Slavery in America: Shyima's Story

A young Egyptian girl is sold into slavery in Orange County, Calif.


July 25, 2007 — -- From behind the walls of an exclusive gated community in Irvine, Calif., comes a story so out of place it would test even the wildest imagination: slavery in upscale America.

It is the story of Shyima, a 9-year-old Egyptian girl sold into slavery and shipped from Cairo to her masters' mansion in Orange County. Now 17 years old, Shyima tells ABC's Mary Fulginiti the terrible "family secret" that was kept at 28 Pacific Grove.

For years, Shyima's childhood was lost to the incessant demands of her masters. A contract between her parents and Nassar Ibrahim, a 51-year-old entrepreneur, stated that Shyima would work for his family for 10 years. In exchange, Ibrahim would pay Shyima's parents a minimal monthly fee. She received no money for her work.

"I [could do] nothing but … pray to God. That's about it," Shyima said.

The Ibrahims confined Shyima indoors, prevented her from going to school and forced her to live in the garage. There she slept on a filthy mattress with nothing more than a bucket serving as both a toilet and wash basin. Running away or seeking help from outside never seemed like options to Shyima. Her masters kept her in place with threats.

"[The Ibrahims] said that I would be taken by the police here in America, and I'll be put in jail and … get hit by them," Shyima said, explaining her hesitancy to leave on her own.

Shyima described her life with the Ibrahims as endless days of work without any semblance of a loving family.

"[I felt] just pain, really," Shyima said. "All over."

But Shyima, unlike many child slaves, would soon be able to escape from that pain. An anonymous tip on April 9, 2002 brought Detective Tracy Jacobson to the Ibrahim household to investigate. Once there, Jacobson found a very frightened Shyima and brought her to a protective home for abused children.

Shyima is now a bright high school student, an articulate English speaker and a new U.S. citizen adopted by a caring California family. Her former masters, meanwhile, languish in federal prison.

How is Shyima able to adjust to life as a normal teenager? How can living as a slave not haunt her for years to come? To find out more about this young woman's story and the hidden slavery that exists in America, watch "Primetime Family Secrets," Tuesday, at 10 p.m. EDT.

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