’s shelter and with intense therapy, she slowly started to rebuild her life.
Her incredible story is now the subject of an independent film to be released this Friday (July 19) in selected UK cinemas, starring Hollywood star Jamie Chung.
And today, mum-of-one Chong shares her story to educate law enforcement personnel and attorneys all over the USA.
Her advocacy work for victims has been commended by campaigners including Academy Award winning actress Emma Thompson.
But despite helping scores of victims, Chong feels emotionally conflicted about her time as a Madam working for the very people that abused, raped and tortured her.
“I worry about being judged,” she says. “Even when I was a Madam I was still being held as a slave. I never kept any money, I was being monitored all the time.
“There’s not a moment I don’t think about the girls, their faces, their tears I only hope that they were able to be rescued or escaped.”
Chong is working with private investigators and members of the FBI to give as much information as possible to help bring her traffickers to justice.
But the organised criminals, who were also involved in drugs, arms and money laundering, were clever enough to use false names and move the girls from site to site to avoid being traced.
But by telling her story, Chong is speaking up for all survivors of sex trafficking, she says.
“I have people who say ‘I’m sorry this happened to you’ and I say don’t tell me you’re sorry, tell me that you’re angry and you want to do something.
“There are so many of these men who come to different countries whether it is in the UK, South East Asia or America and their intention is for paid rape. And the woman’s voices will always remain silent as long as the law enables these predators. So we need to find a way to say ‘No more.’”
* ‘Eden’ is in selected cinemas including the Brixton Ritzy and Empire Leicester Square from July 19. It is also available for download on iTunes. For more information, go to http://www.edenthefilm.com/