British Police Say ‘Invisible Handcuffs’ Restrained Women for 30 Years
By STEPHEN CASTLE and KATRIN BENNHOLD
Published: November 22, 2013
LONDON — Police detectives investigating the case of three women who claim to have been held against their will for 30 years said Friday that the victims had been brainwashed and imprisoned by “invisible handcuffs” in an unremarkable house in South London.
A police commander leading the investigation also revealed that a couple in their 60s, arrested Thursday on suspicion of holding the three women, had also been detained in the 1970s, but he refused to elaborate. The two suspects, both 67 and unidentified under police protocol, were released on bail late on Thursday after surrendering their passports.
“What we have uncovered so far is a complicated and disturbing picture of emotional control over many years,” Commander Steve Rodhouse of the Metropolitan Police said at a news conference. “Brainwashing would be a simple term, but I think that belittles the years of emotional abuse these victims have had to endure.”
Commander Rodhouse said the case was different from others involving domestic servitude because it was “not as brutally obvious as women being physically restrained inside an address and not being allowed to leave.”
Through careful questioning of the traumatized victims, the police are trying to determine “what were the invisible handcuffs that were used to exert such a degree of control over these women,” he added.
A Malaysian woman, 69, an Irishwoman, 57, and a British woman, 30, were freed from the house in the Lambeth district last month after one of the women contacted a charity that helps victims of forced marriage, the police said Thursday. They said the youngest woman had apparently been held captive her entire life.
The police said the suspects in the case were not British but declined to identify their nationality.
The police say that at least one of the victims complained of beatings. However, all this went on behind the facade of an “unremarkable” house, Commander Rodhouse said.
“To all intents and purposes, to the outside world this may have appeared to be a normal family,” with both the suspects and the victims probably coming into contact with public services, he added.
Kevin Hyland, a detective inspector in the Metropolitan Police’s Human Trafficking Unit, said on Thursday that there was no evidence that the women had been sexually abused.
But an official close to the investigation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media, said that at least one of the women might have been forcibly married to the man in the house.