A 60-year-old Korean immigrant has accused a Buddhist monk and his family of enslaving her and holding her captive for 12 years against her will. Oak-Jin Oh says she was placed with the Choi family by an employment agency in South Korea and smuggled into the U.S. “under the cover of night” by patriarch Soo Bok Choi, a Buddhist monk who had a temple in Little Neck until 2001. The Chois allegedly forced Oh to work long hours for no pay, barely ever allowing her out of the house and threatening her if she ever tried to leave.
The lawsuit alleges that Oh was “threatened with reputational harm, physical harm and death” if she tried to escape; she was also allegedly denied medical care and even a bed. According to the complaint, “Ms. Oh’s work each day included, but was not limited to, preparing meals for members of the Choi family, setting and clearing the table, doing dishes, vacuuming and otherwise cleaning the house, watching and attending to the children and the elderly defendant Ki Soon Lee, doing laundry for members of the Choi Family, and making the beds of members of the Choi family. Ms. Oh was required to perform whatever other tasks the Choi Family would ask of her.” This would go on for fourteen or more hours a day, according to the complaint.
We asked one of Oh’s lawyers, Ivy Suriyopas, how Oh finally managed to make her escape. Suriyopas would only tell us in an email message that “One of the visitors to the household advised her of resources outside. She also advised her of some of her rights.” In America, Oh only knew the family and the occasional visitor to their houses in Queens; they moved multiple times. Suriyopas would not comment on Oh’s immigration status. She said that the legal team has reported the case to authorities, but she doesn’t believe that criminal charges have not been brought against the Choi family.
The case recalls that of a Long Island couple who were convicted of enslaving and abusing two Indonesian servants for five years. In that case, both slave-drivers were sentenced to prison.