Inside a suburban house not far from a busy shopping centre in the leafy southeastern Melbourne suburb of Mount Waverley allegedly lay a modern-day slave, incoherent and unable to move.
It was 2015 and behind closed doors in the picture-perfect suburb, often referred to as one of Melbourne’s “new blue-chip” areas, the woman was found emaciated and lying in her own urine on the bathroom floor, the Victorian Supreme Court heard this week.
Aged in her 50s, the Indian-born woman weighed just 40kg when she was found by authorities and taken to hospital.
The family who had allegedly enslaved her were well-respected in their own ethnic community, the father a university-educated former private schoolboy.
They were active members of the community in the suburbs clustered around Mount Waverley.
The court heard that when requests were made for the return of the woman to her own family back in Tamil Naidu in southern India, the respected wife allegedly responded on at least one occasion in an email with “get f***ed”.
The court heard that, in 2015, the woman was admitted to intensive care at Box Hill Hospital after collapsing.
She had diabetes, was suffering from sepsis and with a temperature of just 28.5C(normal is around 37C) also had hypothermia, the court heard.
“She was found in her own urine, in a puddle on the bathroom floor and shivering,” prosecutor Richard Maidment, QC, told the court.
The woman told authorities she had survived mainly on tea and occasional bowls of rice.
Six years later, the husband and wife accused of being her captors have pleaded not guilty at their trial.
The accused, who can only be referred to by the initials KK and KK and are now aged in their 50s, have been charged under Commonwealth law with one count each of possessing and using a slave.
The Supreme Court heard the couple had met the woman, who cannot be identified, on a visit to the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
Before she was allegedly enslaved, the woman visited Australia twice to work for the couple and was able to return home to India.
The court heard the woman visited Australia twice before returning for a third visit in 2007, when relations soured and she was thereafter allegedly kept against her will and not paid.
Prosecutors allege she was unable to leave for eight years and received only “the odd $5 or $10 note here and there that might have been given to her on her birthday”.
“The origins of the whole arrangement were that [the victim] would be paid,” Maidment told the court.
“She worked very hard. During the whole of the eight years … she’ll say to you that all she received by the way of payment in Australia” were the occasional $5 and $10 notes.
The court heard the woman cared for the couple’s three children, cooked and folded clothes.
The court heard that as time went on, her contact with her own family back in India became more intermittent.
When the woman collapsed, Mrs KK called an ambulance.
Police interviewed the woman in hospital and she allegedly told them she was not allowed to talk to investigators without her alleged female captor present.
“She feared that [the accused] would not return her to India and would not pay her the money she was owed for the work she had done,” Maidment told the court.
When the family went on holidays for month-long trips, the woman was locked in the home with some of the doors sealed shut, he said.
Initially the woman didn’t tell police how long she had been in the country or the “mistreatment” she endured because she feared she wouldn’t be able to return to India, the court heard.
The prosecutors allege the couple had such a level of control over the woman’s rights and freedoms that it was slavery.
The court heard they allegedly controlled her right to communicate with others, freedom of movement and her rights to health care and payment for work.
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