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Slavery In The UK
November 22, 2013 4:37 PM   Subscribe

"Detectives investigating the case of three women allegedly held as slaves for 30 years in south London have uncovered a "complicated and disturbing picture of emotional control". Last month officers were contacted by Freedom Charity after it received a call from a woman saying she had been held against her will for decades. A Malaysian woman, 69, an Irish woman, 57, and a British woman, 30, were rescued from the house on 25 October. A 67-year-old man and woman were held in Lambeth and bailed until January." More details on the BBC here.
posted by marienbad (41 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Why are they keeping the identity (and nationality) of the slavers secret?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:44 PM on November 22, 2013


i saw this earlier. they say the youngest woman was held her entire life.

i just can't even.
posted by sio42 at 4:52 PM on November 22, 2013


IIRC, suspect names are sealed until they're convicted in the UK to keep potentially innocent people from getting tried in the media and their communities. I wish America would adopt the practice.
posted by mikesch at 5:17 PM on November 22, 2013 [17 favorites]


they say the youngest woman was held her entire life.

I actually have a question about this: are they saying that she was born from one of the other women that were enslaved, or was she taken/given to the enslavers by an outside source? I haven't seen this clarified in any of the recent news, though maybe I missed it.
posted by Shouraku at 5:18 PM on November 22, 2013


Possible religious cult situation. 30 year old victim's birth was registered with local authorities
posted by Bwithh at 5:29 PM on November 22, 2013


Why are they keeping the identity (and nationality) of the slavers secret?

Well there is some controversy about this, in fact. The Director of Public Prosecutions is not a fan of a blanket ban on naming, but things have moved more in that direction recently.

From the College of Policing's 2013 Guidance on Relationships with the Media (pdf):
“Decisions must be made on a case-by-case basis but, save in clearly identified circumstances, or where legal restrictions apply, the names or identifying details of those who are arrested or suspected of a crime should not be released by police forces to the press or the public. Such circumstances include a threat to life, the prevention or detection of crime or a matter of public interest and confidence. This approach aims to support consistency and avoid undesirable variance which can confuse press and public (para 3.5.2)."
posted by howfar at 5:30 PM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


One should also note that these are alleged slavers, and there don't appear to be any charges at this time.
posted by howfar at 5:32 PM on November 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


A strangely similar story actually appeared in my hometown (small town in NI) paper a few weeks ago, with this the most recent update. I think they may be connected, especially as it mentions him visiting mainland UK and with trafficking allegations. The story in the actual paper said he held them for 30 years, although hes only charged with 13, and said that one of the women had learning difficulties. It also alleged he had held three women (only two mentioned in the update) and there were definite suggestions that the women had been used as sex slaves not only by him, but by a number of men over the years, and that they had been filmed and watched. I literally nearly threw up reading it. As far as I was aware, not naming the suspect is actually a protection for the victims, not the alleged perpetrator, so as not to reveal their identities. Particularly if the victim and perpetrator are related. Part of me hopes its the same story because the one story on its own was unbearable.
posted by billiebee at 6:00 PM on November 22, 2013


I hope the term "invisible handcuffs" becomes popularized and something that law enforcement/lawyers/juries acknowledge the existence of.
posted by mudpuppie at 7:35 PM on November 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


This case is totally frustrating my prurient curiosity. First I heard about it on World Service, where they gave a teaser and promised details later. The piece had pretty much what we're seeing here, couple holds three women for 30 years. Past that, nothing really. It's a story now, obviously, but until there's some more flesh on it, it just feels like empty calorie newsfilter.
posted by klangklangston at 7:45 PM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I hope the women get the support they need to transition to a normal life. I just can't comprehend what they must have endured.
posted by arcticseal at 8:54 PM on November 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


It does seem a bit odd that there's so much vagueness.

The thing is: if you look at the Hillsborough coverup, "plebgate", the claims that Mark Duggan had a gun, the claims that Juan de Menezes jumped the barriers, and so on; it's pretty common for the initial UK police statements to the media to be a complete pack of lies. I'm definitely waiting to see what actually comes out of this in courts.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 11:06 PM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


It does seem a bit odd that there's so much vagueness.

not really at all - it's very routine for UK police investigations at this early stage. It's to protect both suspects and their alleged victims - in part from interference from the public at large , but also from the notoriously insensitive prying and hounding UK tabloid press

it's pretty common for the initial UK police statements to the media to be a complete pack of lies.

each to their own re: conspiracy theory fears, but it's not as if the police in this case have said anything much at all (see previous point). What could they have lied about ? Ages and nationalities? And if it is a complete pack of lies as you suggest, then apparently the Freedom Charity NGO involved is in on the conspiracy too.
posted by Bwithh at 12:15 AM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


They're protecting the victims and making sure the tabloids don't fuck up any prosecution. A situation this complicated needs a long term and careful investigation, hence the amount of time it took for them to remove the victims and arrest the others.
The police said that the women had some "controlled freedom", and officers were trying to understand the "invisible handcuffs" that were used to exert control over the women.

Commander Rodhouse said "trying to label this investigation as domestic servitude or forced labour is far too simple".

He said the case appeared to be "a complicated and disturbing picture of emotional control over many years, brainwashing would be the most simplest term, yet that belittles the years of emotional abuse these victims have had to endure".
The human trafficking and exploitation units deal with complicated cases and unlike most of the rest of the police services are usually very victim-focused.

I would assume The Met and Freedom have very little concern about the juiciness of anyone's news fix.
posted by fullerine at 12:56 AM on November 23, 2013 [6 favorites]


It is interesting that the immigration status of the women is being investigated as it is often used as a tool for coercion by the unscrupulous.
This is because the government’s immigration policies are themselves responsible for migrants’ susceptibility to forced labour. The push to criminalise people who are working without permission is a major deterrent to abused workers seeking support. The continued reduction of the rights and entitlements of a whole spectrum of migrants leaves many with little option but to accept exploitative work. Furthermore, the removal of domestic worker visa holders' right to change employers has significantly increased these workers’ vulnerability to exploitation.
posted by asok at 2:55 AM on November 23, 2013 [2 favorites]




Some more details were just released on the BBC.
posted by Flitcraft at 6:10 AM on November 23, 2013


Slavery Case "Tip of the Iceberg" - says MP Frank Field.

Firstly, the more facts that emerge, the more obvious it is that Field is wrong. This is not the tip of an iceberg. That's not to say that modern slavery doesn't exist, or that human trafficking isn't a horrendous and widespread reality. Rather, this case just doesn't have anything to do with the much more prosaic horror of most exploitation.

Secondly, fuck Frank 'Enoch' Field. Human trafficking exists, almost entirely, because of migration restrictions that fly against economic sense, simple logic, human decency and everything but the promotion of the power of capital relative to that of labour. Apologists for anti-migrant racism, people like Field, prop up a system whose costs can be measured in millions or billions of lives spent in misery. That he does it while remaining a Labour MP makes me sick.
posted by howfar at 8:17 AM on November 23, 2013 [13 favorites]


I hope the term "invisible handcuffs" becomes popularized and something that law enforcement/lawyers/juries acknowledge the existence of.

Hmm. Pretty big can of worms. Invisible worms, as it were.

Human trafficking exists, almost entirely, because of migration restrictions that fly against economic sense, simple logic, human decency and everything but the promotion of the power of capital relative to that of labour.

Most of what I read suggests that capitalists are all for open migration because it lowers the cost of labor.
posted by IndigoJones at 8:52 AM on November 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


howfar, as someone who works with an anti-racism charity and who has been an advice worker for asylum seekers and also economic migrants to the UK, I completely agree that current immigration laws are deliberately punitive, founded in racism and compounded by capitalist ideals. I'm actually of the ultra liberal "no borders" mindset so I'm not debating your main points about that subject.

However, in terms of this case it's hard to say what the iceberg actually is yet. In the link I posted above, and which I think came too close to this story in terms of timing to be coincidental, the abuse definitely included sexual abuse, rape, pornography and forced prostitution, and not just "forced labour". Sex trafficking is not just due to economic forces, but becomes part of a wider issue around exploitation of women and children. I'm not saying this is to do with sex trafficking as such, we don't know all the facts yet, but I'm not sure it's just about someone coming over on a work visa and being "owned" by that person, or someone without papers being vulnerable. It seems different than that.
posted by billiebee at 9:01 AM on November 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Most of what I read suggests that capitalists are all for open migration because it lowers the cost of labor.

Global capitalism seems to have rather neatly solved the "problem" of labour costs by exporting jobs rather than importing labour. I doubt many operators of the sweatshops serving Western consumerism would choose open migration over their current cost-efficient solution.

In reality, there will of course be some members of the capitalist class whose individual interests would be served by the free movement of labour (although these groups are usually compensated through "skilled worker" exceptions), but I'm profoundly sceptical of the notion that capitalists, as a class, have a structural interest in the unrestricted movement of labour.
posted by howfar at 9:03 AM on November 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


It is interesting that the immigration status of the women is being investigated as it is often used as a tool for coercion by the unscrupulous.

In this case it can only apply to one of the three women though.
posted by Thing at 9:11 AM on November 23, 2013


Sex trafficking is not just due to economic forces, but becomes part of a wider issue around exploitation of women and children.

I think this is a very good point, and I suspect that my hatred of Field may have inclined me to overstate my case. I think my underlying concern is that presenting this case, which does increasingly appear to have a number of exceptional factors, as reflective of the widespread reality of modern slavery is potentially misleading. Although slavery is necessarily described as "bad people doing bad things", this is plainly not a sufficient description. Using this case as an example of the "tip of an iceberg" seems, to me, to tend toward treating it as if it were.

My main response to your point would be to emphasise the intersections between poverty, nationality, ethnicity, age and gender (which you are plainly aware of). I'm not a vulgar Marxist (I hope!), but systems of oppression don't occur in an economic vacuum, and I think it is fair to argue that the legal structures around migration are largely concerned with regulating its economic aspect. Migration, and therefore economic, issues are likely to be highly significant in the vast majority of cases of slavery in the West. I worry that Field's comments might distract from that, particularly given his track-record of misrepresenting issues relating to migration.
posted by howfar at 9:28 AM on November 23, 2013


I think it is fair to argue that the legal structures around migration are largely concerned with regulating its economic aspect. Migration, and therefore economic, issues are likely to be highly significant in the vast majority of cases of slavery in the West

I totally agree. I think I also probably didnt make myself clear enough in that I'm not sure this case *is* related to sex trafficking in the case of two of the three women at least. My own speculation is that the Irish woman (and given reporting in the UK this could mean either Northern or Southern Irish, which would have a bearing in terms of whether she was a British citizen or not) is the mother of the British woman. She may have been brought to England or groomed in some way to go, and then given birth to a child who was then kept and used as she herself was. The case of the Malaysian woman is therefore different in terms of migration and/or trafficking.

I think we may be in agreement that Field is assigning this case to a wider issue that isn't relevant. The debate about migration needs to be had, and this case may not actually be connected to it, and the debate about sex trafficking which needs to be had may also not be relevant to this instance. Or perhaps it touches on all of these issues. Regardless, pinning it on "slavery" does seen to smack of some kind of "look over there!" distraction rather than addressing anything real.
posted by billiebee at 9:48 AM on November 23, 2013


Global capitalism seems to have rather neatly solved the "problem" of labour costs by exporting jobs rather than importing labour.

It's not an either/or situation as far as business is concerned. Offshore the job, take advantage of hungry immigrants legal or not - which ever works in the given situation. Thus, Microsoft can offshore while lobbying for more H1B visas. It's a business decision, like hiring part timers rather than full timers, or consultants rather than real employees - it has nothing to do with morality.
posted by IndigoJones at 10:27 AM on November 23, 2013


It's not an either/or situation as far as business is concerned.

This is one reason why it is untrue to claim that there is a capitalist interest in free migration. The interest of business is not in no migration, it is in unfree migration. Greater migration ≠ freer migration, notwithstanding that free migration would almost certainly lead to greater migration.

Thus, Microsoft can offshore while lobbying for more H1B visas.

Both of these things are dependent on opposing free migration. The fact that businesses sometimes lobby for increased skilled migration doesn't demonstrate an interest in free migration but rather the opposite.

It's a business decision, like hiring part timers rather than full timers, or consultants rather than real employees - it has nothing to do with morality.

Well, of course. I'm not sure why you'd think I was suggesting it was.
posted by howfar at 10:50 AM on November 23, 2013


It's a story now, obviously, but until there's some more flesh on it, it just feels like empty calorie newsfilter.

It's exactly the opposite of empty calorie newsfilter. All the juicy details about abuse and neighbours being interviewed and experts masticating is actually the empty calories. This is about as much hard truth as there ever is in any media storm about a case like this and there really is no need to pad the kernel with anything.
posted by Authorized User at 10:54 AM on November 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Details, juicy or otherwise, are kind of a requirement in order for there to be more to discuss or think about this than "something happened, I wonder what it was"
posted by ook at 11:04 AM on November 23, 2013


It's hardly filling in the blanks but this latest stuff from the Guardian is definitely suggesting where this "story" may be heading ...

Two of the three women allegedly held as slaves first met male suspect through shared political ideology, says Met

[...]

Rodhouse said police were examining the nature of the cult. "The people involved, the nature of that collective and how it operated is all subject to our investigation and we are slowly and painstakingly piecing together more information," he said.

"Somehow that collective came to an end and … somehow the women ended up continuing to live with the suspects. How this resulted in the women living in this way for over 30 years is what are seeking to establish, but we believe emotional and physical abuse has been a feature of all the victims' lives."

posted by philip-random at 11:16 AM on November 23, 2013


Most of what I read suggests that capitalists are all for open migration because it lowers the cost of labor.

Only if there aren't minimum wages, good pro-employee regulations and withholdings for unemployment, etc. Capitalists only believe in free migration if it means they can somehow pay less for the same work. So, sure, they'd be all for it if there were no minimum wage laws or other protections to ensure workers can earn enough to live.

I'm of the opinion workers should get paid what the work is actually worth regardless of what individual workers might be persuaded or coerced into accepting. But that only makes sense if we stipulate that work is actually valuable, not a particularly popular point of view in practice despite all the lip service the view gets.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:26 AM on November 23, 2013


So were these people victims of some kind of Christian cult like the Children of God or something? That seems to be where this is heading...
posted by saulgoodman at 11:28 AM on November 23, 2013


I suspect you've hit the nail on the head saulgoodman.
posted by panaceanot at 3:44 PM on November 23, 2013


"It's exactly the opposite of empty calorie newsfilter. All the juicy details about abuse and neighbours being interviewed and experts masticating is actually the empty calories. This is about as much hard truth as there ever is in any media storm about a case like this and there really is no need to pad the kernel with anything."

No, things like knowing who these people were, why this happened, what the next steps are, how this relates to broader concerns about slavery and human trafficking, those are essential parts of the story. All we have right now, really, is THIS IS A THING THAT HAPPENED plus a little foreshadowing.

So it's not the opposite, and having it framed as BIG UK SLAVERY CASE! is empty noise without those underlying details. There's an American case that's a good comparison, that of the Cleveland women held for a decade, where we have a much better view of what happened, whom was involved and what the ultimate outcome was.

It's great to want to rail against tabloid excess, but you're just freelance grandstanding for want of an appropriate soapbox.
posted by klangklangston at 3:52 PM on November 23, 2013


It is untrue to claim that there is a capitalist interest in free migration.

So you say. On the current American agenda is the next immigration bill. Businesses and businessmen of all sorts are lobbying heavily to loosen restrictions. If there's much objection, it's from the bureaucratic requirements of hiring immigrants.

The voices against immigration tend to be those who feel their jobs are under threat or those who feel their native culture is under threat or that immigrants cost more than they bring. But business? They're pretty much lock step along side people like yourself.

Capitalists only believe in free migration if it means they can somehow pay less for the same work.

Absent the cost benefit, business is indifferent to the issue per se. Minimum wage etc may be desiderata for the most Randian libertarians, but such things are not deal breakers as far as the issue of open borders issue is concerned.

I'm not sure why you'd think I was suggesting it was.

Because you started out by saying: Human trafficking exists, almost entirely, because of migration restrictions that fly against economic sense, simple logic, human decency and everything but the promotion of the power of capital relative to that of labour.

Which suggests cartoon plutocrats dedicated to evil against their own economic interests. If you can find business people calling for less immigration, I'd be interested in seeing it.

I'm of the opinion workers should get paid what the work is actually worth regardless of what individual workers might be persuaded or coerced into accepting.

Which worker? The one overseas who can live fine on a fraction of what the worker in the US can squeak by on? And what do you say to the one you didn't hire? Becomes a thorny issue.
posted by IndigoJones at 3:57 PM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Which suggests cartoon plutocrats dedicated to evil against their own economic interests.

No. What it suggests is that the interests of the economy and the interests of capital are not identical. That I am drawing that distinction really shouldn't need spelling out, given that my original comment is framed in explicitly Marxist terms.

If you can find business people calling for less immigration, I'd be interested in seeing it.

I have addressed this point twice now. Either you're not reading what I'm writing, or you just aren't working in a frame of reference that allows you to understand it. It's not even that we're disagreeing, it's just that the points you're making aren't really relevant to what I'm actually talking about. Ho hum.
posted by howfar at 4:20 PM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Which worker? The one overseas who can live fine on a fraction of what the worker in the US can squeak by on? And what do you say to the one you didn't hire? Becomes a thorny issue.

All full-time workers should be afforded enough legal protection that they can afford to live relatively comfortably. They should be able to expect a safe workplace and guarantees of some meaningful help if they become disabled or unemployed; they should also be able to look forward to a comfortable retirement. No human being should ever have to sacrifice the majority of their waking life in supporting the pursuit of other people's ambitions without having at least a reasonable chance of spending their twilight years in peace, pursuing whatever interests of their own they may have left.

Once everyone in the labor pool enjoys the same rights, standard of living and wage expectations will tend to equalize across geographical boundaries and any wage advantage to outsourcing or bringing in migrant workers will be eroded. Until that happens, imbalances will be exploited by labor price arbitrage artists intent on getting the most work for the lowest capital investments without regard for the ethical considerations.

People are always responding at this point, "Hey, relax a few years hard labor, and they'll start expecting and getting more, too, so capitalism is helping them in the long run."

Why not help them by ensuring there are rules in place that prevent people from exploiting working people anywhere. If the alternative is to "help" them by throwing two or three generations of their best into the meat grinder before the help even starts to kick in (not to mention how their gains are ultimately coming at the expense of some other population's losses or how their own population will eventually see a collapse back to subsistence, too, once capital abandons it for hungrier labor markets to keep the process running), then maybe the focus should be on changing the rules.

But this really is getting way into derail territory now, so I submit to your further correction and will leave it at that.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:27 PM on November 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


No, things like knowing who these people were, why this happened, what the next steps are, how this relates to broader concerns about slavery and human trafficking, those are essential parts of the story.

Yes I agree. But it's not very often that current news get this stuff right. Often they don't even get it close enough to be worthwhile. This is not a current event happening right now so a rapid dissemination of information is not called for.

So it's not the opposite, and having it framed as BIG UK SLAVERY CASE! is empty noise without those underlying details.

Well yes, framing it that way is empty noise, I definitely agree with you there. It's not a piece of news, it's just a little announcement about an investigation. And that's why it's not empty calorie newsfilter.

There's an American case that's a good comparison, that of the Cleveland women held for a decade, where we have a much better view of what happened, whom was involved and what the ultimate outcome was.

It's boggling to me that the identity of the victims in such a case is not protected. Simply boggles the mind. Not everything has to be news. A single well-researched article that does not need to reveal too much about the identities of the victims is worth more in a case like this than a whole news-cycle worth of breathless reporting.

It's great to want to rail against tabloid excess, but you're just freelance grandstanding for want of an appropriate soapbox.

Oh I am definitely grandstanding but I think we both agree about the idea that this is a rather weak post because there is not much for there to discuss or discover. I guess we just disagree on whether there should be something.
posted by Authorized User at 12:56 AM on November 24, 2013


It is interesting that the immigration status of the women is being investigated as it is often used as a tool for coercion by the unscrupulous.

Thing - In this case it can only apply to one of the three women though.

Indeed, it possibly applies to one of the women in this case, but also is relevant to the wider issue of slavery in the UK so I thought it might be of interest. From the article I linked:
Forced labour is not a simple matter. Our research shows that any situation of severe labour exploitation results from a complex set of overlapping factors: rising employment precarity, restricted access to welfare, poverty, destitution and insufficient labour regulation, and often immigration status insecurity all combine to contribute to individuals’ entry into, continuation in, or preclusion of exit from forced labour.
The women involved in this case may have other salient reasons for being in the predicament they were in, or there may be some common factors. The reason that I thought this was relevant was just to put this case in context with the working or living conditions that other people find themselves in today in the UK. The use of the word slavery is quite incendiary, however it is not just a media headline, it is reality, and not just for the women who are involved in this case.
posted by asok at 1:27 AM on November 25, 2013


The BBC understands the couple arrested in the Brixton alleged slavery case are former Maoist activists Aravindan Balakrishnan and his wife Chanda.
According to Marxist archives the couple were leading figures at the Mao Zedong Memorial Centre based in Acre Lane Brixton in the late 1970s. The Metropolitan Police has refused to confirm or deny the names which are now being widely reported.
A moment's search turned up this impressively bonkers report on the closure of the aforesaid Mao Zedong Memorial Centre. However little it may reflect on the wider phenomenon of 'modern slavery', I do appreciate the irony of these suspected enslavers turning out to be Maoists, given the trajectory of the conversation thus far.
posted by topynate at 7:01 AM on November 25, 2013 [5 favorites]




"Oh I am definitely grandstanding but I think we both agree about the idea that this is a rather weak post because there is not much for there to discuss or discover. I guess we just disagree on whether there should be something."

Yeah, I don't think there should be anything posted here until there's an actual story, which includes the stuff I mentioned prior. Maybe it's just having to draft newspaper THIS IS A THING THAT HAPPENED blurbs, but things happen all the time and without anything beyond that, the inevitable hype just ends up being cotton candy with speculation replacing substance.
posted by klangklangston at 12:26 PM on November 27, 2013


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