Stylish and confident, yet barely five feet tall, Ima Matul used her slender frame to quickly push open the front office door of the Coalition for Abolishing Slavery and Trafficking (CAST) on a Wednesday fall morning.
With her soft voice, Matul began apologizing to the directors of CAST for running twenty minutes late after taking her children to school. Yet Matul's bright smile and gentle demeanor couldn't cause anyone to become mad at her. In fact, her warmth and happy spirit make her life seem anything, but challenging.
Still, behind her bright smile, Matul knows differently.
Although Matul often tells her life story to large crowds at the Museum of Tolerance on the second Sunday of each month, she sometimes shares her story with people who visit CAST. In fact, on this Wednesday morning she shares one of the most pivotal experiences of her life: she is a survivor of human labor trafficking, an experience that occurred right here in Los Angeles.
Yet human labor trafficking and sex trafficking are industries that are both tremendously increasing within Los Angeles and within the world.
She begins: "My name is Ima Matul. I come from Indonesia. When I was 16, I decided to work in a different country," Matul says. "I was not going to school. At the time I registered with an agency to find a job in Hong Kong, but it took too long. I then applied to work for this woman and to take care of her children in the U.S."
Looking her listeners straight in the eye, Matul describes every detail of her story as if it had just happened. She continues: "The woman had a cousin who lived in LA. At that time she was expecting a baby, so she also needed a nanny. Since the person was from Indonesia, I trusted them. I also didn't have to speak English."
Although Matul has an accent, it's hard to imagine that she couldn't speak English earlier in her life. She is able to articulate her story with tremendous drive, as if she has to tell the world what happened to her.
"I agreed to come," Matul explained. "She also needed another person to work for her friend, so I asked my cousin to come with me. She agreed. We didn't have to pay anything for the passport, visas, or tickets. The process was really fast...like within two or three months we were already here."
Matul tells listeners she came to Los Angeles in July 1997 not only for a better life, but to also help her family in Indonesia to have a better life.
"They promised to give us $150 dollars a month," Matul said. "That is a lot of money in my country. Right now, in the Indonesian currency $1 equals 8,000 [rupiah]. Yet the average person makes 8,000 [rupiah] a day."
Believing that coming to Los Angeles would help her and her family, Matul never imagined ending up enslaved. Sadly, she did.
"When we got here our trafficker picked us from the airport and took us to her home where the trafficker took our passports for safekeeping," Matul explained. "I was in the house for one- week training before I went to the other trafficker's house to work. She showed me how things worked in the U.S. since we don't have machines in Indonesia."
The word "trafficker" screams like nails dragged along a chalkboard. The word comes across so relative to her.
"After one- week of training, my trafficker came and picked me up. She showed me her two-story house, telling me what kind of work that I would have to do. "I had to clean, cook, take care of the kids, garden, wash cars...Everything," she sadly expressed.
The life story of Matul is just one example of the hundreds of people who become victims of human trafficking for forced labor or forced commercial sex within Los Angeles.
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