Ima Matul was trapped in domestic slavery in Los Angeles for three years
After escaping, she established a national survivor's network and spoke at the 2016 Democratic National Convention
She hopes her story will help other trafficking survivors
Editor’s Note: The CNN Freedom Project amplifies the voices of the victims of modern-day slavery, and helps unravel the tangle of criminal enterprises trading in human life.
In July, Ima Matul got a standing ovation when she spoke at the Democratic National Convention, broadcast live across the United States. It was a remarkable achievement. Almost 20 years earlier she had been living as a domestic slave, trapped in a house in Los Angeles, where she was threatened, abused and beaten.
Her journey has been an extraordinary one, as inspiring as it is distressing.
Matul grew up in rural Indonesia in a family of farmers. Aged 17, she was working as housekeeper when she was offered a job as a nanny in Los Angeles and promised a salary of $150 a month.
“It sounds like not a lot of money right now, but for me back then, it felt like winning the lottery,” recalls Matul
“My goal when I came to the US in 1997, [was to stay] for two years, and take my salary to build a house for my family – and that’s it.”
Instead, when she arrived in the United States, the woman she was meant to be working for confiscated her passport.
She soon found she was expected to take care of all the house chores. She wasn’t paid, and she says she was beaten when the work wasn’t perfect.
“[If] there’s like a spot that’s not clean, or clean enough for her, she would start hitting me. I had bruises all over my face,” she says.
’I cannot take it’
That was her life for three years. She says she was told that if she ran away the police would arrest her and she would be thrown in jail, where she would be raped. Eventually, she pieced together just enough English to write a letter pleading for help.
“I decided to write a letter to the nanny next door, saying please help me, I cannot take it anymore,” she says.
The nanny plotted Matul’s escape and found help at Alexandria House, a shelter for abused women. Eventually, Matul received help from CAST, the Los Angeles-based Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking.
“Both organizations kind of helped me out to rebuild my life back,” she says.
’This is huge!’
In the years since her rescue, Matul has helped establish a national Survivor’s Network for CAST. Less than a year ago, she was named to the President’s Task Force Against Trafficking. And later, she received another invitation: Hillary Clinton’s staff wanted her to speak at the Democratic National Convention.
“I said, OK, sure, give me the dates and I’ll see if I’m available,” says Matul. “Then I started to Google the Democratic Convention and I saw, ‘oh my God, this is huge!’
She was nervous, but excited.
“They said when you walk out you should wave or do something, but I said no, I can’t do that because I’m not comfortable. But then I went out and started waving.”
At the convention, she told her audience: “Human trafficking is not just happening overseas; it is happening right here in our backyard.
“Every day I hear stories just like my own. Still, I have hope.”
Matul hopes her story will help shine a light on slavery, and help others rise from their misfortune, into freedom.
“I never thought that I would be in the position that I am now,” she says. “Someone coming from a small village in Indonesia, with no education, being enslaved for three years, then here I am speaking to senators, representatives and raising a voice on behalf of other survivors. It’s such an amazing feeling.”
How to report a case of human trafficking:
Go here to report anonymously a human trafficking case anywhere in the world: CrimeStoppers Trafficking Tip Form
Go here to report a case of human trafficking in the U.S. and Mexico: National Trafficking Resource Center