While rescuing almost 400 female victims from brothels in the past 11 years, Vietnamese lawyer Ta Ngoc Van has made many trips to China and achieved stunning success beyond his expectations.
This time, he went to Liuzhou in Guangxi Province, China to rescue Nguyen Thi Huong, who is from Thanh Ha District in the northern province of Hai Duong, and her friend.
Huong went missing for a year before she was able to call home to inform her family that she had been cheated and sold to a brothel in China.
Van, 33, was informed of the case thanks to policemen from the central investigation police department C45 under the Ministry of Public Security.
A visit to Huong’s family
Huong’s mother said in tears, “My daughter was suddenly missing on the morning of December 23 in 2012.
“Before leaving, she told us that she was going out to study with her friends until that evening, but she didn’t return.”
A friend of Huong’s later reported that Huong had ridden her bicycle to her house, saying that she was going to the market to buy new clothes.
At that time, Huong was only 16 years old and in tenth grade.
Police said after her rescue that one of Huong’s classmates had sold her into prostitution in China for VND20 million (US$962).
Lawyer Van had Huong’s phone number in China thanks to her call to her family, and he asked Huong’s family members not to call her anymore so that the pimps would not change her location.
On the evening of June 20, 2013, Van set off for Liuzhou in Guangxi, which he had traveled to many times before for the same purpose.
However, he was much more cautious about this rescue attempt because he had been informed that the owner of the sex shop was a Vietnamese woman.
Vietnamese procurers are even crueler than their Chinese counterparts because they fear the victims will return home and report their cases to police. They are willing to throw women from high-rise buildings to cover up clues if the victims are found trying to escape.
Van was given necessary help by Michael Brosowski, director of the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation, a charity organization which rescues kids in crisis in Vietnam. This time, Van decided to go to Liuzhou by air because he already knew the local roads clearly.
As the second largest city in Guangxi after Nanning, Liuzhou is famous for its historic sites and landscapes.
Eventually Van found the sex shop in Liuzhou where Huong was being abused. As usual, it was located on a road lined with many other similar shops.
Van realized that while he could easily trick Chinese pimps, duping owners who are his ‘Vietnamese fellows’ would be much more difficult. These owners often start out as prostitutes before mastering the trade and becoming the bosses.
Van decided to disguise himself and act as a Chinese ringleader.
On the first visit to Huong’s brothel, Van did not say a word and acted as cool as a stone. The characteristics were suitable to his haircut, which was shaved to the skin, and the hardened scars on his face.
He gestured at the pimps to show him their album containing pictures of all of their girls.
Unfolding page after page as if to select the most beautiful girl, Van pointed at Huong, whom he knew before thanks to a visit to her family.
Huong was 16, the youngest girl at the shop.
Van was taken to her room. He showed her the picture he had gotten from her parents to gain her confidence and told her that he was ready for the rescue.
Huong told Van that she and her Vietnamese friend who had also been forced to work there were often allowed to visit a nearby hairdresser’s salon in the morning to prepare to receive clients under the guard of pimps.
A plan took shape. Van told the girls that he would park a taxi near the hairdresser’s. He asked them to immediately get in the taxi when he opened the door. Otherwise, just wait in the following mornings.
The following day, Van asked a taxi to park near the hairdresser’s and sat inside to watch the pimps, who often opened the door and stepped inside to welcome clients.
Luckily, a group of men entered the shop. The pimps left their seats at the door to enter along with them.
Van opened the taxi door, and Huong and her friend rushed in.
The taxi sped toward Beijing before turning back to head for the border with Vietnam.
At the Mong Cai border gate in the northern province of Quang Ninh, Van helped the girls complete legal documents to enter the country because they did not have a single official paper.