Northern Ireland

Domestic servitude: First arrest in Northern Ireland

Woman with head in hands - generic image

A man has been arrested in east Belfast on suspicion of domestic servitude, the first arrest of its kind in Northern Ireland according to police.

The 33-year-old was arrested on Tuesday by detectives from the PSNI's Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking Unit.

A 25-year-old woman has also been arrested by police in Scotland as part of the investigation and will be brought to Northern Ireland.

Police have not released details about the alleged victim.

The arrests were made as part of an operation which has been ongoing for more than 16 months, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said.

Documentation and mobile phones were also seized as part of searches.

Police do not believe the incident is linked to a wider network and said both of those arrested are from an African country, which detectives have not named.

They said the the alleged victim told officers she was held for six years after being brought to Northern Ireland.

'Unseen crime'

Det Insp Mark Bell, head of the PSNI's Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking Unit, said domestic servitude is often seen as an "unseen crime", which is difficult to detect.

"Criminals prey on vulnerable people, and they control them through fear," he said.

Image caption PSNI Det Insp Mark Bell called for help from the public

He called for the public to look out for potential warning signs.

These included a person having someone else talk for them, not having access to their own finances, and not having access to their own identification documents.

He said police intervention depended on the public taking action.

"Most victims we speak to say there has been an opportunity missed for the public to intervene," he said.

What is domestic servitude?

Domestic servitude is a type of human trafficking, which involves victims working in private residences in what can appear to be normal practice.

Victims can be made to work extensive hours carrying out domestic tasks, but receiving no pay for their work.

It is considered an offence once a person is unable to leave a residence of their own free will.

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