23 Nov 2013
November 23, 2013

Slaves to Cliche

1 Comment

The big South London slavery case isn’t really looking like a slavery case at all, is it?  It’s certainly at the extreme end of strange, and seems to have involved extensive control being exerted over 3 women. But so far there hasn’t been a hint of slavery in any conventional, or even unconventional, sense.  So why’s it still being reported (as I write – late Saturday afternoon) as ‘slavery’?

So far, we’ve seen a parade of knowledgable and very worthy slavery experts on telly, talking about how human trafficking happens and how women can be forced into a kind of bonded labour once they arrive in the UK in debt to their captors.  We’ve had the anti-human trafficking tsar on radio and we’ve had Frank Field MP, another anti-human trafficking tsar of some sort, on TV. Yet all the details we have at the moment suggest that literally none of the criteria for human trafficking exist in this case.

The women seem to have been Londoners when their ordeal began (at least one from birth) and two of them appear to be white. The cops have said there’s no evidence of sexual abuse.  The human trafficking narrative looks like a complete red herring, and the ‘slavery’ epithet unfounded at best.  At the moment, the case is looking much more like a strange and distorted power relationship which has resulted from cult-like behaviour rather than anything which has a particular ethnic dimension to it.

Perhaps the fact that the women in question rang an organisation with a mission related to minority ethnic communities led the media to make assumptions about slavery and trafficking rather than cults and such like, I really don’t know.  And it’s super that this call effected their release.  But I have a distinct sense that two things, at least, are dragging our eyes away from wherever the truth of it all lies.

The first is the interest charities and campaign groups have in jumping on any story which comes along in order to flag their own agenda, whether it’s relevant or not – they have spokespeople readily available and that’s convenient for the media. The second, although this is much more tenuous I accept, is that perhaps our authorities and media hear the terms ‘captive’ and ‘ethnic minorities’ and put all these things into the same bag alongside human trafficking and slavery? If that is so, then the charities and spokespeople on human-trafficking/slavery may just have helped make that tendency worse.