Women News Network / February 5, 2014

by Cameron Conaway

(WNN) Washington, D.C., UNITED STATES, AMERICAS: If there can be celebrities of the anti-slavery movement, Ima Matul is certainly one of them. Her brutal story about being trafficked and rising to become a role model for survivors has been featured on CNN, and in 2012 President Barack Obama recognized her as a modern-day hero.

Like many before her, Ima was lured into the U.S. by false promises of gainful employment. Her recruiter turned out to be a labor trafficker, and the house in Los Angeles where she was forced to work became a prison. Ima worked 18 hours a day, sometimes more. She was never paid, forced not to talk to anyone and was often verbally and physically abused—once to the point where she needed to get stitches because she was struck in the head with a ceramic salt shaker.

After three years in slavery, Ima reached a breaking point. She wrote a secret letter to the nanny that worked next door, and this nanny arranged for her escape. Her neighbor then took her to the offices at the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST) in Los Angeles. While with CAST LA, Ima received counseling, language training and legal assistance. She’s now a survivor organizer in CAST LA’s leadership development program.

It was clear at the Congressional Briefing what Ima is most passionate about: addressing the problems of labor trafficking, particularly through reforming the child welfare system. Regarding this, she said, “The services within the child welfare system are simply not adequate for the great demands that must be met. There’s a pattern we must break. Too often a child ends up in a homeless shelter, then into the system and then is placed with a foster family. At this point, too many children are then forced into prostitution or labor trafficking. Traffickers intimidate families so they don’t tell. We need to empower and provide the resources to prosecutors and social workers so they can truly investigate these types of situations.”

Ima knows the inner workings of several pieces of legislation, and she encouraged all members of the public to support them. The first piece she spoke about is the Child Welfare Response to Human Trafficking Act of 2013 (H.R. 1732):

“This Act will allow the Secretary of Health and Human Services to create specific guidelines and to distribute the accompanying guidebook widely. It also provides specific rules, such as the documenting/reporting of cases of human trafficking with 72 hours. This will allow victims immediate access to the services they so desperate need. Lastly, this Act will also help those working in the child welfare system to assess and identify victims so that they can best provide them with the comprehensive and case-specific support they need.”

The other piece of legislation she spoke about was passed in California back in 2010, (Senate Bill No. 657, see PDF here) but, according to Ima, “It has not yet been implemented.”

The Bill would require all companies making over 100,000,000 to disclose their efforts to eradicate slavery and to make transparent the many details of their supply chain. She urged the Senate to take immediate action on this, “We have great laws but little implementation. I would like to see these great laws truly be implemented and enforced. And then I’d like to see this become a nationwide law.”

When asked what the public can do to get more involved, Ima said, “Modern slavery influences your life no matter who you are. Please remember this. Labor trafficking is a hidden crime and it’s happening all around us.”