Australian husband and wife, Joshua and Sheila McAleer, from Sydney have pled guilty to charges of forcing someone to work for them from November 2014 to October 2016.
In 2014, the couple paid a three-month tourist visa for a woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, to travel from the Philippines to Australia. Despite the visa category, they employed her as a carer and cleaner for three months. However, when the three months were up, she was told that she had to work off the money paid to bring her to Australia.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald,
Court documents state that Mrs McAleer told the woman words to the effect of: “You cannot go home until you pay me for your travel expenses.
“If you go back before you pay me back I know people in the Philippines in the police and higher up and who I can hire to harm you or your family if you go home early.”
She then also began to work in the Filipino grocery store that they owned. She worked six to seven days a week, was not paid enough, according to the state prosecutor, to be able to afford a taxi to the airport, and was restricted in where she could go.
She finally escaped in 2016. The couple tried to have her located by a private investigator, pretending she was the fiancée of the Mr. McAleer. But the police received a tip from the NGO Anti-Slavery Australia and the couple was summoned to court.
The guilty couple has offered to compensate her $70,000.
According to their lawyer,
“The impetus of these offences … was for economic advantage for each of the offenders: it provided them with their lifestyle … to the disadvantage of the victim. The disadvantage of the victim is being addressed by payment of compensation.”
But the presiding judge disagrees. She stated that the woman suffered not just from not being paid for her work but also “someone who finds themselves in a position where they have no choice but to engage in this conduct.” In other words, the harm is also in the coercion. Indeed, the survivor shared anxiety and trust issues following her experience. Fortunately, she says, “happiness is starting to come back.”