Providing Survivors with the Seeds of Renewal
The survivors of slavery and trafficking are at the heart of CAST’s client service, outreach and advocacy efforts. Some of these survivors’ names have been changed for their protection, however their stories are all too real.
Maria was taken from her hometown in Mexico at the age of 15, with promises of a well-paying job as a housekeeper for a family in California. Instead, the same woman who offered her the job sold her into slavery to a single, white older male for $200. For five long years she was raped and beaten. She was forced to clean 18 to 20 hours a day while her “boss” dug her own grave, reminding her of what would happen if she tried to escape. After five years, she was freed when her boss was killed by another man. That is, she thought she was finally free, only to learn that she was to be held responsible for his death.
Maria served more than 22 years in prison for a crime she did not commit. That along with five years she spent in forced servitude would be enough horror to make a person unforgiving and ruthless for life. Instead, Maria has been an active member of the Survivor Advisory Caucus at CAST since 2003. For the past five years, she has been a valuable leader and accomplished trainer in CAST’s leadership development program for survivors. She has served as a media spokesperson and conducted numerous newspaper and television interviews to increase public awareness of human trafficking
If you listen close enough, you might be able to hear Thonglim’s cries of freedom. Her trip to the Grand Canyon – her metaphor for freedom – is something she dreamed of doing during the years she spent in forced domestic servitude.
As a single mother in Mexico, Esperanza experienced the loss of a child due to starvation and decided that she must leave her children with her family and go to Los Angeles for a job as a seamstress. Following what she believed to be a legitimate job lead, Esperanza was sold into slavery, which separated her from her children and prevented her from sending home the money that she went to earn.
John was trafficked into the United States from Indonesia through promises of legitimate work at an assisted living community. John jumped at the opportunity because he hoped it would help him fulfill his dream of becoming a nurse. Upon arriving in the U.S. however, John found himself in a completely different situation than he had expected.
John and several other victims from East Asia were deceived into working for a couple who forced them to work long hours, which went easily unnoticed as they were all forced to live onsite. After several months of working under constant fear of physical abuse and deportation, John and two others were liberated by the FBI, which had been conducting an investigation of the business and its practices. CAST was able to assist the FBI in coordinating a quick and supportive response. A CAST staff member accompanied the FBI when they helped John escape, provided crisis services and placed him in a partner shelter program for men.
John suffered from extreme anxiety as the traffickers continued to actively search for him, harassing his family members, and going so far as to file false police reports of crimes he did not commit. The FBI worked with local law enforcement to address these false claims while CAST provided services to rehabilitate his mental health. Our strong and collaborative relationship with the FBI benefits the clients we serve, and improves the FBI’s ability to identify and apprehend more traffickers.
When she was in her late teens/early twenties, Kim was tricked into believing she was emigrating to the United States for legitimate work. When she arrived in New York City, however, she was forced into prostitution and bar work with many other women. Kim remained under threatened enslavement for more than a decade, and feared for her life if she tried escaping. Finally, she’d had enough. She decided that the risk of being caught and killed was worth it for the chance of breaking free, and she boarded a bus for California.
CAST worked with Kim to meet her immediate needs and focused on getting her rehabilitated and on the road to a normal life. Her physical and mental health quickly improved while living at the CAST shelter so that she was able to work with the Social Services team to get legal representation. After so many years of enslavement, Kim is now ready to consider what action to take so that she can speak on behalf of other victims like herself and advocate for change.
Lulu’s story is an example of how anyone can become a victim of trafficking. Lulu is an educated woman who believed she was coming to America for a legitimate job opportunity, only to discover that she had been sold into slavery.
Lulu is in her thirties and was illegally brought to Los Angeles in 2008 from her home country in Asia by a labor trafficking operation under FBI investigation. Lulu was an educated Asian woman who believed she was coming to America for a legitimate job opportunity. When she arrived, she realized that she had been sold into slavery. Through repeated physical and sexual abuse, traffickers broke her. When she was rescued, she was in a corner of the house that was being raided, holding on to a teddy bear.
Lulu obtained a Work Authorization card one month after coming to CAST, which allowed her to find a steady job with an employer that treated her well. Lulu saved money and was able to enroll part-time in a nursing program. “When I was with my [previous] employer, I did the same thing everyday, I was stuck. I did not feel hopeful of what my future was going to be because I could not see what was going to happen tomorrow. Now, I feel hopeful. I can dream. I can see myself doing something with my life in two weeks, in two months. I am free now.”
Learn more about CAST's Survivor Advisory Caucus
Click here to read more about CAST’s first-of-its-kind Caucus of Survivors made up of survivors like Maria, Thonglim, Esperanza, John, Kim and Lulu who have been empowered by CAST to advocate on behalf of their fellow victims.