There are an estimated 403,000 people living in conditions of modern slavery in the United States (GSI 2018). The US attracts migrants and refugees who are particularly at risk of vulnerability to human trafficking. Trafficking victims often responding to fraudulent offers of employment in the US migrate willingly and are subsequently subjected to conditions of involuntary servitude in industries such as forced labour and commercial sexual exploitation.
Judith Dulaz left her family in the Philippines for the US in 2005. She began working as a domestic worker for a Japanese diplomat’s family in New York. She was promised $1800 per month, paid holidays and other benefits but, in reality, she worked up to 18 hours per day and received $500 per month. Judith provided full-time childcare and also was responsible for all the cooking and cleaning. Her employers held her passport and she was subject to physical abuse by her employers. Judith escaped in 2006 and later was connected with the Damayan Worker Cooperative through a friend. She recently reunited with her family, including her four children, in the US after ten years. She was 50 years old when she told her story in 2017.
Then no holidays off. I count myself as 24/7, because I always stay inside the house every time they need me. And not enough food. There was a time they went somewhere for vacation—it would be three weeks they're going somewhere—and my boss told me not to touch the food inside the closet because that food is expensive, so I only touched the food in the fridge.... She gave me $20 for food for three weeks.
The husband and wife, both of them were telling me that if I tell a friend, that if I tell the story about my situation, they're going to send me back home…. So of course I'm scared. I don't want to tell anyone else about my story. They're holding my passport. My sister told me, "You're easy to get deported because your passport is in the hand of the boss."
I made two good friends just across the street... They were always checking on me. I told her about my situation—not that much, but she was getting me food. I saw her in the grocery store the first time, and so she invited me to come out to her job and walk around with her dog. And so I walk with her, I make friends with her, Sometimes she'd bring food, and she'd leave the food with doorman for me.
This person, this lady, helped me to run away. She comforted me; she said, "Just go away, just go! You won't be deported, you won't go to jail." She said, "You don't have to be scared, you just go."
We build a new cooperative, the Damayan Workers Cooperative. We do trainings: safety trainings for the job site... trainings on how to run the business. It's a business that's owned by the workers. It's really helped me because... I don't have to work with the boss. I will be the boss, and I will be the worker…. It feels so good. We can have our own jobs. We are the owner. We are the boss. We don't have to be applying for a job because we have our own job. It's very good for me. We are the boss of the work.
"If you feel that you are in an abusive situation you should come out. You should speak to someone to help you out," she insisted. "You don't have to be scared of it; you have to speak out. We are working with these abusive people, so we have to come out and get help. We are always here to help them. I'm willing to help, even late nights… We don't want this to be happening again to our people.
Narrative as told to Lena Solow (author) for Broadly (publisher) - https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/article/43gzx3/modern-day-slaves-filipina-labor-trafficking-victims-tell-their-own-stories