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Human-trafficking victim wins freedom

November 6, 2009 12:43:00 AM PST
Sumi Yusuf's case is believed to be the first prosecuted under a California law.She came to America with dreams of a better life, but became a victim of human trafficking. Now her case is believed to be the first prosecuted under the California Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

"They don't even give me one penny," said Sumi Yusuf.

No salary, no time off. Sumi Yusuf, from Indonesia, says she worked day and night at a home in La Canada, a far cry from what she expected when she arrived in the country with a visa. The couple who hired her soon made it clear she had better not leave.

"Her husband screamed in my face. He said, 'If you go out, the police are going to catch you and put you in jail,'" said Yusuf.

One day, Yusuf tried to escape. There was a construction crew at work across the street. She approached them, but they didn't believe her story. She feared the worst.

"Afraid and depressed and I felt like maybe one day they would kill me and nobody would know," said Yusuf.

Yusuf speaks out now with the help of a new law and a team of pro-bono lawyers. They pushed for prosecution of her employers under the California Trafficking Victims Protection Act. It removed several legal hurdles.

"One of the important things about the law is that it allows people who have not been chained, but who have nonetheless been confined, to say, 'This is wrong,' and to bring cases against the people who enslave them," said attorney Kevin Kish, attorney at The House of Justice.

The couple challenges the law. The attorney for Andrew Tjia and Sycamore Choi said: "Yusuf was never asked to do any work and was treated as a guest in the home."

Yet the two were convicted in criminal court and now must pay Yusuf $768,000 in damages.

Meantime, a warning from Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST), a non-profit group that aids trafficking victims: Los Angeles is a hotbed for similar enslavement. They urge you to reach out to any suspected victim.

"I think asking people, if someone has a hint of that something's wrong, this person is a slave, I think it's really important to ask them, 'Are you afraid, and why?'" said Kay Buck, Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking.

"I hope the people realize if they do wrong that justice is going to give punishment to them," said Yusuf.


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