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Charges brought against Long Island couple for slavery


Immediate Release
May 25, 2007

Case is ‘typical’ of modern-day slavery in U.S., American Anti-Slavery Group says

Former slaves and slavery experts available for interviews

Boston: Federal charges have been brought against a wealthy couple for keeping to Indonesian women as slaves in their home on Long Island. The women were abused for years, starved and forced to work without the pay that had been promised to them.

“In our experience working with survivors and cases we have been involved with, this case is typical of modern-day slavery in the United States,” American Anti-Slavery Group (AASG) Executive Director Janie Kiser said.

One such case, in 2004, involved an Indian woman being held as a domestic slave in Brookline, a wealthy neighborhood of Boston.

In both cases, it was the action of ordinary citizens who made the calls that allowed the victims to escape their enslavers – a concerned neighbor in 2004 who made a call to AASG; and, in Long Island, a man who encountered one of the women outside a Dunkin’ Donuts wearing only pants and a towel.

In both cases, also, both physical and psychological violence were employed to maintain a hold on the victims. Their passports were taken for “safekeeping” and they were never paid the wages they were promised.

“We are often asked why enslaved people don’t ‘just run away.’ The answer is in the extreme violence they experience, and in their very human need to maintain their dignity by convincing themselves that they will eventually receive compensation. The shame associated with toiling under impossible conditions to realize that they will reap nothing from their work could destroy the spirit entirely,” Kiser said.

Beatrice Fernando was held as a domestic slave in Lebanon. “I turned into a machine,” she said. “My body no longer registered pain; I had no more tears left to cry. I got used to sleepless nights and visions of food rather than the real thing.”

Fernando eventually escaped by jumping off her employer’s fourth-floor balcony.

Kiser says there are two important lessons to be taken from this recent case, as it is not isolated. The first is that slavery is a problem all around us, even in ’good’ neighborhoods. The other lesson is that ordinary people can make a phone call and rescue someone in need.

For more information on how to recognize the signs of slavery, or to set up an interview with Janie Kiser or Beatrice Fernando, please contact the American Anti-Slavery Group at 617-426-8161 or toll free at 1-800-884-0719.


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