Thai tourist recalls her sex slavery ordeal in Hong Kong

The ordeal of a Thai woman sexually attacked after being lured to HK highlights the problems the police face in battling human trafficking

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 March, 2013, 9:16am

When Nong packed her bags for a trip to Hong Kong in 2009, she knew she would miss her three young children and husband in Thailand but felt a short break would do her good.

The lure of a visit to Disneyland or Ocean Park was just too good for the likeable 25-year-old to pass up.

But just hours after she arrived in the city, Nong (not her real name) was plunged into a nightmare that involved kidnap, rape, and threats to her family back home.

Her descent into Hong Kong's heart of darkness began after a new friend she had met in Thailand offered her an all-expenses paid trip here. They flew to Chek Lap Kok together and headed for a flat in Jordan.

But instead of dumping her bags and heading out to sightsee, Nong was locked in a room, held down against her will by her "friend", two prostitutes and another woman, and raped by two men, one after the other, who each paid HK$100 for five minutes. She screamed and tried to escape but the four women overpowered her.

Nong wanted to call the police but the prostitutes, also from Thailand, pleaded with her not to because they were also victims of trafficking. They told her that she must have sex with 60 customers to repay her debt and then she could start earning money for herself. When the second man had finished and the four women had left the room, Nong climbed out of the second-floor flat window and dashed to the nearest police station.

However, the truly trans-national reach of the crime syndicate behind her misery meant her - and her family's ordeal - had only just begun.

Initially, Nong wanted to press charges against those who had duped her, but she was forced to give up when her mother was repeatedly harassed in Thailand. Her mother pleaded with Nong to just come home and put the family out of their misery but the damage had been done as her husband eventually divorced her out of shame.

Social worker Phoebe Lam Bik-che who helped Nong after she was raped said: "She told me that in Thailand, even if there is a fire and you call the authorities, no one may come and you have to help yourself." The female trafficker was never prosecuted.

Nong's story brings into sharp focus the difficulties victims and authorities come up against in the battle against human trafficking amid growing concern about the problem in Hong Kong and around the world. Some experts say not enough is being done, a view the police dispute.

Last year there were only four recorded cases of human trafficking that are now in court, all of which involve organised prostitution.

Detective chief inspector (DCI) Joe Wong Cho-shing of the organised crime and triad bureau said the police took the issue very seriously. "I have to emphasise that Hong Kong is neither a common destination for human trafficking nor a place for exporting illegal immigrants to other countries," he said.

"We have thousands of anti-vice operations a year. From what we see, not many prostitutes are trafficked here. In Hong Kong, most prostitutes come from mainland China, and they do not need people to arrange for them to work here."

The small number of reported cases could be the tip of the iceberg. Poor educational levels and - more importantly - fear, means many cases go unreported.

Phoebe Lam Bik-che, a social worker at the Diocesan Pastoral Centre for Filipinos in Central, says women from Southeast Asia come to the city expecting a waitressing job but end up as erotic dancers or in the sex trade.

Others enter knowing they will be in the sex trade but find that a big portion of their earnings go towards repaying the debt they racked up from the airfare to Hong Kong.

Lam says these women may be trafficked to the city under the guise of becoming domestic helpers, temporary workers, or arrive as tourists.

Wong says the police do not rely solely on trafficking victims reporting their situation. In the four cases identified last year, the police relied on intelligence for three of them.

Wong says the police also work with overseas law enforcement counterparts to protect victims' families.

Hong Kong has no specific anti-trafficking law and relies on a variety of ordinances which Wong says do the job.

"We don't need to prove whether or not the prostitutes have been forced or threatened to work," he said.

Wong says the police have received no reports of forced labour in Hong Kong. The Labour and Welfare Bureau do not keep such statistics.