TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Shandra Woworuntu still remembers the day she received an email from the office of President Barrack Obama in September 2015, offering her to become a member of the US Advisory Council on Human Trafficking the first of its kind. The email also requested for her biodata.
For a long spell, Shandra was in a state of disbelief. "I didn't even pay attention to it," recalled the 39-year-old resident of New York City three weeks ago. She sent in her data only after she was convinced that the email was indeed from the White House.
After a lengthy and complicated process, she later received news that her appointment had been confirmed. "Are you sure?" asked Shandra. The official announcement of her appointment on December 16 erased all her doubts.
She is determined to carry out the mandate entrusted to her unreservedly despite her hectic schedule working three different jobs: at Mentari, a foundation helping survivors of human trafficking; as a commissioner at the New Jersey Commission on Human Trafficking and as Policy Champion of the National Survivor Network.
After all, Shandra herself is a survivor of human trafficking and she is familiar with all the members of the Council's board, including Ima Matul, a fellow Indonesian survivor at Mentari. "My happiness is complete now," she enthused. The following is Tempo's interview with Shandra, recently conducted by telephone.
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What is the task of the US Advisory Council on Human Trafficking?
The council works together with other government departments, such as the Departments of Justice, State, Social Welfare and Labor. We monitor and give advice on human trafficking issues. Until now, there was no feedback from survivors.
Can you explain?
Information from survivors can help the Justice Department prevent abuse in the law enforcement process. For example, sometimes the language, images or graphics used for campaigns and education (programs) can be quite misleading. Such as a picture of woman being constrained or with a dog chain around her neck. How many percentage of trafficking victims are like that? Perhaps just 0.01 percent. Most victims can still go around. Constrained victims like me are not that many.
What can do you about this?
We assist law enforcement authorities by training the police so that they can better identify and treat victims, accordingly. In court, survivor-cum-advocates accompany victims to help fend off harassment.
Are victims treated improperly?
When I was questioned by the police, I was dressed in T-shirt and shorts in a very cold room without food or drink. There should have been a social services officer to check whether I needed anything. And the questions can sometimes be demeaning, victimizing the victim.
What kind of questions?
They would ask, "So you came to America to work as a sex worker?" Yet, criminals are not treated in the same way. (*)
Read the full story of Shandra Woworuntu in this week's edition of Tempo English Magazine