If you think human sex trafficking is a distant third-world problems, Shandra Woworuntu will gladly disabuse you of that illusion. An Indonesian native who came to America in 2001, Woworuntu found herself imprisoned in a Brooklyn tenement surrounded by seemingly oblivious neighbors.
“So many people in our community don’t understand about this issue,” Woworuntu, who will be speaking at Misericordia University March 17, said. “They never know that it’s happening in their neighborhood, in the next building. I was trafficking in an apartment building. and nobody recognized that I was a victim.”
And lest you think these things can’t happen to the savvy, consider: Woworuntu was a college graduate with a degree in finance working in Indonesia as manager at an international bank.
In 1998, political unrest coupled with an economic downturn led to the loss of her job. In 2001 she responded to an advertisement for a hotel industry job in the United States. She flew into New York City and soon found her identification and passport taken from here. She was transported at gunpoint to a brothel and forced into the Big Apple’s underground sex business.
She and one other captive escaped through a small bathroom window but even then it took weeks before finding help getting law enforcement to understand and believe her plight. Since then she has been a staunch advocate for education and laws combating both sex trafficking and forced labor.
“Human trafficking is a hidden crime,” Woworuntu said. “It’s a moving thing, it is not like it was 20 years ago. Now people use the internet and social media. Before they kidnapped girls at the mall, or from school. Now it is mostly through media like Craig’s list, Instagram, Facebook.
“Everyone is a potential victim.”
In some cases, the trafficker may manipulate the victim so thoroughly as to allow her to attend school or even stay with her family while still convincing her she must show up when demanded, Woworuntu said.
Along with lobbying for improvements to the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act and related legislation, Woworuntu said fighting sex trafficking and forced labor involves equal education opportunities for men and women worldwide, greater media attention and vigilance by all.
Suspicions of sex trafficking can be reported to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888 or email@example.com. The resource center’s website is polarisproject.org. Woworuntu also noted a suspicion can be called into 911
Woworuntu will be addressing students throughout the day, tailoring her message to their major. Business students could learn to keep an eye on the supply chain when dealing with exports or imports, looking for forced labor connections. Psychology students can consider the trauma and long-term impact of getting trapped in sex trafficking.
She will also give a free lecture open to the public titled “Human trafficking — modern day slavery” at noon in the Huntzinger and Alden Trust Rooms 218-19 in Insalaco Hall.