Human Trafficking Victim – Choi Chong-mi

Name:            Choi Chong-mi
(Female, Name changed for safety)
Birth date:    1969
Hometown:   Hamgyong Bukto

It is an unending nightmare. I don’t know how to begin telling everything that has happened to me. It will probably sound like fiction to you. When I was two years old, following the death of my father, I was taken in by four aunts and an uncle. My cousins were like my parents, sisters and brother.

During the “march of hardships” period (1995 to 1998), the terrible conditions were like living in a war zone. This led me feel that I could not keep on depending on my relatives. It was during that period that I encountered individuals who were helping people nearly dead in the streets, taking them to China. They appealed to me as though they are true humanitarians, so I decided to follow one of them, and I was taken to China. At that time, I was pregnant.

One day, the man who brought me to China sold me for 3,000 RMB (about US $400), and that was the last I saw of him.

That is when my nightmare life as a fugitive began. The place I stayed after being sold the first time was Shulan, in Jilin Province. After about a month, I ran away, walking miles and miles through the mountains. I begged for money at stations until I had enough to return to Yanji. However, there was no place I could go. As long as I remained in China, I was still in danger of becoming a victim of human trafficking again. Eventually that’s what happened to me.

The place where I stayed after I was sold the second time was Huludao, in Liaoning Province. There, I found only Han people, all of whom speak a language that I do not understand. I repeatedly experienced sexual abuse and violence, facing all kinds of unbearable insults and humiliation. I suffered dreadfully. After about three months, I managed to escape from there. Since I didn’t understand the language, I pretended to be a deaf-mute in buses and trains until I finally made it back to Yanji, where there are many Korean-Chinese who speak my language.

Once I finally made it back to Yanji, I knew I had to find a place where I could have my baby. Since I could not have the baby on the street, I had no choice but to allow myself to be sold a third time, somewhere in Tianjin.

The room was on the fifth floor of an apartment building. From the first, I was confined in a room that was locked from the outside with no way to unlock it from the inside.

After a few days, a Chinese man came in and said something to me in his language, which I did not understand. Then he tried to force me into a humiliating sexual act, and I resisted. The man turned into a beast, becoming extremely violent. He even kicked my nine-months-pregnant belly. Eventually he raped me.

Having no legal status in China, I could not report the man’s violence to the Chinese police. I was also painfully aware that if I ran away and was caught by the police, then I would end up being repatriated, which would be the worst thing possible. However, I was reaching a limit. I could not face a life of endless humiliation.

Although I knew that I might die, I decided to jump from the fifth floor window and try to run away. I did not die, but unfortunately neither could I run away. I landed in a large pile of trash and plate materials, which cushioned my fall. I survived, but with a fractured leg and broken ribs. People gathered around me staring. After a while, a car came and I was carried to a police station in Tianjin. I was kept in a hospital near the police station.

To my surprise, the baby survived. The next day, I delivered the baby at the hospital, about 20 days prematurely. During my 15 days at the hospital, I learned that I would be sent back to North Korea. I begged the section chief of the Foreign Affairs Division of Tianjin City to send me back to Yanji, but he cursed me with awful words.

I was sent to Dandong with a plaster cast on my leg and with my new-born baby, who was not even one month old. Then we were transferred into Shinuiju detention center. My broken leg was almost healed by then, but it grew shorter than the other leg, and to this day it still feels awkward.

While staying at the hospital, I was in the same room with a Chinese patient, and she and her family had given me clothes and 200RMB in cash. This cash money helped me survive the three months in the detention center. Conditions in that center were so traumatic that a few of the women in our cell died from illnesses brought on by malnutrition.

It was even worse in the cell facing us. Men were confined there, and on some days as many as six men would die.

By the time I was released from the detention center, it was already winter, and I realized that my baby and I did not have enough clothing. The severe North Korean winter added to our hardships, and my baby suffered especially severely. I decided it would be impossible for us to survive the winter in North Korea. After dark, I placed my baby on my back and crossed the frozen river separating us from China. That got me to xxx. I found it impossible to continue walking in the dark, so I stopped at a house and knocked on the door. The family living at the house was kind enough to allow us to stay overnight then in the morning gave me enough money to go to Yanji.

In Yanji, one of the family’s relatives took pity on my baby and gave me 150 RMB. The next day, I went to a village in xxx and found a house which that relative had suggested I visit. This was my first time to visit this place without being sold. At the house, I found an old mother and an elderly son living together. They accepted me and my child, so we stayed with them for three years. While I lived with them, in response to their request, I bore a son by the man.

However, the man was eventually arrested for burglarizing a factory and sent to prison. Later, I learned that the man was an ex-convict and had been convicted previously of burglary and fighting.

I was unable to raise two children by myself, so I adopted out my eldest son to a family living in Shandong Province, then left my second son with the man’s mother. In the fall of 2006, I went back to Yanji to earn money.

It broke my heart, as a mother, to give up my 7-year old boy, who had miraculously survived my five-story jump. I was incapable, however, of giving him the chance to gain a proper education.

Once I returned to Yanji, I met a man who introduced himself as a Korean minister. He told me that he would take me to South Korea if I would sign a legal-looking paper. There are people like him who persuade North Korean female defectors to go to South Korea with them, but who actually sexually use and abuse the women, cheat them and try to sell them.

I had already experienced such frauds, so I knew to reject the offers. Instead, I found a job washing dishes at a restaurant. The chef at the restaurant is now my husband. He continued to help me even after he learned about my background, and he even suggested we exchange living quarters to help me avoid the danger of police crackdowns. We ended up living in xxx.

Eventually, however, we ran into financial difficultiesand heavy debt, so my husband decided to work away from home. He went to South Korea. Right now, I have nowhere I can go. Recently, the Chinese police have also begun cracking down harder on North Korean defectors here in xxx. I want to get out of this miserable life with no nationality and no hope. Please, I can only beg for your help.