Wati was enslaved in forced domestic labour between 1983 and 2000, where she was beaten and abused. She tried to escape in 1990 and 1992, and escaped successfully in 2000. She told her story to another survivor, Kanthi. Both women were part of the Survivor Advisory Caucus attached to the Coalition Against Slavery and Trafficking in Los Angeles (CAST LA).
My name is Wati, and I am from Indonesia…. My boss brought me come to the United States from Singapore. First I work for my boss in Indonesia, then they bring me to Singapore, then they bring me to US… They promise me at first 2500 rupiah…Indonesia money… They never paid me one penny…They locked me up for seventeen years. From 1983 until December 2000, when I escaped… They never let me out. In Singapore, yes, I could go out with the driver. The driver took me to the doctor… They gave me their children’s used clothes… I could not go back with my family… I didn’t know where they lived, and I don’t have any phone number or address… I don’t know anybody.
When I got out, it was the third time I tried to escape. The first time was in Jakarta in 1990. They took me to Singapore but brought me back to Indonesia to work. My employer’s wife – she was so mean, and she always beat me up. Then one day I just jumped out the second floor window and ran away down the street to the next door. The lady who lived there said she would help me, but when I came to her, she called her housekeeper who took me to a security guard, and the security guard contacted my boss. Then they took me back to my boss. She was so mean at me, and they locked me again at the home. Sometimes they give me the day off from working but they lock me in the room, and when they come back, they use me like a machine – nonstop. Sometimes I only sleep two hours, and they would wake me up, using their foot, saying, “Get up!” They lock me up like a dog. Even when they locked me up, I couldn’t sleep good because whenever I hear a noise or the car door, my heart would pound. I could not sleep. I was always worried when they would come back.
The second time in 1992 I tried to escape from a house in California. I dial 911 and the police came – the ones in the brown uniform. They came and I ran into their car and say, “I want go home.” My face was bloody because my boss just hit me and beat me up. I was so scared. But I didn’t speak English and the police didn’t understand me. My trafficker didn’t speak English either, but she call her son and her daughter who came and spoke to police. The police believe them, not me, and told me to get out of the car. When the police left, my boss threaten me and told me that I was stupid, and that the police…they would never believe me.
The last time I finally escape in 2000. My boss took me to their home in Beverly Hills. They left me and locked the house and did not leave me enough food. I didn’t know when they were coming back. I was so hungry. One night, God gave me a sign, in a dream. I was so free and happy; I look and saw so many moons. When I woke up, I was still in the house and locked up. Then I was just crazy – I am banging on the door, “Please open the door! Please open the door!” I scream. Then something happened, it was like people spoke to me…“You can open the door,” and I said “No I cannot. I don’t have key. How to open door?” “Yes, you can!” the voice said.
Then one day I remembered my boss daughter, she asked me to open her son’s toy. There was a screw there to put in the battery. And she told me to find some knife in the kitchen to open the screw and put the battery in…I remember that day. But the toy had a very small screw. And the screw on the door was big. I was lucky that day because my boss locked the kitchen, but I still had a table knife that I hid in case I wanted to cut some to eat. I found the knife, but it didn’t help me because it didn’t fit the screw. Then I just opened every drawer in the first floor of the house, and I found a screwdriver to fit the screw. That helped me take the lock off the door. I had already broken the lock. I said, “Oh my God, what did I do now?” Then with knife I pushed the lock over and it went “click.” And it opened.
And then I said, “I hope the alarm is not on!” But I look and the light was green, not red. I remember that green is go, walk, and red is stop. I said, “Oh God, please don’t let them coming because they will kill me.” I was just so hungry. I was alone for so long. They had a statue in the house, and I remember thinking “This stupid statue…doesn’t know how to help me!” [laughter]
I was so hungry, and I was so mad. I was screaming, and I just throw everything. When I left the house, the wall outside the house was three times as tall as me. How can I jump? I was screaming. Maybe some was thinking, there are crazy people next door! But nobody cared that I was screaming and crying. Then, thank God, I saw the back yard next to the swimming pool – the wall was shorter, so I jumped over two walls to get to get the street. Some people just look at me. But they no say anything. There were cars right there stopped at a red light. But they just looked at me. And then some lady with a red van saw me and asked me “Are you ok? What happened?” I just said, “Please help me call police”… in English! I don’t know...I never spoke English in my life! I don’t know how they understand me! I would always turn on television in the house when I could…on the education channel 58 and 28, and also cartoons. I think I learned some English from that.
That day was so cold, and I was sick and hungry. The lady said, “Ok, you stay right there. Don’t go anywhere. I will turn my car around.” She found parking but did not get out of the car. She was waiting for the police to come. One police came with a motorcycle and talk with her. And the police kept looking at me, and the lady point at me. Then the policeman on the motorcycle came and talked to me. He asked, “What is your name? What happened? Where are you from?” All I could say is “I hungry.” I didn’t have any food to eat. He asked me “Where you live?” I point to the house said over there…behind the wall. “You jump from there?” he ask me. “Yes…”
And then he ask me if I wanted to go back inside… and I said “No, no, no!” Then three more police came, with a car and ambulance. I’m not scared, but I was cold. Then two police came and ask me if I was hungry. And I said “Yes!” And they went to the car and they both gave me their lunch. That is so nice. Gave me fruit and drink and they say, “Okay you eat first, then we talk.” I just sat there eating, and then afterward they say, “Tell me.” I said my boss lock me inside the house for many weeks and left me alone. The boss’s son came by once, but he say that he did not have time to bring food for me. They ask me where my boss was, but I didn’t want to tell them the truth, because I did not want them to make me go back to them, because I would be dead. Usually I have the phone number and address of all of their houses in San Marino, San Gabriel, La Canada, but I did not want to give them to the police, so I said I did not know. They asked me what I needed, and I said, “Please take me to immigration Indonesia.” They asked, “Do you have money? I will call a taxi for you.” I said “No, I don’t have any money. They not pay me.” “Okay,” they said, “you stay here and let us talk.” So the three people just talking, talking and talking. I thought, “Why they no do anything?”
So they took me to me to the payphone and they talked to somebody on the phone. They took me to the police station and told me to stay there to wait for someone will coming from my country and they will speak my language. They gave me some towels and showed me to the bathroom, but I didn’t have a chance to go to the bathroom because the people from the Indonesian consulate came. I was so skinny – I’m like a grandma so skinny. I have a little hair, but long …
The CAST social worker gave me boots and want me to use, but I’ve never used shoes. They were like high heeled boots, and I couldn’t walk in them!
…. CAST helped me a lot to go to school. CAST bought a bus pass to go to school when I was at the shelter. They helped find a shelter for me and helped me with papers, like work permit, green card, everything.
[With the Caucus] we learn about human trafficking and how to tell our stories. I want to tell my story from beginning to end, and maybe it can help somebody, and maybe we can go to the Indonesian news paper, something like that. I like that we are talking about how to help people and how to find new trafficking.
I want to tell [others] not to believe people when they tell you that they will bring them back to their country… because it is not true.
I already got my green card a few months ago. I was so happy. I no worrying anymore. Because I already get the green card, and I can now go home and visit my family. Now I need to get my passport.
Narrative as told during a survivor-to-survivor interview at CAST LA.