Election 2016

'Sex Trafficking Survivor' at Democratic Convention Not Actually Victim of Sex Trafficking

Ima Matul was a victim of forced labor, or labor trafficking. In the U.S. and around the world, it's as common if not more common than sex trafficking.



Today the Democratic National Convention Committee (DNCC) announced the evening's roster of speakers, including "sex trafficking survivor" Ima Matul. On Tuesday evening, Matul spoke during the "Fight of Her Life: Secretary of State" portion of the night's remarks, between U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. 

There's just one problem: Matul isn't a sex-trafficking survivor. 

That's not to diminish what Matul went through—according to her bio, Matul was born and raised in Indonesia and took a job in the U.S. as a teenager. But the recruiter turned out to be a human trafficker. Matul was forced into domestic servitude, cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, providing childcare, and performing other household tasks for a family in Los Angeles. She worked long days, seven days per week, and wasn't paid. 

Matul was a victim of forced labor, or what U.S. law tends to refer to as "labor trafficking." In the U.S. and around the world, labor trafficking is as common if not more common than sex trafficking.

DNCC email

Yet it's sex trafficking that gets all the media attention and government resources. It's sex trafficking that captures the public imagination as our next big boogeyman. It's sex trafficking that the DNCC chose to market tonight, regardless of the truth of Matul's situation. 

The DNCC didn't respond to my request for comment Tuesday. 

It may seem like a small slip-up, but it mirrors the way sex and labor trafficking are treated in general in America, and recalls how Hillary Clinton handled sex trafficking when she was secretary of state.

Under Clinton's lead, the State Department pursued prostitution raid and rescue policies that human rights groups like Amnesty International decry. (For more on this, see Magaret Corvid and Yasmin Nair's essays—"Hillary Screws Sex Workers" and "Marry the State, Jail the People: Hillary Clinton and the Rise of Carceral Feminism," respectively—in False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Rodham Clinton.) And as Anne Elizabeth Moore Threadbare: Clothes, Sex, and Trafficking, sex work can provide an alternative to exploitative garment-factory labor for women in poor countries, yet the rescue-industry supported by U.S. officials—and the Clinton Foundation, a big backer of disgraced sex-trafficking advocate Somaly Mam—tends to send women back into these sorts of jobs.

During Sen. Klobuchar's convention speech, she focused largely on sex trafficking, citing questionable statistics about human trafficking being the "third largest" criminal economy in the world. 

h/t Bella Robinson