Friday, November 29, 2013

Modern Slavery

I remember listening to a trivia quiz on TV and the question was ‘In which country is it
legal to have a slave?’ The answer was the UK, simply because there is no law against it. No doubt we have always considered ourselves far too sophisticated to indulge in such an evil practice.

I’m not sure that history supports that but the recent discovery of three woman kept as slaves in London has resulted in the home secretary  introducing  the Modern Slavery Bill which will increase the sentence for human traffickers to life imprisonment. The problem is so bad there is now going to be an Anti-Slavery Commissioner.
Anti-slavery legislation needed in this country in 2013?
Tragically, it is so.

The three woman, a Malaysian aged 69, an Irish woman aged 57 and a 30 year old British woman are believed to have suffered "emotional and physical abuse" at the hands of their 'captors'. The 30 year old is believed to have been in servitude all her life. As I write this they are being formally interviewed by police for the first time – one month after they gained their freedom. One of them, thought to be the 57 year old, rang the ‘Freedom’ charity to say they were being held against their will in a house in Brixton. The neighbours now say that in the past they had seen signs held up at the window but the writing was too faint to read. They were asking for help. Like many victims of slavery nowadays, they were being hidden in plain sight.

A man of Indian origin, Mr Balakrishnan 73, and woman of Thai origin, 67 have been released on bail. Seemingly they were leaders of a political collective which the older two women may have joined voluntarily many years ago.  They have never been reported missing. Mr Balakrishnan founded his group The Workers’ Institute of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought in 1974 after he was expelled from the national committee of another Communist group.
So he thought he was running some kind of left wing commune, but without the ‘All men –and women- are equal' bit.
Mr Balakrishnan has been in the news before. In 1997  a coroner criticised the collective over the death of Sian Davies, 44,   who had apparently opened a window on a cold Christmas Eve night and fallen to the street below. She died from her injuries seven months later.
The dead woman had been a member of the collective for 24 years.
The 30 year old woman in the current incident has been named as Rosie Davies, and there is speculation that she might be Sian’s daughter.

That is just one case of course but slaves do walk among us. They supply labour for  shops and supermarkets, they work in fields, factories or nail bars, they are  locked up in brothels and peep out from behind curtains, looking onto an ordinary street, to a life they will never know.

                                                             From The Guardian
The figures show there has been a significant and disturbing increase in cases of slavery, captivity and human trafficking in Britain in recent years. The UK Human Trafficking Centre, part of the National Crime Agency, has produced figures showing that in 2012 it had identified 2,255 potential victims of human trafficking - an increase 9% on the previous year.
778 of them were found to be have been trafficked or were awaiting a conclusive decision on their status. That’s over 400 people.  24% of them were children, and if my maths is right that’s about 100 kids.  Victims are most likely to be Romanian, Polish, Nigerian, Vietnamese and Hungarian. Some 71% of the potential victims were adults, while 24% were children.  The most prevalent types of exploitation is of course sexual - 35% with labour exploitation a close second at 23%.
Of the child victims, 28% reported being sexually exploited, and 24% reported criminal exploitation. There are no figures for 2013 as they are not yet available, but the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) statistics (a process used to identify trafficked individuals) show that from April to June this year, 383 potential victims of trafficking from 52 countries had been referred to the NRM.
As of 1st October another 114 potential victims were added to the list.
And I bet that is a very small tip of a very big iceberg.

If the figures aren’t bad enough, the details are horrendous. A man was jailed for 12 years for assaulting and raping a woman prisoner after she was snatched from Slovakia and trafficked to Lancashire. Another couple brought a deaf girl from Pakistan and kept her in their cellar. Another trafficked a 10-year-old girl to the UK, then repeatedly raped and kept her as a servant for nearly a decade. A professional woman (believed to be the first person convicted of trafficking) bought a Tanzanian woman into the country to work as her domestic slave; 18-hour days. She was convicted under the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, which had just come into force and this act created a new offence of holding another person in slavery or servitude or requiring them to perform forced or compulsory labour. The new Anti-Slavery law goes much further.
                                          The caravan site, courtesy of The Times
In September 2011, Operation Netwing raided a caravan site in Bedfordshire, and freed 24 people who were being held against their will in filthy and cramped conditions. Some of the men (Poland, Latvians, British, Lithuanians) had been held there for 15 years. The one thing they had in common was that they were all vulnerable. The traveller family who ‘owned’ the caravan site had prayed on those queuing for food at soup kitchens, approaching the homeless sleeping in doorways.
Five members of the traveller family were jailed in December last year.

Caro Ramsay  29/11/2013


  1. Caro, funny you mention this. I have been researching slavery for the second book in my British East Africa series. You inspire me to do a blog for Monday on the history of Britain and slavery. You will see it soon. I learned about modern human trafficking at Killer Nashville this past summer. It is also a huge problem in the USA, especially traffickers who prey on girls of around 14, who wind up as street walkers, working for pimps. The Tennessee detective who gave that lecture said that internationally there are about 30 Million people in slave or slave-like conditions--more than ever in the history of slavery. Many of them are children when they are taken.

    Kudos to you for bringing up this critical topic. We need to find the modern slaves and set them free.

  2. In the context of my fourth book, "Target: Tinos," I did extensive research into the subject of Human Trafficking. It was chilling. If you want a detailed portrait of the worldwide horrific story take a look at the US State Department's "Trafficking in Persons Report." The version I read, 2010, set the number of adults and children in forced labor, bonded labor, and forced prostitution around the world at 12.3 million, the number of victims identified at 49,105 and successful trafficking prosecutions at 4,166. To put the scope of it in perspective, almost two of every 1000 on the planet are trafficking victims.

  3. Those are incredible statistics- truly awful. 30 million!
    I was shocked that the first person convicted of human trafficking in this country was a) female b) professional c) a health care professional. Like many crimes I suppose it can occur anywhere, be committed by anybody as long as they are of that mindset.

  4. It is a myth that slavery in Britain is legal or has been legal any time after 1833. It is true that there is no single law against slavery in Britain and that Britain lacks an official constitution (constitutions are usually the place where slavery is outlawed), but sections from different British laws together, plus European and UN treaties Britain has signed and ratified do make slavery very much illegal in Britain. If it truly was legal the police would not have arrested those modern slaveholders in London and slavery would be visible on the average London street.

    The claim that there are now more slaves than ever in the world is a) meaningless since the world population is so much larger than it was in the past and b) probably not even true at all: the definition for slavery in the past (Roman Empire, United States, etc...) is much stricter than the definition of modern slavery which includes child marriages, forced marriages and soldiers under the age of 18. To put things into perspective: not counting child marriages, forced marriages and soldiers under the age of 18 there were 5 million slaves in the Roman Empire at its peak, or 10% of its total population, if the rest of the world used slaves to the same extent there were about 20 million in the world, meaning about 1 in 10 people alive at the time were slaves, so slavery was 20 times more prevalent than it is now, even with the broader modern definition.

    Statistics are meaningless without context and many so-called statistics on the subject are plainly made up or exaggerated. Beware of (religious) activist groups that casually count every hooker, stripper or porn actor in the world as a slave (but only the female kinds, and they're silent about soldiers or farm/construction laborers because they're more concerned with getting women back in the kitchen than with offering poor people more economic options), beware of the people who don't realize most human trafficking is voluntary (illegal immigrants and refugees often actually pay for it), even though it is illegal and dangerous.

    So why am I saying all this? Because this is a blog of "renowned crime writers" and also because false beliefs on the subjects of slavery and human trafficking lead to poorly constructed laws which waste police resources and actually end up hurting real victims.

  5. Dear Anonymous, It's too bad we don't know the source of the opinions you offer. You are right. Statistics are meaningless without context. So are opinions. You sound as if you know whereof you speak. It's too bad that I can't tell whether I should trust what you say any more or less than I trusted the government official who gave me the numbers I quote above. At least I knew his context.