Focus On: Domestic Servitude

In Greek mythology, the hero Hercules defeated the many-headed Hydra, which grew two new heads for each one he chopped off, using a firebrand and a golden sword given to him by Athena. Human trafficking, a global, many-headed crime, is our modern-day Hydra. It takes many forms – from sex trafficking to forced labour to organ harvesting – and is highly sophisticated and resilient.

One such head is domestic servitude, which will be the focus of my blog post today.


What is domestic servitude?

Domestic servitude is a type of forced labour, where a person is trafficked into someone’s home and forced to work as a helper. They are expected to perform household tasks, such as daily chores, looking after children and doing the shopping.

Often, the working conditions include: receiving little or no pay for long hours with no days off, rarely getting their own space, being forced to sleep on a sofa or the floor and being threatened if they think of leaving the house without the families’ permission. In some cases they are beaten and sexually abused.


Where does it happen?

A quick look through the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report of 2011 shows that people are trafficked in or out of almost every country in the world for the purpose of domestic servitude. As well as across borders, trafficking also goes on internally, most commonly from poor rural areas to cities.


Surely not in the UK?

Actually yes, it happens here in the UK. The first prosecution for such a case was in 2011, but the accused was eventually acquitted. The fact that this is the first case to come to court highlights the difficulty in identifying domestic servitude – often the family involved will be the only ones to see the trafficking victim, so there is little opportunity for others to spot it and report it.


How do people end up in this situation?

In cases of domestic servitude, those who become victims often apply for a “job” through an agency, get called for an interview and believe that they are accepting a bona fide position which will pay a fair wage, enabling them to support their family back home.

It’s only when they get to their destination country or city that their passport is taken away, and threats are made if they try to escape. A culture of fear is created, in which the victim has no one to trust and nowhere to run.


What can we do to prevent it?

A victim of trafficking could be living on your street, and if you are wise to the signs you could help – especially if your profession involves going into people’s homes. In the case mentioned above, the alarm was raised by a nurse who treated the victim – she became concerned that the lady spoke no English after five years living in the UK, and looked to her captor before answering any questions.

STOP THE TRAFFIK is launching a new website to assist frontline professionals and members of the community in spotting indicators of trafficking, which will be launched imminently.

You can also download our resource SPOT THE TRAFFIK which has the indicators of different types of trafficking, as well as where to report any suspicions.

3 thoughts on “Focus On: Domestic Servitude

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