Three women have been held in slavery for 30 years, in a regular house in south London. For most people, that will come as a shock. These things could happen somewhere else, possibly once in Austria a few years ago, such as in the Natascha Kampusch case, but in London? Are we shocked? Yes. Am I surprised? Unfortunately not.
Modern slavery is all too common all over the world, and the UK is no different. Only last year, more than 1,000 people were referred to the authorities as potential victims of slavery, and there are many more hidden away who are being forced to work for little or nothing on farms, in factories, in restaurants, in building sites, in private homes, and in brothels.
More must be done to tackle it. It is good to see that the Government is discussing a new law to tackle modern slavery. The current legislation on trafficking is too complex and fragmented, which is one of the reasons why the prosecutions are shockingly rare.
The fact that the women held in south London are from different countries shows that slavery can affect every nationality equally. Unfortunately, here at Anti-Slavery International we have found that too often the protection isn’t available for those from outside the European Union who find themselves in the UK illegally and are treated merely as illegal immigrants, rather than victims of crime.
That protection is crucial, not only for the traumatised to rebuild their lives, but also to build their trust in the authorities so they can work with them to catch and prosecute the criminals who enslaved them.
We hope these women will be able fully to enjoy their new-found freedom soon. We also hope thousands of others in slavery will be offered the same chance. Unfortunately, much must be done to achieve that.
Aidan McQuade is a director of Anti-Slavery International