Shandra Woworuntu: The Land of the ‘Free’

Hannah Policy


Shandra Woworuntu stepped off the airplane and into a bustling Queens airport. A recruitment agency brought her from her home in Indonesia for an exciting new job opportunity in the United States hospitality industry. After she earned a degree in finance and passed a lengthy series of tests and interviews for the job, she was excited to step into this new phase of her career and to be able to support her family overseas. Shandra had been told that she would earn $5,000 each month as an employee at a hotel in Chicago.

Waiting for her at the JFK airport was Johnny, the man from the recruitment agency who had been assigned the job of delivering Shandra to her work assignment. Upon meeting her, he immediately collected all of Shandra’s identification and ushered her into a waiting car. She followed him and was transferred from car to car - each time watching the drivers exchange a wad of cash - before arriving at the final destination: a brothel. Her first experience in that brothel was shocking. She witnessed a young girl being beat on the floor by several men. On that same day, Shandra became a victim of sex trafficking

“I learned from witnessing that first act of violence to do what I was told.”


Shandra was informed that she owed a debt of $30,000 to the organization that brought her to America– and that she would not be set free until she paid the entire fine. Every client she serviced paid $100 for her services. Shandra became trapped in a highly organized sex-trafficking network that operated throughout the East Coast of the United States. For two years, each day of her life was characterized by rape, alcohol, malnourishment, beating, and a reliance on substances like cocaine and crystal meth. “Overwhelmed with sadness, anger, disappointment, I just went through the motions, doing what I was told and trying hard to survive.” (Woworuntu)

Shandra describes being escorted nightly, through the halls of large casinos, servicing clients one room after another. She desperately wanted to escape many times, but she was kept on a strict schedule with constant supervision by an armed trafficker.

“I was their property for 45 minutes and I had to do what they said or they hurt me.”


After two years of being trafficked, Shandra was successful in jumping from the small bathroom window of a brothel. However, her escape led her straight into homelessness on the streets of New York. When she shares her story, she describes how she desperately sought help from police officers and the Indonesian consulate, both of which refused to offer her resources or support. “The problem is that people see trafficked women as prostitutes, and they see prostitutes not as victims, but criminals.”


Every day, she told her story to anyone who would listen until finally, a tourist offered to put her in contact with the FBI. From there, Shandra was able to be instrumental in rescuing several of the women that she was trafficked with, as well as receive the important resources for her own recovery, employment, and residency. She played a vital role in the arrests of the traffickers who sold her for two years of her life.

Physical health problems and mental illnesses are common and can be long-lasting effects of sex trafficking both during and after exploitation. Shandra is no exception. Trafficking left her wrestling with flashbacks of trauma, as well as migraines, joint pain, and severe pelvic pain, due to an improperly used IUD. According to a 2012 study in the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, as many as 88% of trafficking victims accessed health care during their exploitation. The same study showed that less than 3% of emergency department clinicians had the training to identify and serve victims effectively. (John Hopkins University Press)

Shandra Woworuntu’s story is used to advocate for increased education in the healthcare industry. This includes specified training for medical workers to respond to sex-trafficking patients and injuries and teaching them to be aware of certain signs of abuse. (Gomes)

Shandra also uses her own story of exploitation to raise awareness among immigrants regarding sex trafficking and to assist survivors in their recovery. She advocates for jail time for any person who pays for sex, as well as education for all Americans who may be complacent or unaware about this industry’s involvement in their community. She reminds all who hear her story that “Not all victims of trafficking are poor, though. Some, like me, have college degrees.” (Woworuntu) Bochy's Place is positioned to provide more beds and resources for victims of sex trafficking. If you are searching for a way to help provide hope and healing to victims like Shandra, visit our link,


Gomes, Isabella. "Health Care Providers Are Missing Chances to Help Victims of Sex Trafficking" 19

February 2020. Pulitzer Center.

John Hopkins University Press. "Combating Slavery in the 21st Century: The Role of Emergency

Medicine" Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved (2012).

Woworuntu, Shandra."Shandra Woworuntu: My life as a sex-trafficking victim" 30 March 2016. BBC.

92 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All