couple on trial in long island domestic slavery case

A follow-up on the case of two Indonesian women, known as Samirah and Enung, who say they were forced to live as prisoners and told to use the words "Master" and "Missus" when addressing the Long Island couple they served as live-in help for five years: From Stand in Long Island Slavery Case, a Snapshot of a Hidden U.S. Problem. The women were made to sleep in closets of their employers' multimillion-dollar home, forced to work day and night, threatened, tortured, beaten, deprived of adequate food, and never allowed out of the house except to take out the garbage.

Varsha and Mahender Sabhnani have been on trial in U.S. District Court for the past month, charged with "involuntary servitude and peonage," which is just a fancy federal criminal statute way of saying keeping slaves. "Modern-day slavery," as many are referring to the case. It's apparently a rarely prosecuted crime. But since passage of the 2000 federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act, prosecutions have increased steadily to about a dozen per year. The law is probably best known for its focus on prostitution and child-sex traffickers, but in the last few years a few highly publicized cases like this one have focused on the exploitation of domestic workers.

The Sabhnani's defense lawyers have characterized the two women as liars, practitioners of witchcraft, and inventors of a false claim designed to win them fast-track advantages that federal immigration law grants certain victims of torture and abuse (this, incidentally, is a common argument of defendants in slavery and trafficking cases). Whatever injuries the women many have suffered, the lawyers say, were self-inflicted in the practice on a traditional Indonesian folks cure known as kerokan. Please. Are they really trying to argue that Samirah and Enung were living the good life? The Sabhnanis will hopefully get what's coming to them...

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