IMA MATUL was born and raised in Indonesia. When she was only a teenager, she got an offer to work in the US. It seemed like a blessing and an opportunity for a better life. A labor recruiter said everything would be taken care of: passports, visas, and tickets. She promised her $150 a month in pay, and while not much, it was more than Ima could earn in Indonesia.
However, when Ima arrived in Los Angeles it turned out the labor recruiter was a trafficker. When she arrived at a house to work the owner explained to Ima what was expected of her: cooking, cleaning, laundry, caring for the children, gardening, and washing the car.
The house became a prison. Ima worked 18 hours a day – sometimes more – 7 days a week, with no days off. She never saw a dollar of the promised meager pay. She was forbidden to talk to anyone. She was physically and verbally abused daily. At one point, Ima had to get stitches after the trafficker hit her with a ceramic salt shaker.
Ima wanted to run away, but abuse and threats made her too terrified to leave. Her trafficker warned that if she left the police would arrest her and put her in jail, where she would be beaten and raped. She did not know what to do. She had nowhere to go, no money, and no one she could turn to. Ima didn’t even know where she was. Unable to speak much English, she didn’t know she had any rights.
After 3 years, Ima could not take it anymore. With the constant abuse growing worse by the day, Ima secretly wrote a letter to the nanny next door. It took her a long time to compose that letter; she struggled writing in English and was so scared to get caught. Finally she saw an opportunity, and she gave the nanny the letter.
A few days later, her neighbor arranged Ima’s escape. They drove far from the house where she had been held captive for three years. Ima didn’t ask where they were going – she was just happy and relieved to have escaped.
Ima’s neighbor took her to the offices of the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST) in Los Angeles, where they provided Ima with counseling, support groups, legal assistance, and job skills training. She learned to speak and write in English and joined a leadership development program offered by CAST. A natural leader, Ima now works there as a Survivor Organizer.
Ima is a powerful speaker and advocate for the rights of immigrant laborers in the United States. She has spoken to politicians and legislators to promote survivor-centered legislation on the issue of human trafficking. She was recently recognized by President Barack Obama as a hero in today’s abolitionist movement.
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