London Police Uncover "Extreme" Case Of Domestic Slavery: Women Apparently Held For Decades

On Thursday, British authorities rescued three women from a London, England home: the women had been held captive for years in what the police described as "slavery in simple terms." The women were identified as a 57-year old from Ireland; a 69-year-old from Malaysia, and one Brit aged 30, who is believed to have been held at the Lambeth house all her life. The three appear to have suffered physical violence, such as beatings, but there's no evidence of sexual violence: rather, the women seem to have been kept as forced domestic servants.

The Metropolitan police called the case one of the most extreme cases of domestic slavery they'd ever seen. It was uncovered by a small organization called Freedom Charity, whose volunteers deal with the issues of forced marriages, or fear of "honor killings," in communities in the United Kingdom. After watching a documentary about forced marriage that mentioned Freedom Charity, one of the women called their 24-hour helpline. The charity contacted the police, and on Thursday the women walked out of the house.

It's reported that the women had had "no real exposure to the outside world" for the past 30 years. All three are have been described as "highly traumatized" and the police are still figuring out how they ended up confined in the house. The women aren't believed to have been trafficked into Britain. According to police official Steve Rodhouse, authorities are trying to find out "what were the invisible handcuffs that were used" to keep the women under control. Rodhouse noted: "It is not as brutally obvious as women being physically restrained inside an address, and not being allowed to leave."

"This may have appeared to be a normal family," he continued, but revealed no further information about the two suspects: a man and a woman, both 67 years old.

Sadly, this is not an isolated incident in the country. Though Britain abolished slavery throughout its empire in 1833 — 32 years before America — there are still an estimated 4,300 and 4,600 slaves in the U.K. Many of them are "homegrown," i.e. don't involve the crossing of international borders.

And it's not just the United Kingdom. In America, more than 100,000 U.S. children have been victims of human trafficking within the country. Another 17,500 people are estimated to be trafficked into the country every year.

Human trafficking is a global issue: the United Nations estimated that 2.4 million persons are currently victims. Of those, 55-60 percent are women, and 75 percent are women and girls. In the US, almost three-quarters of the victims are used for forced labour. According to the UN, convictions for trafficking are extremely rare: 16 percent of the 132 countries the UN investigated didn't record a single conviction between 2007 and 2010.

Only 1 of every 100 victims ever gets rescued.

Image: Imagens Evangélicas via Flickr/Creativecommons