Melbourne couple accused of keeping slave

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A Melbourne couple will face court today charged with modern-day slavery offences after allegedly keeping a female victim in “domestic servitude” at their Point Cook home for eight months.

Australian Federal Police charged the 44-year-old man and 29-year-old woman in November after a starting an investigation the previous month, “following a report from a healthcare partner concerned about a woman who was allegedly exhibiting indicators of human trafficking”.

Police executed search warrants at the Point Cook home on October 27

The man was charged with possessing a slave, using coercion and threats to cause another person to enter into and remain in servitude, and exercising control over a slave.

In April, the woman was charged by summons with the same three offences.

Police will allege the couple exercised coercive control over the other woman, subjected her to physical assaults and controlled her movements.

If convicted they each face a maximum penalty of 25 years’ imprisonment.

They will appear in Melbourne Magistrates Court today.

A Melbourne man, 44, has been charged with modern-day slavery offences. Picture: AFPA Melbourne man, 44, has been charged with modern-day slavery offences. Picture: AFP

AFP Detective Superintendent Simone Butcher said in a statement police actively engaged in education for first responders, healthcare professionals, and the community to help them recognise the indicators of human trafficking and slavery.

“Everyone can play a role in stopping human trafficking,” she said.

“We encourage anyone who suspects human trafficking or sees something suspicious to report it. Without the assistance of the community — in this case healthcare professionals — victims may go undetected and we would not be able to provide victims the help and support they need.”

Ms Butcher said human trafficking can “encompass a range of allegations, from forced marriage and child trafficking to deceptive recruiting or forced labour”.

“Human trafficking is an insidious crime type and is often hidden in plain sight,” she said.

“This crime relies on vulnerable people not knowing help is available and that police will support them. In Australia, the AFP is here to help victims of human trafficking.”

She said the AFP’s main message to victims is that “your wellbeing and safety is our priority”.

The couple were charged after a tip-off from a healthcare worker. Picture: AFPThe couple were charged after a tip-off from a healthcare worker. Picture: AFP

“Your situation isn’t hopeless, help is available and the AFP can protect through a range of measures that don’t necessarily involve arrests and charges,” she said.

“Human trafficking investigators work tirelessly to help victims struggling through atrocious slavery-like situations and to ensure they are removed from harmful situations. Where possible, we also ensure their abusers face the full extent of the law.”

According to the Global Slavery Index report released on Wednesday by human rights group Walk Free, the number of people living in modern slavery in Australia has more than doubled in the past four years amid a rise in migrant workers.

While the report ranked Australia second only to the UK in terms of government actions to address the issue, it nevertheless estimated that at any given time there are up to 41,000 people living in modern slavery.

The report made three “high-priority recommendations” for the Australian government:

• “Amend the Marriage Act to set the minimum age of marriage at 18, without exception, removing provisions that allow children to marry under 18 with parental and judicial consent.”

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• “Enact legislation recognising that victims should not be treated as criminals for conduct that occurred while under control of their exploiter and ensure the law is enforced.”

• “Remove laws or policies that prevent or make it difficult for workers to leave abusive employers without risk of loss of visa and deportation and/or security deposits.”

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