It was presented to us as another Fritzl-like horror, involving three ‘enslaved women’, at least one of whom had ‘spent her whole life in captivity’ and had ‘never seen the outside world’. Or it was Britain’s own version of the recent Cleveland, Ohio case, in which Ariel Castro kidnapped three women from the streets and shackled them to immoveable objects in his house where he abused them for 10 years. In fact, it was worse than Cleveland, suggested the Mirror, because where those American women only suffered for a decade, these British-based women went through a ‘30-year nightmare of captivity, servitude and unimaginable brutality’. It was, in a nutshell, the worst-ever case of hidden human enslavement, the papers told us. ‘No known victims have spent so long in captivity being brainwashed, beaten, manipulated and terrorised’, one said.
We now know that these claims about the so-called ‘Brixton slaves’ are, to use the only term that will suffice, bullshit. Everything that has subsequently come to light, everything that has unfolded in the six days since these ‘slaves’ were ‘rescued’ from some kind of one-time Maoist commune, has called into question the initial claims made by the police, the highly dramatised narrative imposed on these events by the media, and the hyperbolic descriptions of the case by politicians desperate to appear as modern-day William Wilberforces combatting the evils of ‘slavery’. Indeed, the key question that must now be asked is not ‘How did three women end up in a grim commune?’ (let’s leave that to the police), but rather: ‘Why did the entire British media and the political class, along with campaigners and the Twitterati, so willingly and gullibly buy a horror story that was not true?’
So almost everything we were told about the Brixton case has turned out either to be untrue or to have been wildly exaggerated or dramatised. These were not slaves. They were not held captive. They were not denied contact with the outside world. Rather, what we seem to be dealing with is, quite simply, a very, very eccentric household, in which various people came together, did and believed very strange things, developed an obsession with Mao and conspiracy theories about the British ‘fascist state’, and then ended up regretting it all — well, three of women seem to have regretted it. And so they left. Voluntarily. Without a struggle. It sounds like it was all very unpleasant; it seems clear emotional manipulation was involved and possibly physical force too (but let’s allow the courts to decide that). But slavery? Fritzl-style abuse? Hell, horror, unimaginable brutality? There is nothing remotely resembling evidence to show that anything like that occurred.
So why did the media, politicians, feminists and campaigners lap up this half-cooked, shrill, mostly baseless fantasy about slaves stuck in suburban jails in London? Because it spoke to their already existing prejudices; because it seemed to confirm the darker thoughts that lurk in their heads, about wicked men, vulnerable women, and the unspeakable things that happen in ‘ordinary houses on ordinary streets’; because it allowed them to feel, temporarily, like history-making moral crusaders against evil, and to hell with anything so pesky as a fact. Aneeta Prem, head of the Freedom Charity that assisted the women and drove much of the dramatic talk about ‘domestic servitude’ and ‘rescue’, yesterday said there was too much media frenzy around the case and ‘the more information there is that comes into the public domain, the more it will hamper [the women’s] recovery’. So there’s a problem with having too much information about this case? Why? Might it be because the information so dramatically contradicts the fantasy put about by Prem and others about a group of slaves having been held captive in London for three decades?