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The shadowy world of sex trafficking on the shores of United States

WASHINGTON--“Are you Shandra? Yes, I am.”

With those few words, a young Indonesian with big dreams of a better life found herself catapulted into the murky underground world of sex slavery and violence.

But Shandra Woworuntu, then 25, was not trapped in a sordid brothel plying clients in some far-flung Asian tourist hotspot.

Instead the college graduate and young mother was whisked away from New York's busy John F. Kennedy airport with a gun to her head by an organized gang working in the heart of the world's economic superpower.

Nothing had prepared the slight, softly spoken, shy woman to become one of the thousands of men, women and children lured into the hidden world of sex trafficking and forced labor in the United States every year.

American Dream Gone Wrong

After losing her job as a financial analyst in a bank in the chaos unleashed by Asia's economic crisis, Shandra replied to a newspaper ad for temporary work in a hotel in Chicago.

In 2001, having passed a test, and armed with a visa from the US embassy, she left her young daughter, promising to return home soon.

“I was excited — I thought this was the American dream. I will earn some money and I will go back after six months,” she told AFP.

But on her very first night on U.S. soil, she was put to work in a New York brothel, before being passed from pimp to pimp — a Malaysian known as Johnnie Wong, a Taiwanese guy, a man who only spoke Cantonese, and even an American.

“They put a gun on my head, and I just think I have to save my life,” she said in somewhat broken English, her voice at times dropping to a whisper.

“Maybe I have been kidnapped, I didn't know exactly. What I need to do is life survival.”

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Shandra Woworuntu, human trafficking survivor and activist, speaks during an interview with AFP at Humanity United in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, Jan. 28. Melysa Sperber, director ...

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