Five years ago Liu* achieved her dream of starting a restaurant in China, but when it didn’t take off as quickly as she had hoped, the debt started to pile up.
As the restaurant was failing, she faced continued pressure from her abusive husband and the loan shark to find a solution, somehow. Liu searched for any option to earn additional money to save her business and support her child.
One of Liu's friends told her of a woman who had moved to New York City and found well-paying, short-term work right away. Liu – desperate to solve her situation – decided to leave China and come to America, hopeful for a good job.
But this job was part of a scam that would force Liu into sexual slavery.
When Liu arrived in New York City she started working in a nail salon. She barely made enough money to pay for food and rent, and had no extra income to send home.
A month into her new job, Liu's manager approached her with an enticing offer. She said, "I have a job for you at another business I manage where you can take home a thousand dollars a week giving massages. No training necessary."
Liu jumped at the opportunity to make extra money.
She followed the address to the massage parlor in Midtown Manhattan, but when she arrived, it was a vacant apartment.
She closed the door behind her and called the manager. "What am I supposed to do? I'm the only one here!"
The manager told Liu, "Wait there. Your customers will come."
Liu's first customer arrived that evening. He held her at gunpoint, then sexually assaulted and raped her.
This was Liu's first night as a sex slave. Nights like this are a reality for thousands of women across the country.
When the customer left, she called her manager and told her about the assault, begging to leave. Her manager refused and said she must stay and serve every customer that came through the door.
When Liu again insisted on fleeing, the manager threatened to have her deported.
The fear of deportation and shock from the rape and assault kept her in the apartment through the night, forced to serve a dozen more men.
This was all on her first day.
Over the next week, the manager's threats continued and Liu was forced to serve customers repeatedly. After several days of this nightmare, she was determined to escape. Liu fled and returned to the family hostel where she was staying, not telling anyone what happened to her.
Shame and fear kept her silent.
For Liu and many like her, America is a place where sexual violence against women is tolerated and stories of abuse are hidden.
Survivors regularly tell our counselors that they were promised a job, but instead were assaulted and sold for sex. Traffickers' threats and coercion keep women fearful and silent while they continue to profit from the women they exploit.
With your help, we can continue to bring victims out of the shadows and into freedom.
At Restore, we are working to bring forward and serve a population that is very difficult to identify. Trafficking is often explained as the "exploitation of vulnerabilities.” For the women we serve, poverty, immigration status, debt, children, and language are the top vulnerabilities that traffickers exploit to keep women trapped.
Your investment ensures that more survivors of trafficking are met with the help and support they need for safety and survival.
Just last year, Liu was working in a different nail salon when she met Chen, a trafficking survivor and former client of Restore. Liu had never told anyone that she was enslaved in her first month in the city, but for the first time she felt like someone understood what happened to her and that help was available.
The next day, Liu and Chen walked into Restore's office together.
Since coming forward with her story, doors have opened up for Liu. Restore connected her with an immigration attorney to pursue a Trafficking Visa that provides a pathway to citizenship. She is cooperating with law enforcement to help build a case to prosecute her trafficker. She is working with a case manager at Restore to secure medical care, counseling, and safe housing. Liu is now enrolled in our ESL class to improve her English proficiency and is joining the next cohort of our work-readiness training to prepare for a job placement.
Today, Liu is free. But thousands of women across the country are still hidden in sexual slavery.
Demand for our services is increasing, and for the fourth year in a row, we’ve had to turn away clients who need our help.
By making a gift today, you can ensure that more victims of sexual slavery are helped and more stories are brought to light.
*Name has been changed to protect identity. No identifiable women in our communications are known to have been exploited.