Sara is a foreign exchange student at Yonsei University and suddenly finds herself dragged into the hell that is human trafficking. The man who buys her sentences her to domestic servitude and doesn't intend to let her go. She battle both him and all of the strange emotions her stirs within her. Her undying reliance and rebellion are foreign to her Master. Will she escape? And who will be tamed by whom in the end?
I could feel their eyes on me. My head was down, but I knew they were looking at me like a was a piece of meat.
If only I’d have listened. If I’d have just done what everybody warned me I should. If I had, I’m sure I wouldn’t have ended up like this. I wouldn’t be lined up with seven other girls just like me, being stared at by a bunch of leering men.
But, me being me, I just had to make a mess for myself. Of course, I wasn’t aware that this would happen to me at the time I made that fatal mistake.
It was around three weeks ago. I mean, that was just my best guess; I hadn't had any way to actually monitor the time, so I'd lost track of the days. But I know it was Sunday, September twenty-first, 2014 the night it happened.
It was a little after eleven at night and I was walking back to my dorm room from the drug store. I wasn’t usually one to go out alone when it was that late at night, but my roommate was sick. She had a fever and was so congested she could barely breathe. She complained of aches and pains all over her body. We didn’t have any type of medication to help her in our room, so I had to go out and get something. Then we’d have it for future use, too.
She’d insisted I stay home, that she could wait and would rather I just play it safe. But I wouldn't listen.
Yonsei University didn’t have as many little shops and restaurants on campus or as close to campus as did N.Y.U., where I went to school before coming to study abroad for an academic year in South Korea. It wasn’t one of my favorite things about this foreign exchange student plan, but it hadn’t been that much of an issue. Well, until that night, that is.
But since it was so late, I couldn’t get anybody to go with me. Looking back on the decision to ignore the gut warnings to just go in the morning because it wasn’t safe, listening to my gut would have been a phenomenal idea. I knew very well the streets of any city aren’t safe. Especially at night. Especially when you’re a woman. Especially when you’re a foreign woman. And a small one, at that.
Seoul was especially subject to that principle; women in Korea, especially those from countries other than Korea, are simply not as safe as are men.
I should have known better than to be brave and go anyway. Why couldn’t I ever just settle and do the reasonable thing? I knew how easy a target I was, especially when I was alone and it was that late; nobody would hesitate to take down a five-foot-tall blonde in a dark alley.
And that’s basically what they did.
I was walking back from the store with the medicine in a plastic bag. Being that it was dark and late and I was alone, I was feeling a tad bit paranoid (and with good reason, it turned out). I kept looking around to make sure I was, indeed, alone. And for a while, I was.
Then I heard it.
Something moved behind me. I turned to see what it was, but I saw nothing.
Everything was still, eerily so.
But I knew he was there. I could feel somebody watching me.
My heart rate went into double-time and I swore my life was about to flash before my eyes. I wanted to run, crying, back to my dorm room, slam the door shut, lock it, and watch dramas with my roommate and just forget that this ever even happened. But I checked the urge. If I ran, it would make it obvious that I was aware of this person’s presence. If I ran, he’d run after me. I may have been a very fast sprinter, but I also had asthma; long distance running wasn’t my thing, even with the added adrenaline. Besides, I’d seen all the movies; I know how running away tends to end.
There was nobody here with me. Nobody would hear me scream if I did because I was still a good six minutes away from the border of the campus by foot.
I was thoroughly screwed and I knew it.
Then I heard the noise again. And then footsteps. Another set of footsteps joined and I felt nauseous. I was outnumbered. If there were two the whole time, how many more were hiding? I didn’t really want to find out the answer to that question.
My blood ran cold.
I didn’t know what to do. By that point, I was certain I was going to die. I just kept walking, taking quite sizable steps, trying to formulate a plan and hold back my tears as I went. I just preyed I’d get to campus like this before they grabbed me and did whatever it was they were going to do. Then I could scream and at least somebody might hear me. Security, students, somebody.
But I hadn't been that lucky. A large, muscular arm wrapped around my body with a force that almost knocked the wind straight out of me. Despite knowing it wouldn’t do any good, I instinctively started to scream. His other hand slammed over my mouth, clamping it shut. “Shut it, slut!” the man growled in my ear in a thick Korean accent.
Slut? I knew I wasn’t a slut, but the comment still stung, nonetheless.
I was certain my heart would stop. It felt like there was a humming bird in my chest where my heart was supposed to be. I had never experienced such acute terror in my entire life. The second man came out from behind the corner of a building and pointed a gun to my head as I fought to free myself. “Hold still or you die right here,” he said, his tone deadpan. His accent wasn’t as think as the first man’s. Maybe they thought I couldn’t speak Korean.
Something about the way he stared into my eyes so aggressively told me that he wasn’t bluffing and I complied with the ultimatum of an order. The man restraining me let out a wheezy chuckle and said, “that’s a good girl.” Then he said, in Korean, (half to the man with the gun, half to himself, and, I’m sure, in part to terrorize me), “my, my, have we got pretty one. She’s gonna be very popular.” I could hear the satisfied smirk in his quietly excited voice. The way he dragged out his words made me both more anxious and infuriated.
My eyes stung as tears threatened to spill. The man’s breath fanned over my neck and the sickening warmth of it clung to my skin like dew on a windowpane. I could smell the heavy, offensive odor of tobacco coming from his mouth nearly causing me to gag.
I knew it was in trouble. Big trouble. Massive, mammoth, gargantuan, titanic trouble. My immediate thought was that they would just pull me into the alley, take turns raping me, and maybe kill me when they were through. My breath hitched with another hard, silent sob at the thought.
“Her purse,” the man with a gun said. A third man that I hadn’t even noticed until then came over and yanked it from me. I thanked god I had put my phone in the inside pocket of my coat.
Was all they wanted my purse? While that thought made me feel slightly relieved, it struck me as odd; the three men that had me here weren’t dressed like they needed to steal some college junior’s purse. They weren’t dressed like thugs. They looked like normal guys that you’d see and not give so much as a second thought.
“Here,” the third man started, holding up my wallet. Yes, just take it and let me go! Please! My mind screamed. “Her student ID. She’s a foreign exchange student from the states, name’s Sara Marks. Twenty-one years old in universal age,” the man who took my purse was rattling off my information.
That scared me. If he just wanted my purse or my money, why was the person he was stealing from so important?
“If she has all her cards and stuff we can just use the databases to get the rest of the important information. We probably won’t need her name after that anyway,” the man with the gun answered with a steely-voiced chuckle.
Now I knew my heart would stop dead. They didn’t want my purse. They wanted me.
The phrase “fearing for my life” doesn’t even begin to cover what I felt at the moment. I’ll never be able to get the memory of that feeling out of my head.
“Quiet!” the man holding on to me gave me a rough jerk, “behave, and you’ll live.” That man said as if it wasn’t a choice. Not that it really was. Given those two options, what would any sane person do?
I continued to cry, but I did my best to keep silent; I didn’t want to die.
“Alright, let’s go,” the man with the gun said.
I started panicking. Where were they taking me? What would the do with me? Are they going to rape me? Are they going to rape me and then kill me?
I felt like a baby. All I could think was how much I wanted to feel my mommy and daddy’s arms around me.
The men tossed me roughly into the back of a van. When I tried to run from the back of the van, I was struck in the gut with something hard and knocked backward as pain radiated from where I’d been hit. Once I was down, they put a gag through my mouth, blindfolded me, and bound my hands and feet. I had never felt so low, scared, and degraded in my life.
Then I felt something sharp puncture the skin of my neck, and everything looked blurry. Sleepy oblivion was pressing in on me and I fought desperately to resist the sick feeling whatever they’d just injected me with was giving me.
Because I was tilting back and forth between semi-consciousness and unconsciousness, I had no idea for how long I was in the car (it certainly wasn't a particularly short car ride, that's for damn sure) before I was yanked out of it and thrown over the shoulder of one of the med who had grabbed me. He walked for an uncomfortably long time.
I screamed through the gag and cried into the blindfold. I trashed and kicked violently, knowing my life depended on it. Every time I struggled, he’d jerk me and yell at me to knock it off, calling my some kind of foul name.
I heard a door open and close before I was thrown in a chair as the room around me spun and jolted. My hands (already tied behind my back) were re-bound behind the back of the chair, tied to the vertical slats that made up its back. My feet were tied to something that stuck up from the ground between the chair’s legs.
“Let me go!” I yelled as soon as the gag was removed from my mouth, not intending on it sounding as horribly slurred as it did.
“I told you to be quiet, you worthless little bitch!” one of the men told said, then hit me across the face, leaving a sharp stinging sensation on my cheek. I tasted something coppery as a small bit of blood tricked from my mouth, down my chin.
Though the blindfold was still around my face, I knew end of the barrel of a gun was staring me down once again. I could feel the cold tip of it against my sweaty forehead.
I heard two chairs from several feet away slide out, and then back in. I assumed it was the two other men.
through my drug-induced haze, I heard what sounded like the zipper of my purse being torn open and the contents being spilled out.
They had my wallet. All of the cards I had that gave up parts of my identity and personal information. I’d hear them periodically type something into a computer, then silence. Then a printer. Are they compiling a folder with all of my information?
What the hell is going on here…?
“Alright, here’s how this is gonna work, sweetie,” he started in Korean. “I’m going to ask you a few questions, and you’re going to answer them. If you lie or refuse to answer, you will be punished like the little tramp we all know you are,” the man with the gun said in the same cold, menacing voice, cocking his gun as he said the word “punished.” With that, I started to cry again.
“Stop whining,” he ordered. “How old are you?” he asked. I didn’t understand why he was asking me that; he and his two lackeys had already established that I was twenty-one years old.
When I remained silent, he hit me in the head with his gun and yelled forcefully, “I said ‘how old are you?”’ I cried out in pain and told him what year I was born in, trying to avoid confusion between my actual (universal) age and my Korean age. I felt the blood trickling down from the cut he’d made when he hit me.
“How tall are you?” he asked.
“One-hundred-and-fifty-four centimeters,” I stuttered back, fighting to
speak understandably against my tears and against middle incapacitated state of my brain.
“How much do you weigh?”
“What’s your cup size?”
“I-I’m a D,” I admitted in a panic. “Are you lying to me?” he questioned in a unwavering voice as he pressed the gun herder against my forehead. I sobbed aloud. “No, it’s the truth! I swear!” I choked out as my life flashed before my eyes.
He tore through part of the back of my shirt and grabbed at the back of my bra, checking the tag. Once he saw that I had been truthful, he let go and continued with his increasingly intrusive interrogation.
“Are you a virgin?” the way he is voice never wavered, the authoritative way in which he asked these questions he had no business knowing the answers to, made it all the worse. It reminded me how vulnerable I was. How in control I wasn’t.
I sat there, mouth agape, taken aback by his very personal inquiry. I had never been very comfortable with talking about subject like this with people. Even talking about it with my closest friends made me a little bit uncomfortable.
“Answer the fucking question!” He bellowed at me as a sharp, forceful blow came to my stomach so hard it knocked the entire chair over with me still in it. I didn't even know what part of his body had delivered the blow. Next thing I knew, I was face down, still tied to a chair, my feet still tied to the ground (and now being bent at the most uncomfortable of angles), and the man’s foot pressing down on my head.
“Yes! Yes, I’m a virgin!” I slurred and sobbed into the ground, praying he wasn’t about to change that fact. I heard menacing chuckles coming from the men at the computer when I admitted to being a virgin. It was like an even more twisted cat call to a girl walking past a construction sight.
“Hold still,” he ordered gruffly. I felt a sharp sting in the side of my neck again. I gasped as another hypodermic needle pierced my skin before everything started getting fuzzy and slow, then just completely black.
Whatever had been in the needle had obviously been intended to knock me out. And, boy, had it done just that. But for how long, I wasn’t sure. When I awoke, I was still very groggy and a little loopy from the drugs. I strained my eyes to focus on my surroundings, trying to ignore the pounding headache exploding inside my skull.
I was on a cold concrete floor. Looking around me, I noticed that I was boxed in by chain link chickenwire fence walls that reached the high ceiling. The little box looked barely large enough to lay down in, even for somebody as small as me. And I was only one in a very long row. My cage, I guess you could call it, was the last in the row, sitting in the corner. But the little boxes went all the way down the hall in two rows, with a little path through the middle.
It looked like a stereotypical animal shelter, only there were fewer lights, and in each cage was a barely-dressed girl instead of a cute, scruffy puppy.
They all looked as scared as I felt, but more broken. Despite the heavy fog the men had purposely put my brain in, that hopeless look on all their faces stood out clear and sharp. It was like there was a switch inside of them that turned off the feeling of hope and being here was what had had turned it off.
That scared me. The hopelessness. How long had these girls been here that they had lost hope? That they looked so irrevocably dead inside?
…How long would I be here?
It didn’t matter, though. I wasn’t going to let anything break me. If I did, that meant I surrendered. If I surrendered, then I’d be subjected to god knows what. I might as well die if I just give up like that.
No, that was certainly not an option. Not for me.
I tried to moved, but found that my hands were still bound together. I felt sick and groggy from the what ever it was they the men had been injecting me with. Every part of my body felt like it weighed a ton. I didn’t have the strength to get myself up.
All I wanted to do was take a long, hot shower and fall asleep in the comfort of my own bed.
I was hit with the overpowering urge to cry once more. But I wouldn’t let myself this time. What would crying help now? Absolutely nothing. My time was far better spent trying to figure a way out of this. Too bad I didn’t know what this was. Or where it was, for that matter.
My parents were worried about me when I decided to go to school in Seoul. They were scared that it would be dangerous for me. I kept insisting that they were being paranoid and that I’d be just fine. How ironic.
I couldn’t help but dread the oncoming barrage of I-told-you-so’s that would be thrust upon me if I ever saw them again. Then I thought about how ridiculous it was of me to be so upset about a silly thing like that at a time like this. It was truly the least of my worries.
The lighting in the dank little room we were all caged in matched the dark, oppressive atmosphere. Nobody made a sound for a good minute after the man left. And even after that, there wasn’t much talk. There were a few words exchanged among girls here and there, but nothing more than that. It was like living amongst the dead.
Once or twice over the next several hours, a man would come in and drag a girl out of the room with him. Part of me wondered where they were taken, but the other part of me was terrified to know because I knew that I’d likely be going to the same place at some point.
It was a long time before I spoke up and asked the girl in the cell next to mine what the hell was going on. She looked at me with sad eyes and (after getting over that despite the fact that I was white, my Korean was nearly perfect) told me she didn’t know for sure. “Most of just assume it’s some sort of human trafficking establishment. Girls get taken here, then they leave and most never come back.”
“She’s right,” the girl in the next cell rasped, sleep form whatever drugs they gave us evident in her voice. “And it’s a really efficient one, too. It’s more… upscale, I guess you could say, compared the normal ones. For rich guys. Like, really rich. I was here about two years ago. It was the third ring I was sent to. The first was when I was seventeen. A couple men kidnapped me when I was walkin’ home from work. I lived in Gyeongju, but was brought to a ring in Busan. I was trafficked for a few years, then ended up at a new ring in Seoul. I was brought home and kept in a house by a man who used me for sex n’ hores and stuff for a while before endin’ up here. Then the person who took me here ended up bringin’ me back ‘bout a week and a half ago. This place is the most thorough. They keep us drugged so we’re even easier to overpower n’ keep in line. They compile information on all of us before auctionin’ us off. They do that whole interrogation thing or whatever before sedatin’ and examinin’ you to make sure all your answers in the interrogation were the truth and to just take more notes for the files. I’m guessin’ they only ask you those questions as a show, a way to scare us into bein’ obedient n’ stuff. This is the only place I’ve been where things are so thoroughly thought out,” she explained.
She had been like this for years. What if that happened to me? What if I never escaped this kind of life? It was all so unfair.
“So.. how do we get out of here?” I asked quietly.
“You don’t. They hold an auction once every month. If somebody who’s there to buy wants you, ya’ get bought. If not, ya’ come back here and wait for the next auction.”
My chest started hurting and apprehension welled up inside of me.
“W-what do they do to you? The people who buy you,” I asked, not entirely sure if I wanted to hear the answer.
“Depends on the person. Mosta the time, it’s sex. These bastards are filthy fuckin’ rich. They come here looking mostly for domestic servitude. Sex, chores, n’ whatever else they want.”
Just the answer I had been desperately hoping not to hear.
“How long do they keep you?”
“Depends on the person. I guess they keep you longer if you keep ‘em happy.”
“Oh.” That was all I could say in response. I don’t know if I could have thought of a worse situation to be in. I was going to be sold and raped.
That was probably one of the most vivid memories I have of being there. The people running that little corner of hell kept us drugged up. Whatever they were incapacitating us with made it hard to remember all the small details. But that was the moment so many of my nightmares were confirmed. It’s one of the clearest, most powerful, and most haunting memories I have.
I did my best to blink my tears back. I felt a couple of them slip down my face as I let my head drop back against the wall behind me. I took a deep breath to steady myself and wiped my face on my shoulder. It wasn’t until then that I realized that I was in only my bra and underwear.
Everyone else was, too.
After that, the time passed at an agonizingly slow place. I don’t know how long I was suck in that cell. My best guess is two or three weeks. We got little food and water, just enough to keep us alive and passable for healthy so the buyers would still be attracted to us. Instead of showers, the men took us a handful at a time, at gunpoint, to a communal showering area. We were given five minutes to shower, and it seemed to be a once-a-week thing, if that.
Though whatever medical cocktail they were drugging us with was seriously hindering my memory, I remember when the men came to bring us to the showers, give us what they called food, or just for the hell of it, they used fear tactics to keep us in line. They’d yell and scream in our faces. They’d call us names, some of which I’d never even heard before and wouldn't dare use against even my worst enemy. They'd beat us until we bled sometimes. They’d hold guns to our head just to watch us squirm, then smirk in our faces when they got the reaction they desired.
Sometimes I swear I can still feel the metal of the end of the barrel of a gun pressed against my temple. Even though it was cold, it felt like the metal was singing my skin.
We never got to see the sun. Everybody was terrified every minute of every day, wondering if today would be the day that we’d be shipped off to be degraded and abused and preying it wouldn’t be. That was my life for two-and-a-half weeks. That was all of our lives.
But today was that day.