This is one of three first-person s written by survivors of human trafficking. The others, as well as background about the project, can be found here. I come from a family of teachers: father, husband, sisters, and daughter. I taught for 32 years at an elementary school in the Philippines.
Somehow, that added to the shame I felt for being a survivor of trafficking. I not only worried about what my family would think, but my hundreds of students as well. I thought that everyone would lose respect for us. When I retired from teaching at 55, I went into business with a neighbor, and they disappeared with my savings. I was devastated, but a cousin through a marriage came to my rescue—or so I thought—when she told me her boss was looking for someone to accompany her elderly mother to the United States and take care of her there. She added that she would petition for a specific kind of visa so my family could come to the U.
I was overwhelmed with happiness and gratitude. I thought this was the answer to my prayers.
The first that something was wrong was at the airport. The Philippines Airlines personnel withheld my ticket because the woman I was supposed to be caring for was not with me. I wondered why the mother had traveled to the U. She sent her mother back to Manila, and we flew to the U. I trusted my new boss. My sister used my mom so that she could get you to come here to be her domestic helper.
Tomorrow, I will arrange your flight to Culver City. My head was spinning from the confusion. I arrived in Los Angeles, and my boss took me to her condo in a gated community. She was a very prominent, influential Filipina woman, and her American husband was the vice president of legal affairs of Sony Pictures in Los Angeles. Before we went inside, she asked for my passport.
She said she was going to extend my visa and petition for my family to come to America to be with me. Again, my happiness overwhelmed me, and I believed her.
It ran from 5 a. I had to take care of the dogs in addition to cooking, cleaning, washing, vacuuming, ironing, dusting, hemming clothes, and maintaining the plants. Every month, I cooked a large pot of a special Filipino dish of ground beef, rice, tomato, carrots, and broccoli for the dogs, but was fed leftover food that had been in the refrigerator for days.
I kept my belongings in the laundry room. I felt that my boss disliked everything I did, no matter how hard I tried. She told me I was ignorant and brainless, and, as I later alleged in civil court, she hit me and pulled my hair, and left me with bruises and cuts.
I was scared of her, but also ashamed that this was happening to me, an elderly woman who deserved respect. I wanted to escape, but had no idea where to turn. And all kinds of fears kept me paralyzed. My visa expired, and after that, I was afraid of being arrested. She also deducted my everyday items from my salary, like shampoo and lotion. I tried to tell people about my situation. He seemed concerned about the physical abuse. But when the wife found out we were speaking about it, things only seemed to get worse. I think they were afraid of her too.
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I called a friend in Chicago, but she herself was undocumented and afraid to get involved. In the end, the neighbors were the ones to help. From when I took the dogs out, I made friends with the year-old girl next door. She told her mother. Plus, her parents sometimes sat at the swimming pool close to our condo, and heard the yelling and hitting through the walls. We were able to talk, and the mother encouraged me to escape.
I was still too scared. This went on for a year. What could they do from so far away, given all of the debts we had? At the end of each day, I would write the exact date and list the things my boss said and did to me. I also kept good track of the deductions made from my paycheck. This meticulous recordkeeping was a way to relieve my emotions for the day. But it was also the thing that built my case against the family.
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Finally one day, we got a knock on the door. It was the police.
One of the neighbors had called and said I was being hit. He asked if I wanted to talk with him alone outside, but I was silent and only looked at my boss.
Even though my boss treated me cruelly, she was still my boss, and because of my culture, I felt I should obey her. Please give me your business card. He left, and I was in trouble after that. I remember the husband and wife berating me. It felt like an interrogation. The next day, my boss took the business card away, and told me they had arranged my flight back to the Philippines.
I refused. I went to the neighbors for help, and they called the police. It seemed like my boss wanted to keep my passport, but they told her to give it to me. The whole experience was a blur. My boss had called immigration enforcement, trying to get me deported before I revealed the truth.
I was scared when I opened the door. They took me to a government building for several hours. I waited and waited, as exhaustion swept over me. My life then changed. PWC helped me with housing, and securing food stamps and access to a doctor.
They gave me a bus pass so I could learn how to navigate the city. Another organization called CAST Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking helped me find a lawyer, access to education, and transition to independent living. I became a certified nursing assistant. My civil case was filed one year after I left my employers, and went to trial another year later.
The trial experience was scary and stressful, and difficult to juggle with my job. My employers denied all the charges, but in the end, I won and was awarded monetary compensation. One year later, there was also a criminal case.
My boss pleaded guilty to a charge of forced labor and had to serve three years in prison.