Angela Guanzon was promised a good job and a good life if she emigrated from the Philippines to the United States, but after arriving in 2005, she was subjected to eating table scraps and sleeping in hallways.
Guanzon told her story of being an exploited worker during a presentation on human trafficking hosted last Thursday by Soroptimist International of Glendale. The event, held at Glendale Community College, featured speakers from the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking. Guanzon is a member of the organization’s Survivor Leadership program.
“People think that trafficking is always someone undocumented,” she said. “I came with a legal visa to work in the United States.”
According to Ima Matul, a program coordinator with the coalition and a survivor of human trafficking herself, Los Angeles is “one of the top destination cities from trafficking.”
She said roughly 50% of the people the coalition helps in Los Angeles County were victims of labor trafficking, 46% were victims of sex trafficking, and 4% were victims of both.
One factor that makes people susceptible to exploitation is poverty, according to Matul.
“Poverty is a huge issue everywhere, not just Third World countries,” she said.
When she arrived in the U.S., Guanzon said the woman who convinced her to come took her passport and locked it away “for safekeeping.” She was then made to work as a caregiver in an elder-care facility in Long Beach for 18 hours a day, seven days a week.
At the facility, Guanzon and another caregiver were not given a room to themselves. Instead, they slept on floors or “anywhere we [could] get comfortable.”
They had no place to store their belongings and subsisted on whatever uneaten food was left over at the facility.
In return for their work, they were paid $300 a month.
“I get paid … and [the woman] told me I owed her $12,000 for my transportation and visa,” she said. “I had to work for her for 10 years, even though we didn’t have a contract. Since we were both Filipino, I trusted her.”
The woman told Guanzon that, if she tried to escape, she would call the police, tell them she stole something from her and would have her sent to jail.
“In our country, when you say ‘jail’ … you end up dead, beaten or raped,” she said.
Eventually, a neighbor living near the facility noticed the long hours Guanzon was working and became concerned about her well-being. That brought her predicament to the attention of the FBI.
When an agent attempted to contact her, she didn’t believe it at first.
“I thought it was my trafficker just testing me, so I didn’t reply,” Guanzon said.
Eventually, figuring she had nothing to lose, she replied to the agent and met with authorities to help build a case against the woman.
The woman was eventually caught in a sting operation set up by the FBI, and Guanzon testified against her in court. The woman received a five-year prison sentence.
By sharing her story, Guanzon said she wanted to show others that there is hope for trafficking victims, that “it’s not the end of the world” and there are people out there willing to help.