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Did slavery never go away?

22 November 2013

9:22 AM

22 November 2013

9:22 AM

There is blanket media coverage of ‘London’s shame’ – the news of the escape of three women who had been held as slaves in Lambeth for 30 years. The women were trapped in domestic servitude, which means that there is no sexual dimension to the crime. I suppose we be must thankful for small mercies; but, as everyone is right to say, a slave is a slave is a slave.

Indeed, the incarcerators allowed their captives to leave the house from time to time, which implies that the slaves were controlled by psychology rather than shackles. It’s a sickening thought because it’s difficult for charity workers, law enforcement and ordinary members of the public to recognise servitude that exists in plain sight.


There is an added layer of complexity in that trafficking is a complicated crime. Organised criminals are known to specialise in it, especially in providing bodies for the sex trade and illegal manual labour. And yet despicable individuals can easily place a dishonest advert for ‘domestic help’. Add Britain’s occasionally uneasy multicultural community relations – stoked by crimes such as forced marriage – to the mix and you have a witches’ brew.

These are the challenges for the Modern Slavery Bill, which James Brokenshire will usher through parliament. The bill talks tough on sentences for slave traffickers, and also includes preventative measures by targeting convicted traffickers to reduce re-offending. These are welcome initiatives, but the bill looks a little light on promoting the community-based measures to complement custodial sentences and policing. However, James Brokenshire has said that the bill will ‘raise awareness’…

I had hoped to find a suitable article on slavery from the Spectator’s archive to illustrate this blog. But it was impossible to pick one. There are hundreds of articles on the subject, extending back over the last 185 years to the age of Wilberforce. In this context, the phrase ‘modern slavery’ sounds hollow: slavery never went away, and it appears to have changed very little.


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