At age 16, Ima Matul was forced into an arranged marriage in Indonesia with a man 12 years her senior. After running away, was offered an opportunity to work in the United States as a nanny. But instead she was held in domestic forced labour for three years in Los Angeles. She told her story to another survivor, Flor, in 2009. Both women were part of the Survivor Advisory Caucus attached to the Coalition Against Slavery and Trafficking in Los Angeles (CAST LA). Another narrative by Ima can be found within the archive.
I was working for a family back home. They had a cousin in LA. She already had a nanny, but was expecting another baby, so she offered for me to come and work as a nanny. They said they had a friend who also needed work. So my cousin and I went. I flew to LAX. They took care of my passport and visa and I didn't have to pay anything. I was excited because before I was planning to go to Hong Kong to work as a housekeeper, but to go there I had to go through an agency and pay more money. But to the US it was very fast; I didn't have to wait. The family promised me $150 a month. This was a lot of money when you turned it into rupiahs.
When I arrived in airport, the custom official took me to a room for an interview and asked to see my passport. They said I should keep it. After that, the other person who was going to be my employer picked me up. The employer told me to tell the customs agents that I was here to visit.
The work wasn't that much because there was already a woman who came to clean. I just did the light cleaning and took care of their son. Three months later, the women who did the cleaning stopped coming. My boss asked, “Why do I need an extra worker?” From then on I did all the cleaning.
When she picked me up, my boss said I could see my cousin sometimes, once a month to catch up, but this never happened. Once I wrote a letter to my cousin, but I didn't know the address. The letter came back. My boss asked if I wrote the letter. I said no. She saw the letter and started hitting me. She didn't trust me. She always hit me. If I did something, I did it wrong over and over. She took my salary away if I did something wrong…minus $5.
One day she was so mad, she hit me on my right side. I was bleeding, and she didn't care. Her husband came home and put a bandage on it. He said it needed stitches. She took me to the hospital and told me not to say anything, to let her husband do all the talking. They said I fell.
One time there was this bachan, a kind of rice frozen in a banana leaf. She hit me with it. It was like being hit by a rock. This is how the neighbor's worker noticed. In the afternoon she said hi. I didn't really talk to her because I didn't speak English. I told her I fell. She believed me because she always saw me washing windows.
She ask again what happened, and later on I wrote her a letter and asked her to help me. I was scared. I gave her a letter on a Friday before she left for the weekend. I told her not to open it until she got home. She called her boss right away to check on me. They came, talked to my boss and her husband, and said they were planning to go on vacation. They were just pretending though; they wanted my boss to watch over their place. Then, their worker was back on Monday. I spoke with her. She asked if I wanted to leave. I said I was scared. What will happen if my boss finds out? She always threatened me. Will she whip me? I said this is why I'm scared to leave.
The neighbor’s worker asked me again if I wanted to leave two to three weeks later. I decided I wanted to leave. Things were getting worse. Finally, I told her I'm ready to go. The day I left, I told her I’m scared. I'm not ready. My boss was home. Her son was napping. I didn't want to leave him. What if he wakes up and I'm not here? I went back and forth. I kept thinking, “I have to cook…” I said, “Let's wait until the husband comes home.” The worker told me that if I wanted to go, I’d have to go now.
She waited for me two blocks away. I went inside and got my clothes. I had just one bag. I left the house and went to her car. I didn't know where I was and had no idea of the area. The worker drove me to the CAST office, but we got lost. But finally we arrived.
Two other members of the Caucus were waiting for me. They were also Indonesian and were there to make me more comfortable.
After coming to CAST I stayed at the Alexandria shelter for one day. Then I was at the Good Shepherd Center for three weeks. Then back at Alexandria House for fourteen months. I went to school and worked cleaning a house. I took care of a resident's baby. Finally, I was able to send some money to my family in Indonesia, after three years. That's why I had come to the US in the first place…to help them.
I won't want to say it's impossible [to end slavery]; I believe anything is possible. We can't just change one person; everyone around the world must work to end slavery. We can't do it ourselves…. Other people need to know what slavery is. They need to learn and be educated about it. They need to tell other people about it. And if they see something they can tell somebody to report it.
Narrative as told during a survivor-to-survivor interview at CAST LA.