Evelyn Chumbow of Cameroon says she was only nine years old when she was trafficked into forced labor in the Washington, D.C., area.
Chumbow, who’s now in her mid-30s, says she was sold by her uncle to a woman from her home country of Cameroon who had a home and a business in the United States. She said she came to the United States with the expectation that a better life awaited her.
“The image that I had of the U.S. is completely from what I saw on television — you know, ‘[The] Cosby Show’ and ‘[The] Fresh Prince of Belair,’ ‘[Beverly Hills], 90210’ — and so when I was told that I was going to come to the U.S. and be adopted and get a better education, I was excited,” Chumbow said in an interview with Hill.TV that aired Monday.
But she said that as soon as she arrived she was forced into domestic labor, working for eight years before she was able to escape with the help of Catholic groups. She said her captor is now in prison.
As many as 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year, according to the U.S. State Department.
Human trafficking has become a rare bipartisan issue on Capitol Hill.
Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) warned during a Sept. 26 congressional hearing that trafficking is even taking place in the U.S.
“We all need to wake up because human trafficking is happening right here in our backyard, and victims of traffic crime are often hidden in plain sight,” said McSally, who’s running for Senate in Arizona this year.
Chumbow said she was held captive in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C.
“I came and I became a slave right here in Maryland, not far from the Capitol. I was working, cooking and cleaning,” Chumbow said, adding that she believes she would have been saved earlier if someone in the community had notified the authorities.
“If you see something, say something. ‘Cause a lot of neighbors saw me, I would have probably been rescued when I was 13 or 14,” she said. “But nobody said anything.”
— Alison Spann