By Holly Austin Smith — From her column Speaking Out in the Washington Times
WASHINGTON, September 4, 2012 – “My name is Ima Matul… I was born in Indonesia, and I was trafficked into the United States for forced labor when I was 17 years old…”
These were the words of CAST Survivor Advisory Caucus member, Ima Matul, as she began our joint testimony to support the reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in September 2011.
At age 16, Ima was forced into an arranged marriage with a man 12 years her senior. As soon as she had the chance, Ima had run away in order to escape this man’s assaults.
Luckily, Ima’s parents supported the separation from her husband; however, divorce was considered dishonorable in Ima’s town. Ima said she was left feeling ashamed.
“I wanted a different life, a better life,” she stated.
Ima traveled to the city and was offered an opportunity to work in America. The person who was to become Ima’s trafficker offered her a nanny position in Los Angeles, California.
“I thought this was a great opportunity for me,” Ima said, “I even brought my cousin with me.”
Ima stated that she and her cousin didn’t have to pay for anything.
“They took care of everything,” she said, “our passports, visas, and tickets; they promised us $150 a month and one day off a week so that we could see each other.”
However, upon arrival to Los Angeles, Ima was immediately separated from her cousin. Ima was taken to one house to work, while her cousin was taken to another. The owner of the house, a woman, listed the new rules to Ima.
“She explained about my duties around the house,” Ima said, “cooking, cleaning, laundry, caring for the children, gardening, and washing the car…I worked 18 hours a day, sometimes more, 7 days a week, with no day off.”
“I wasn’t allowed to talk to anyone,” Ima continued, “I was physically and verbally abused by my trafficker every day.”
This woman discouraged Ima from any attempts to flee the house with tales of police brutality.
“She threatened me,” Ima said, “She told me that if I left, the police would arrest me and put me in jail. And in jail there were bad people who would rape me. So I was scared to leave.”
Penniless and unable to speak English, Ima believed she had no other options.
“I had no money because my trafficker never paid me,” Ima said, “And I didn’t know anyone in the country besides my cousin, who I hadn’t seen since the day I arrived…I didn’t know I had any rights.”
After 3 years, Ima finally reached out for help and wrote a letter to the woman who worked next door. This woman, another nanny, arranged Ima’s escape.
“It took me a while to write that letter,” Ima said, “I didn’t know how to write in English [and] I was so scared to get caught. We drove a long way; I had no idea where I was, because I never went anywhere. And we didn’t communicate because I couldn’t speak much English. I didn’t even bother to ask where she was taking me. As long I was out of that house, I was happy.”
The neighbor took Ima to the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST) in Los Angeles, CA. When she arrived at CAST, Ima said there was a social worker waiting there for her. There weren’t many housing options available at the time, so Ima was taken to a homeless shelter. After 3 weeks, she was transferred to a transitional housing program called Alexandria House for women and children.
Through the programs with CAST and Alexandria House, Ima learned to read and write in English. She also learned computer skills and other life skills. In 2005, Ima joined a leadership development program offered by CAST called the Survivor Advisory Caucus, where she discovered her innate leadership abilities and learned how to be an advocate. Ima has been actively speaking at local and national conferences and trainings over the past four years, and she has met with state and federal legislators, officials, academics, and celebrities to advocate for increased protections for survivors. In 2010, Ima received the CAST Seeds of Renewal award for her leadership, a recognition that was given to her by fellow survivors.
Ima was recently offered a position with CAST as a survivor organizer – a first of its kind for CAST – and she becomes one of the few survivors working for anti-trafficking organizations around the country.
“It is my honor to work with CAST, an organization that helped me become who I am today,” Ima said, “I am looking forward to connecting with more survivors and to help[ing] them realize that they deserve more.”
Ima will be in charge of CAST’s survivor leadership program and the National Survivor Network, a program launched by CAST in 2011 that connects survivors of all nationalities and experiences across the United States.
“Ima is a natural leader among her peers,” stated Vanessa Lanza, Director of Partnerships at CAST, “She will be a tremendous asset to our organization and to the network, and I can’t wait to have her on board!”
Ima’s position officially starts this week, and I personally cannot wait to work more closely with her. If you would like to contact Ima about CAST’s survivor leadership program or the National Survivor Network, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.