Human trafficking Survivor Ima Matul to Speak in Culver City Tuesday

By Monica Luhar
Published on Mar. 10, 2014 in Southern California Public Radio

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Nearly 14 years ago, Ima Matul was trapped in a situation that seemed hopeless. Tuesday, she’ll be sharing her story during a discussion on modern-day human trafficking in Culver City.

The event, “Modern-Day Slavery: A Discussion on Human Trafficking,” will include a Q&A session and live testimony from Matul, who now works as a survivor organizer for L.A.-based anti-human trafficking organization Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking.

When she was a teenager in Indonesia, a labor recruiter offered Matul the opportunity to make $150 a month as a nanny in the U.S. In search of a better life and working conditions, Matul traveled to Los Angeles with her cousin. But upon arriving to the U.S., the two were separated.

Matul said she was forced to work nearly 18 hours a day with little sleep or pay. She was verbally and physically abused by her trafficker almost every day for the next three years. Unable to speak English, she said she had little recourse for escape.

Matul’s story is shared by many who get swept into the nearly $32-billion-per-year underground industry. The California attorney general’s office defines human trafficking as a “modern form of slavery” which involves forced labor or sexual exploitation through fraud, coercion and force. It’s also the second most profitable criminal enterprise in the world.

Approximately 800,000 people are trafficked over international borders annually,and nearly 14,500 to 17,500 foreign nationals are trafficked into the U.S. every year, according to a report from the U.S. State Department. And California is one of the top four states where human trafficking is known to occur, according to the attorney general’s office.

Matul’s story reflects how difficult it can be for victims of human trafficking to get away. She said she’d wake up in the middle of the night and walk outside with the intent of running away. But with no money or family members in the country, she couldn’t come up with an escape plan.

It also captures the brutality of the perpetrators.

“The abuse was getting kind of worse and worse. I had bruises on my face and forehead and even been to the emergency room to get stitches. I cried. I couldn’t sleep at night,” Matul told KPCC.

“She would always do something to me, whether like hitting me on my head or push me. Also a lot of bad things about me, that I’m ‘dumb, stupid,'” she said.

Matul said she mustered the courage to write a letter to her neighbor. It read simply “Please help me.”

The neighbor drove Matul to the Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking — a Los Angeles-based anti-human trafficking organization that offers resources and support to survivors of trafficking.

She was later placed in a shelter and received services to help her recover from the years of abuse. Matul has become a strong figure and voice for survivors of human trafficking and currently leads the Survivor Leadership program at CAST.

In 2012, she was recognized at the Clinton Global Initiative by President Barack Obama and continues to speak at local events. She hopes that her story will inspire other survivors to seek help and never give up hope.

“When I was in that situation, I acted like I didn’t have hope anymore. Don’t be afraid to say something. That person might help you, just like the neighbor who helped me,” Matul said.

Other speakers at Tuesday’s event will include Daphne Phung, founder and executive director of California Against Slavery, an organization aimed at eradicating human trafficking.

“This is everybody’s responsibility and it impacts all of us because it deals with human dignity,” Phung said.

During the discussion, Phung will focus on human trafficking as a human rights issue. She says that for many years, it has been seen more as a criminal enterprise, but that it is also important to see it as a human rights issue.

“Only recently I’ve seen the U.N. addressing this issue as a human rights topic, and I want to really talk about why this is a global human rights issue that we all have to start calling it that way,” said Phung.

The event takes place on March 11 at 7:00 p.m. at the LAWAC Office at 3535 Hayden Ave., Ste. 200, Culver City, CA 90232. Admission is $5 for members and $15 for non-members. Purchase tickets here.