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A prostitute waits for clients on Temple Street in the Jordan district of Hong Kong.

Photo credit: Thomson Reuters Foundation/Ario Adityo

1,137 kmfrom home
"I'm depressed. The other bar girls are depressed. But I need to show that I am happy and OK even when I am not."
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Kat, a 23-year-old from the Philippines, has been forced to sell sex for Mama-san and her organised crime network since December when she was moved to Hong Kong under a recruiter's promise of a well-paying job and easy working conditions.

A single mother, whose own mother is too sick to work, Kat jumped at the chance to earn a high salary but soon after arriving in Hong Kong, Mama-san confiscated her passport and sent her to work in the bar alongside other trafficked women.

Clients pay up to 5,000 Hong Kong dollars ($650) to have sex with Kat but payment goes directly to her pimp. Without any money, she said she cannot escape or fly home - and besides, her traffickers know where her family lives.

"I'm depressed. The other bar girls are depressed. They have to force themselves to be happy and make jokes," said Kat, sobbing. "The Chinese bar owner gets angry with me because I look so sad."

Kat, who declined to give her real name, is one of hundreds of women who are trafficked to Hong Kong from mainland China, Southeast Asia, Europe and South America for forced prostitution in the city's brothels, bars, spas and pornography industry, rights activists say.

Many victims do not speak out for fear of being punished by their traffickers, some of them linked to the powerful Triad organised crime group. Others are afraid of being deported home or criminalised for being in the possession of fake papers arranged by their pimps, campaigners say.

"I take a risk every time I go out with a male customer," said Kat, who also shudders at the parties she is made to attend where cocaine, marijuana and other drugs are used by clients and forced on the girls.

"They are great actresses because like one of them said, 'I need to show that I am happy and OK even when I am not'. This to me kills a soul," said Marcela Santos, an advocate for trafficking victims who did not want to give her real name, saying it may put at risk her work helping survivors with jobs, training and sometimes a flight home.


After hearing that her brother was left in a critical condition after an accident in the Philippines, she begged Mama-san to allow her to fly home.

But the woman refused.

"I don't want to do this," Kat said. "I want to get training and to apply for a job in a restaurant. I don't want to come back to Hong Kong."


This story was written by by Sylvia Yu for the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Full story here.

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