Trafficking survivor: It's time to help others
Ima Matul was trafficked to the U.S. Now she is helping other survivors.
January 17th, 2013
06:13 PM ET

Trafficking survivor: It's time to help others

Ima Matul, a survivor organizer with the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST)

You might not know that January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. You might not even know why we need such an awareness campaign, or that, right here in America, women, children and men are trafficked every day into forced labor or the sex industry.

More than likely, though, you do know that modern slavery exists, but do not know all of what it looks like or what you can do about it. As both a survivor of human trafficking and an advocate working to free and support others, I can tell you.

Some victims are American citizens, others hold valid visas, and some are undocumented immigrants. They are educated or illiterate, young or old, native English speakers or barely fluent. They are found in factories, farms, nursing homes, on the streets, or in your neighbor’s house. In other words, modern slavery fits no stereotype.

For example, in Florida’s Immokalee region, thousands of agricultural workers have been held against their will, beaten, chained, pistol-whipped and even shot for trying to leave their employment picking tomatoes. Trafficking has also been documented in our nation’s food processing plants, where immigrant women have been locked in and forced to work 18 hour days, seven days a week.

I know of young American girls who were forced into the sex industry by acquaintances. I’ve met a man and woman who came to America from the Philippines on promises of legitimate work teaching Tae Kwan Do, only to be forced into servitude at a nursing home facility.

As for me, I came to America in 1997 at 17-years-old with my cousin, believing I would work as a nanny in Los Angeles.

My trafficker took care of my passport, visa and airline ticket, and promised me $150 per month with one day off a week.

But when I arrived, I was separated from my cousin and taken to a home where I was forced to work 18 or more hours every day, endured physical and verbal abuse, and warned that my trafficker would have me arrested if I tried to leave. Without language skills or money, I was terrified and without options.

Read an appeal to President Obama for action

Finally, after three years, I gathered the courage to send a note to a woman who worked next door. She ultimately arranged my escape, and took me to the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking, an anti-trafficking organization that helps victims rebuild their lives and works to end all such human rights violations.

I do not know where I’d be today without my CAST family, who arranged for shelter when I escaped, taught me English, provided a tutor so I could get my GED diploma, and eventually gave me a job as their first survivor organizer.

I also found out my cousin had escaped the traffickers, just a few months before I did.

In September, I traveled with CAST to the Clinton Global Initiative, where President Barack Obama took time to meet with me and other survivors, and announced several initiatives to strengthen the United States’ fight against slavery.

I believe the most important thing he can do right now - and I asked him this in September - is to work with Congress to reauthorize the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), legislation that has provided critical resources and tools for those on the front lines in the fight against human trafficking and modern-day slavery. The TVPA expired in 2011, and its reauthorization should be a priority this month.

I know firsthand the importance of services provided through TVPA, and have seen the lasting damage when victims do not have access to them.

Read how the law can saves lives across the planet

While in Washington, I met women who are still traumatized by experiences that happened 30 years ago because they did not receive the kind of support that enabled me to get back on my feet.

In his speech, the president said of modern slavery: “It ought to concern every person, because it is a debasement of our common humanity. It ought to concern every community, because it tears at our social fabric. It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets. It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime.”

Now that you know that January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month; now that you know what slavery looks like, I hope you’ll do something about it.

I hope you’ll watch for signs that something is wrong in the home next door. I hope you’ll ask your legislator to support the passage of the TVPA.


soundoff (68 Responses)
  1. Rick

    Charge all pimps with slavery and human trafficking and put them in hard labor camps, watch all that nonsense stop.

    January 18, 2013 at 5:48 pm | Reply
    • john

      And you can pay the average 40k a year to keep them pimps locked up while only paying the national average 10k a year on your childs education.

      January 22, 2013 at 8:31 am | Reply
      • francheska

        and no one said to feed or cloth them= 0 expenses

        January 22, 2013 at 4:41 pm |
      • Jeremy

        The labor camps can be productive ones. They can produce the cash needed to keep these pimps alive. And it does not cost $40,000 a year to keep them in a camp. That's a really expensive life for a prisoner.

        March 8, 2013 at 9:13 pm |
    • francheska

      Rick please say it louder, I pray every day for those the hurt/abuse a child, lets see what the bible says according to the word of God;Mat 18:6 KJV – But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and [that] he were drowned in the depth of the sea.
      Mar 9:42 KJV – And whosoever shall offend one of [these] little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.
      Luk 17:2 KJV – It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.

      January 22, 2013 at 4:38 pm | Reply
    • Oscar

      It is not OK to remove a fertilizied egg from a woman BUT it is OK to become impregnated from another woman's egg fertilized in a petri dish by sperm from whoever. Is that against God's will? Absolutely if God had wanted that woman to convieve it would have happened the natural way. If God is in this then you can't have it both ways.

      January 26, 2013 at 9:39 am | Reply
    • teres

      Good idea, let's see how they like it.

      January 27, 2013 at 2:25 am | Reply
  2. dale schory

    thank you ima for your courage. many people dont know that slavery still goes on. keep fighting against it.

    January 18, 2013 at 8:27 pm | Reply
  3. Nonny Muss

    You are a strong courageous woman-So very very sorry that you had this experience in the US -I hope that the work to free others and prevent others from being enslaved someday is sucessful.All the best to you and good luck in your future.
    To others reading this post-Human trafficing is going on right in your own back yard-I lived in Houston and personally encountered an instance of an asian woman being married off to a man to get her green card -She was to be sent to a military town to work massage parlors.Be nosy-Ask questions.Say something-Do something.What If this was your daughter this was happening to?

    January 19, 2013 at 6:54 pm | Reply
  4. JC in KC

    So much is needed to help people who have been trafficked I will find a way to do my part. It is so sad and horrible that this goes on in any form. It has to be stopped. I am so very sorry this beautiful woman (and million others) had to suffer this way especially in a country that is supposed to be an example of "freedom".

    January 19, 2013 at 8:16 pm | Reply
  5. Bridget

    Thank you for raising awareness about slavery and fighting the issue of human trafficking - a critical part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. #GiveProBono #Catchafire #MLK Day

    January 21, 2013 at 12:02 pm | Reply
  6. oneofall4all

    Yes I agree it is time to end this tragic brutality. More compassion and less ambivilence. The more awareness the more it can be stopped. It is the silence that can keep this going on. Jehovah Shalom .There are people who care, I care as does Jesus Christ of Nazareth. I pray that all who participate in this sin repent and learn a better way to treat one another. I pray they learn this could be them Elohim or their children or even grandchildren. It is not good to not speak of such things, it is not good to ignore this just because it is not fashionable or appropiate to think of. I am glad people are speaking up finally, it has been a long time coming. We are all our brothers' keeper, we all can speak up against this, and we all can demonstrate love for our fellow man allways. God bless you all and God bless America.

    January 22, 2013 at 4:15 pm | Reply
    • Lynn

      I respect your faith but but quoting bible verses does NOTHING-PLEASE understand what we desparately need is for people TO OPEN THEIR EYES,SAY SOMETHING AND TAKE ACTION.It is profoundly shameful that this should be occuring in 2013 ANYWHERE in the World let alone in our own towns across the UNITED STATES-Stop human trafficking and slavery NOW!!!

      January 22, 2013 at 8:58 pm | Reply
      • Slavery_Ends_With_You

        I AGREE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!SLAVERY WILL STOP AS LONG AS I LIVE!!!!Shame on those slave owners >:l shame......shame......shame....shame.....SHAME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

        January 23, 2013 at 5:56 pm |
  7. Daniela

    I agree that we should stop slavery. But i have 1 question.
    You all talk about the slavery in countries like USA, GB etc but what about the rest of the world? They exist too. Slavery also exist in Africa (a continent that i know quite well), Asia and the orient you should mention them too.
    Yours Sincerely

    January 25, 2013 at 9:34 am | Reply
  8. Oscar

    I BUY ALMOST EVERYTHING EXCEPT FOOD AND CLOTHING FROM ONLINE AUCTIONS. MOST PEOPLE AREN'T AWARE OF THE ALMOST UNBELIEVABLE DEALS THAT THEY CAN GET FROM ONLINE AUCTION SITES. THE SITE THAT HAS THE BEST DEALS IS saveBangCom
    and i checked with the better business bureau and was told that it is all legit. how they can sell gift
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    January 26, 2013 at 9:41 am | Reply
    • Rosco

      Amazing how much you can save using slave labor.

      January 30, 2013 at 9:37 pm | Reply
  9. joshua wilkes

    ive worked in specail ops for over 25 years .....i specaillize in stopping muan slavery.....its real its true its on the highest levels ...as the slave traders are rich....and can sneak into office ...i helped write a movie called taken ......your wtching a real video of a slave trade ring.........involeing rich people in every state every country....i still have kids that in these rings i spend every day trying to find them...........shutting down a slave ring is easyier then you think when you have satelite...........but when the slave traders get satelite.........this is where you need to believe in god......i help write movies like blood diamonds lord of war.....even denzel washington help me on man on fire how bad slavery is......the slaves become brain washed and lose all their memory then the slave traders convince them that the whole world is like this......so dont try to escape........right here in san frsancisco one dollar in slave trade ring ...the child is being told that a dollar is alot of money..........thorugh brain washing repeatin over and over again .....only dollar ....while sit and watch tv these people set up shop in every town like mcdoanlds your on a list ..on list says if your into lsavery or not.......but your on a list

    February 11, 2013 at 3:09 pm | Reply
  10. lorraine mckenna

    i cant stand this vile crime and what traffickers do to vulnerable people.It makes me sick to my stomach any highlights on trafficking is good it is happening in every country.Education awareness highlighting anything to make others aware of what is happening in our world to other people who do not deserve to be treated the way they are at the hands of these monsters who are in this purely for their own gain.

    February 18, 2013 at 2:03 pm | Reply
    • zedonk61

      I truly understand and appreciate your contempt for this horrible crime-Translate this contempt into action-Chances are this is happening in the very town where you live-All of these ' Chinese Massage parlors', all of it-If something does not look right say something-Do something that is the key-ACTION.It is the only way that we will EVER put an end to this is to start right in our own back yards...

      February 18, 2013 at 2:18 pm | Reply
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