She was born in June 1984 in Temanggung Central Java, Indonesia. She came from a poor family and only had rudimentary education. Things took a bad turn when her husband passed, leaving her with a small child to feed so she saw no option but to seek employment abroad. Now, 31 years on she recalls her unexpected and traumatic experiences as a trafficked victim.
“We were sold. Were treated as slaves. We were sexually exploited and threatened. There isn’t a single good thing I can tell you about being over there, ” she says.
In 2006 she went to neighbouring country in search of work using an unsanctioned agent and without proper legal documents. Criminal networks and sponsors of trafficking and people smuggling, quickly took advantage of her vulnerable situation and preyed on her illegal status with the promise of work. Memey recalls, “when I heard those promises I was very happy. I thought I would be able to afford the pay for the needs of my son and family.” But after arriving to location and taken shopping for new clothes and make-up, she knew something was not right.
“After dinner, a man came for me and took me to a hotel room nearby to start work. That was when it finally dawned on me that it was not a waitressing job. I was being made to work as a sex worker.” Memey was held captive for four months by middlemen who forced her to do sex work.
“We were watched closely, there was no opportunity to escape. Our passports were taken away, and we did not have access to a phone either.” Plagued by fear of being beaten and threatened like others that tried to escape- she was alone, very afraid and did not run.
Fortunately, the Malaysian authorities were able to rescue Memey and other women after receiving a tip-off about what was going on. However she contracted something that will remain a constant reminder of her grim past- she was infected with HIV.
Memey’s message for women looking for work abroad is to get as much information as possible. “If you really need to work abroad, go to a legal centre to get more information about the living conditions, the culture and the working environment in the new country. Make sure you have proper papers and documentation for working abroad, and check out the (prospective) employers at a legal centre.”