Ah Jing’s parents were arrested for practising Falun Gong when she was seven or eight years old. In China she had been homeless, fending for herself, earning a meagre living trading scrap paper, cardboard, cans, bottles, jars and books. When she was 16, she borrowed some money from some snakeheads who then told her they could find her work in the UK, so that she could repay what she owed. Before she left China Ah Jing owed ¥100,000 to the snakeheads: on arrival in the UK she owed a further ¥170,000, making ¥270,000 in total. Ah Jing had willingly left her hard life in China, where she had no identity papers, money or home. Once she was in the UK, her debts had increased and she was pressurised into sex work, which she resisted. She was raped by a snakehead and became pregnant. As she was no further use as a sex worker, she was released with threats that if she told anyone about her ordeal, they would take revenge.
I met those snakeheads [in Sichuan] when I was homeless. I owed them money and they lied to me that they could find me a job in the UK, so I could earn money to pay them back. When I got to the UK I was controlled by them. ... It didn’t matter how much money I owed them, they said they had ways to let me pay for the money I owed. They knew people like me would not have much money, but what they wanted was to set me to pay the money in their way.
You had no other choice other than to believe them [snakeheads]. Because they got money from helping me go abroad, if I had a job I could pay them back. So no matter how difficult it was I would still be willing to do so, even if I had to pay them all the money I had.
Because I owed them money I had to do things I didn’t want to do, something like prostitution. I fought against it by not eating any food. ... They started to treat me badly because I didn’t do what I was told. I would use some extreme ways to protest, like threatening to kill myself using a knife. ... If they took people in and forced me [to have sex] I told them I would kill myself. They had no choice, because if I died they would lose everything.
They just told me to pack my bags and go with them. They took me to a place and told me to get out of the car. Then they said I still had to pay them back the money, but because I was pregnant they just let me go till I gave birth. They warned me not to say anything to anyone. They would take revenge if I said something. They said they knew how to find me and take revenge on me. So I didn’t say anything about the snakeheads when I was interviewed by the Home Office staff.
As told to researchers at the Research Institute for Health and Social Change at Manchester Metropolitan University and the Wai Yin Chinese Women Society, Manchester. Part of a Joseph Roundtree Foundation Publication.