LOS ANGELES — Just four years ago, Stephanie Ong was a hotel restaurant management graduate, eager to learn the industry by having a chance to come to the US through a J-1 visa.
But when she got to Wyoming, it wasn’t what she was expecting as a student trainee.
She was subjected to hard labor.
“I got injured from working, was abused, threatened, neglected, discriminated and a lot of bad things happened to me. At that point and time, I really need help but they kept me working. Even with my injury. They threatened me that I’m going to be abducted and deported,” said Ong.
She eventually made it to Los Angeles and has found assistance with the Pilipino Workers Center, but the pain remains as she continues to rebuild her life.
“Having all those flashbacks is not easy for me. I have almost ended my life but I think about my family my parents and my siblings from way back home and the greatest thing that happened where the people in the community who have helped me and supported me to continue fighting for the justice that I deserve.”
January is human trafficking month — as she tearfully shared her story, the Asian Pacific Planning and Policy Council, AP3CON, unveiled their new initiatives to combat the epidemic that victimizes an estimated 15 to 18,000 people.
As a border and port city, Los Angeles is believed to be the epicenter, with many Asians caught in this underground workforce.
“In 2015, 72% of T-Visas for Non-Immigrants that went to victims of trafficking when to individuals who originated from Asian countries,” said AP3con executive director Manju Kulkarni. “In seeking to address human trafficking in the API community, AP3CON organizations have sought to meet the multitude of needs of clients and community members who have been trafficked to the US from Asia.
As AP3CON increases its multi-lingual outreach and victim services through their partners, the city attorney’s office is taking the next step to combat it, by establishing the anti-sex and labor trafficking unit.
“Our units focus includes tough prosecution. It includes civil litigation. It includes community education and awareness so all of us in Los Angeles are primed into what to look out for when it comes to human trafficking,” said Mike Feuer, LA city attorney.
For those like Ong who manage to break free, they can avail of trafficking visas, giving them a chance to start over.
She’s now working hard at becoming a pharmacy tech.