Shandra Woworuntu, who traveled to the U.S. from Indonesia and was forced into sex slavery, returned to the Capitol on Wednesday for the announcement of bipartisan legislation to further combat human trafficking, an issue she has pressed Congress to address more aggressively.
“We need to expand the visa data transparency,” said Woworuntu, who was trafficked in Connecticut and New York. “When this information is hidden from policymakers and advocacy groups, people like me are vulnerable.”
Woworuntu stood with Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla., Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., Rep. Jim Himes, D-Connecticut, and Arizona Republican Rep. David Schweikert as they announced the Visa Transparency Anti-Trafficking Act.
“No crime is more undetected,” Blumenthal said.
The bill would create a uniform system for reporting data on visas issued to temporary workers, and require the secretary of labor to provide information, in order to prevent human traffickers from taking advantage of reporting gaps.
“The government now makes available to the public only a very small amount of data it collects,” the senator said.
“We can use [the data] to see where we’re doing good things and where we’re failing, failing our brothers and sisters,” Schweikert, the only Republican sponsor so far, said.
An estimated 14,000 people are trafficked into the U.S. annually, Woworuntu has said.
Woworuntu, who testified last year before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, lost her job in 1998 as a financial analyst with a bank in Indonesia and a recruitment agency promised her six months employment at a Chicago hotel. She entered the U.S. lawfully on a nonimmigrant visa arranged by the recruiter.
“The fact is, I didn’t work in the hotel as promised,” she said.
Read Woworuntu’s testimony to Congress last year
She said her passport was taken and the traffickers asked her to pay $30,000 and forced her to work as a sex slave. She escaped, but then met another trafficker and was put back into the business. When she escaped the second time, she was connected with the FBI and some of her traffickers have since been imprisoned.
“[Woworuntu] can very clearly tell you why we need this proposed legislation,” Frankel said.
Woworuntu founded Mentari, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing human trafficking survivors with mentorship and job training. In December, President Barack Obama announced his intent to appoint her to the Advisory Council on Human Trafficking.
Himes referred to the human trafficking issue as a “stain on our moral history.”