I didn’t know what human trafficking was until someone explained to me that I was a victim of it.
I was born in a rural part of Indonesia, several hours away from any city. I never finished high school. From the thirty years between when I left high school until five years ago, I helped my family with expenses by working as a nanny and cook for wealthy families. Even as I went on to marry and have two children, I would eventually return to work to make ends meet.
Then, about five years ago, a friend and fellow domestic servant returned from abroad and shared stories with me about how much money she was bringing home to her family. She said that although it was difficult to be away from family and friends, it was only a contract for one year. At her suggestion, I spoke to a recruitment agency about working abroad. I was introduced to a woman who told me she knew families in the USA that needed a nanny and cook, and that I could earn in one month in the USA what I would earn in six months in Indonesia.
I could not decline this offer. I borrowed thousands of dollars from neighbors and family members to pay the “job placement” fee. It was hard for me to say goodbye to my spouse and children, but the money I would make in a year would help my entire family for many years to come.
Once I arrived in the USA, I stayed with the recruiting woman for several weeks, “earning my keep” by cooking and cleaning. I was not paid for any of this work. After these few weeks, I was “shipped” to a rich Saudi family in New York, where I worked as their nanny and cook. For the first five months, I was paid a wage much lower than I was promised.
When I complained, the recruitment agency said the rest of my salary was coming. But, after talking with the recruitment agency, they took my passport, and I never saw it again. Perhaps because I had spoken up, I was then shipped to a different family to work for.
When I tried to complain about the poor conditions that I was working under for the new family, the recruitment agency stopped responding to my phone calls. I didn’t know where else to turn to, they had the large recruitment fee that I had paid, they had my passport, and I didn’t know anyone else in the USA. I felt lost and scared and wanted to return home.
I started to look for other Indonesian people around me. When I met a woman who I could speak to, I confided in her about my problems. She encouraged me to escape and stay with her until I could get help. In the middle of the night, I fled the home and hid at her home for several weeks before I was connected to the Indonesian Consulate and different community organizations.
It was then that I was told that I was a victim of human trafficking. I didn’t know what human trafficking was until the Consulate explained it to me. I thought I had been given an opportunity to work legally in the USA to provide for my family. They explained that I had been tricked.
Learning this was devastating. I had made a large financial burden on my family and neighbors because I thought I had an opportunity to provide more for them. I felt ashamed and embarrassed about my situation. I wanted to redeem myself and be able to come home with some pride.
The consulate referred to Asian Americans Advancing Justice — Los Angeles, a leader for legal services for victims of human trafficking in southern California. Several months ago, with the help of lawyers, I filed my application for a T Visa. I am now in the USA legally to work so that I may be able to pay back my family and neighbors and send home the money I had promised, that they are desperately waiting for.
I am so grateful to all who helped me to be free, and who are giving me a real chance at working in the USA.
Client, Asian Americans Advancing Justice — Los Angeles
*Name and details have been changed to protect client confidentiality