'If you don't get help, you'll die.' Mother of 4 shares story of modern-day slavery in Westchester

Hilda Chabuka tells News 12 she was forced to work around the clock and was denied sleep, toiletries and even doctor visits.

News 12 Staff

Jan 11, 2023, 11:52 AM

Updated 503 days ago

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After nearly a decade of hiding painful secrets, a mother of four is sharing a stunning story of modern-day slavery.
Hilda Chabuka says her harrowing ordeal played out in secret at a mansion in Harrison.
Chabuka says she was lured from her native Africa to New York after a prominent ambassador offered her a high-paying job at his mansion in Westchester - and was soon forced into a life of "modern day slavery."
In most cases, victims keep their labor trafficking - and even their names - a secret. But Chabuka says she is no longer willing to carry the shame of her abuse.
She hopes sharing her story with News 12 Senior Investigative Reporter Tara Rosenblum on this Human Trafficking Awareness Day will help other victims.
"When I was there, I didn't have any shampoo. I didn't have any soap. I didn't go even to the doctor," she says.
She managed to escape six months later.
"I just walked out," she says.
Chabuka wound up at a deli a mile away and called a toll-free number for trafficking victims.  It connected her to the LifeWay Network, an agency that provides survivors with safe housing and education.
"Because if you don't get help, you’ll die," she says.
She is now working as a chef in the Bronx and says she has done a lot of healing since she first met Rosenblum five years ago. 
She says she even received back pay from her traffickers through a labor department complaint.
While Chabuka refused to be silenced, new data analyzed by the Turn to Tara team reveals the surprising reason many other survivors are struggling to seek justice.
The team recently analyzed five years of trafficking data, which showed local calls to the National Human Trafficking hotline have exploded throughout the pandemic.
New Jersey went from 491 to 621 calls for help in 2020, with another 567 calls in 2022. While New York calls climbed from 1,256 to 1,764 - a nearly 30% spike. Connecticut had 211 calls in 2020, up from 167 the year before.
Despite the dramatic increase in pleas for help, News 12 also obtained federal data that shows fewer cases are making their way through the legal system as victims like Chabuka fight for justice.
In New York, there were only 22 traffickers convicted for their crimes last year, with less than a third of them forced to pay their victims restitution.
In New Jersey and Connecticut where there are nearly 13 million people, there were no cases involving trafficking last year.
"I am stunned. It should be a lot higher than that," says Marion Kendall, executive director of the LifeWay Network. "And I think that COVID did have an impact in how cases are being prosecuted and looked at."
The FBI previously explained why outcomes like Chabuka's case are extremely rare.
"Domestic servitude matters are commonly associated with immigrants seeking U.S. citizenship, so with that hanging over their heads, those that facilitate labor trafficking threaten deportation," says FBI agent Michael Osborn.
You can catch much more on Tara Rosenblum's interviews and the data we uncovered in a special 30-minute show airing later this month on News 12.


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