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How Ireland Turned ‘Fallen Women’ Into Slaves

How Ireland Turned ‘Fallen Women’ Into Slaves


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When the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity decided to sell some land they owned in Dublin, Ireland, to pay their debts in 1992, the nuns followed the proper procedures. They petitioned officials for permission to move the bodies of women buried in the cemetery at their Donnybrook laundry, which between 1837 and 1992 served as a workhouse and home for “fallen women.”

But the cemetery at Donnybrook was no ordinary resting place: It was a mass grave. Inside were the bodies of scores of unknown women: the undocumented, uncared-about inmates of one of Ireland’s notorious Magdalene laundries. Their lives—and later their deaths—had been shrouded in secrecy.

For more than two centuries, women in Ireland were sent to institutions like Donnybrook as a punishment for having sex outside of marriage. Unwed mothers, flirtatious women and others deemed unfit for society were forced to labor under the strict supervision of nuns for months or years, sometimes even for life.

When the mass grave at Donnybrook was discovered, the 155 unmarked tombs touched off a scandal that exposed the extent and horrors of the Magdalene laundries. As women came forward to share their experiences of being held against their will in restrictive workhouses, the Irish public reacted with outrage.

READ MORE: America’s Forgotten Mass Imprisonment of Women Believed to Be Sexually Immoral

When the Magdalene Movement first took hold in the mid-18th century, the campaign to put “fallen women” to work was supported by both the Catholic and Protestant churches, with women serving short terms inside the asylums with the goal of rehabilitation. Over the years, however, the Magdalene laundries—named for the Biblical figure Mary Magdalene—became primarily Catholic institutions, and the stints grew longer and longer. Women sent there were often charged with “redeeming themselves” through lace-making, needlework or doing laundry.

Though most residents had not been convicted of any crime, conditions inside were prison-like. “Redemption might sometimes involve a variety of coercive measures, including shaven heads, institutional uniforms, bread and water diets, restricted visiting, supervised correspondence, solitary confinement and even flogging,”writes historian Helen J. Self.

Ireland’s first such institution, the Magdalen Asylum for Penitent Females in Dublin, was founded by the Protestant Church of Ireland in 1765. At the time, there was a worry that prostitution in Irish cities was on the rise and that “wayward” women who had been seduced, had sex outside of marriage, or gotten pregnant out of wedlock were susceptible to becoming prostitutes. Soon, parents began to send their unmarried daughters to the institutions to hide their pregnancies.

Initially, a majority of women entered the institutionsvoluntarily and served out multi-year terms in which they learned a “respectable” profession. The idea was that they’d employ these skills to earn money after being released; their work supported the institution while they were there.

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But over time, the institutions became more like prisons, with many different groups of women being routed through the system, sometimes by the Irish government. There were inmates imported from psychiatric institutions and jails, women with special needs, victims of rape and sexual assault, pregnant teenagers sent there by their parents, and girls deemed too flirtatious or tempting to men. Others were there for no obvious reason. Though the institutions were run by Catholic orders, they were supported by the Irish government, which funneled money toward the system in exchange for laundry services.

Nuns ruled the laundries with impunity, sometimes beating inmates and enforcing strict rules of silence. “You didn’t know when the next beating was going to come,”said survivor Mary Smith in an oral history.

Smith was incarcerated in the Sundays Well laundry in Cork after being raped; nuns told her it was “in case she got pregnant.” Once there, she was forced to cut her hair and take on a new name. She was not allowed to talk and was assigned backbreaking work in the laundry, where nuns regularly beat her for minor infractions and forced her to sleep in the cold. Due to the trauma she suffered, Smith doesn’t remember exactly how long she spent in Sundays Well. “To me it felt like my lifetime,” she said.

Smith wasn’t alone. Often, women’s names were stripped from them; they were referred to by numbers or as “child” or “penitent.” Some inmates—often orphans or victims of rape or abuse—stayed there for a lifetime; others escaped and were brought back to the institutions.

Another survivor, Marina Gambold, was placed in a laundry by her local priest. She recalls being forced to eat off the floor after breaking a cup and getting locked outside in the cold for a minor infraction. “I was working in the laundry from eight in the morning until about six in the evening,” she told the BBC in 2013. “I was starving with the hunger, I was given bread and dripping for my breakfast.”

Some pregnant woman were transferred to homes for unwed mothers, where they bore and temporarily lived with their babies and worked in conditions similar to those of the laundries. Babies were usually taken from their mothers and handed over to other families. In one of the most notorious homes, the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, scores of babies died. In 2014, remains of at least 796 babies were found in a septic tank in the home’s yard; the facility is still being investigated to reconstruct the story of what happened there.

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How did such an abusive system endure for 231 years in Ireland? To start with, any talk of harsh treatment at the Magdalene laundries and mothers’ homes tended to be dismissed by the public, since the institutions were run by religious orders. Survivors who told others what they had been through were often shamed or ignored. Other women were too embarrassed to talk about their past and never told anyone about their experiences. Details on both the inmates and their lives are scant.

Estimates of the number of women who went through Irish Magdalene laundries vary, and most religious orders haverefused to provide archival information for investigators and historians. Up to 300,000 women are thought to have passed through the laundries in total, at least 10,000 of them since 1922. But despite a large number of survivors, the laundries went unchallenged until the 1990s.

Then, the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity decided to sell some of its land in 1992. They applied to have 133 bodies moved from unmarked graves on the property, but the remains of 155 people were found. When journalists learned that only 75 death certificates existed, startled community members cried out for more information. The nunsexplained there had been an administrative error, cremated all of the remains, and reburied them in another mass grave.

The discovery turned the Magdalene laundries from an open secret to front-page news. Suddenly, women began to testify about their experiences at the institutions, and to pressure the Irish government to hold the Catholic Church accountable and to pursue cases with the United Nations for human rights violations. Soon, the UN urged the Vatican to look into the matter, stating that “girls [at the laundries] were deprived of their identity, of education and often of food and essential medicines and were imposed with an obligation of silence and prohibited from having any contact with the outside world.”

As the Catholic Church remained silent, the Irish government released a report that acknowledged extensive government involvement in the laundries and the deep cruelty of the institutions. In 2013, Ireland’s presidentapologized to the Magdalene women and announced a compensation fund. However, the religious groups that ran the laundries have refused to contribute to the fund and have turned away researchers looking for more information about the laundries.

Due in part to the uproar surrounding the discovery of the mass grave, the last Magdalene laundry finally closed in 1996. Known as the Gloucester Street Laundry, it was home to 40 women, most of them elderly and many with developmental disabilities. Nine had no known relatives; all decided to stay with the nuns.

Although Smith managed to reclaim her own life, she understands the damage that long-term institutionalization can inflict. “My body went into shellshock when I went there. When that door closed, my life was over,” Smith recalled in her oral history. “You see all these women there and you know you’re going to end up like them and be psychologically damaged for the rest of your life.”


Recalling Africa’s harrowing tale of its first slavers – The Arabs – as UK Slave Trade Abolition is commemorated

The 25th March was, as usual, commemorated as t he day Britain officially abolished its Slave Trade in 1807. But how many recall that Arab slavers were the first, and last, in modern times to ship millions of Africans out of the continent as slaves? And that Arab slavers preferred more African women to men? We revisit our archives for this insightful reminder by George Pavlu.

In his book, Slaves and Slavery, published in 1998, the British writer Duncan Clarke defines slavery as “the reduction of fellow human beings to the legal status of chattels, allowing them to be bought and sold as goods”. This, in essence, is what both the Arabs and Europeans did to Africans, to justify the shipping of millions of Africans as slaves to far-away lands in Asia (in particular, the Middle East) and the Americas.

“The African slave trade, surely one of the most tragic and disturbing episodes in the history of mankind,” Clarke writes, “had its origins in the intervention of forces from the civilisations that developed in the regions of the Mediterranean sea — today’s Europe and the Middle East — into the arena of the more fragmented civilisations of sub-Saharan Africa.

“Africa became a source of slaves for the cultures of the Mediterranean world many centuries before the discovery of the Americas, but it was that discovery and the resulting shift in focus towards the Atlantic that prompted the culminating explosive growth in slavery with such tragic effect.”

Slavery, in fact, was a central feature of life in the Mediterranean world, especially in Mesopotamia, ancient Egypt, Greece, Imperial Rome and the Islamic societies of the Middle East and North Africa.

Then, between 1600 and 1800, another 1.4 million Africans were shipped out by the Arabs. The 19th century represented the highest point of the Arabian trade where 12,000 Africans were shipped out every year. The total figure for the 19th century alone was 1.2 million slaves to Arabia.

“The most important source of slaves in medieval Europe,” Clarke’s research shows, “was the coast of Bosnia on the eastern shores of the Adriatic Sea. The word ‘slave’ and its cognates in most modern European languages is itself derived from ‘sclavus’ meaning ‘slav’, the ethnic name for the inhabitants of this region…

“For various reasons, including the harshness of the terrain and endemic warfare among local clans, Bosnia proved the most convenient and long-lasting of these slave-supplying regions. Whichever clan gained a temporary upper hand was always willing to sell its captured rivals in exchange for the goods of the Mediterranean world in the markets of the ancient Romanised city of Ragusa (present day Dubrovnik). From there, Slavs were shipped as slaves by Venetian merchants, to supply new markets in the Islamic world.”

Thus, “for the Islamic world,” Clarke continues, “Slavs provided the major source of slaves in the 250 or so years between the defeat at the battle of Poitiers in AD 732 that forced the consolidation of their dramatic conquests across North Africa and the Iberian peninsula, cutting back the flow of war captives, and the expansion of the im port of black Africans across the Sahara from around AD 1000.”

The trade in slaves ended when the Ottoman Turk s conquered the region in 1463. “The effective closure of the last major source of slaves on the European continent,” says Clarke, “thus co-incidentally took place at the same time as the Portuguese explorations of the West African coast which were to open up the second and most devastating route for the exploitation of Africans as slaves.”

Figures on the Arab slave trade in Africa are hard to come by, but the historian Paul Lovejoy estimates that some 9.85 million Africans were shipped out as slaves to Arabia and, in small numbers, to the Indian subcontinent. Lovejoy breaks his figures down as follows:

Between AD 650 and 1600, an average of 5,000 Africans were shipped out by the Arabs. This makes a rough total of 7.25 million.

Then, between 1600 and 1800, another 1.4 million Africans were shipped out by the Arabs. The 19th century represented the highest point of the Arabian trade where 12,000 Africans were shipped out every year. The total figure for the 19th century alone was 1.2 million slaves to Arabia.

The numbers game

Thus, in terms of numbers, Arabia’s 9.85 million is not far behind the conservative estimate of nearly 12 million African victims of the Atlantic slave trade. Some African historians, though, reject these figures on the grounds that they are too low. They suggest over 50 million Africans were shipped out during the Atlantic trade alone.

According to Lovejoy, another 4.1 million Africans were shipped across the Red Sea to the Persian Gulf and India. “This trade also, with the notable exception of some Portuguese involvement in the area of Mozambique, and of 18th and 19th century French exports to islands under their control in the Indian Ocean, was largely conducted by Muslims,” adds Duncan Clarke.

Through out the 19th century, the Omani Arab rulers of Zanzibar shipped hundreds of thousands of African slaves to work on clove plantations on the island. It was this trade that gave Europe and America so much satisfaction, after abolishing their own trade in African slaves, to highlight the wickedness of the Arab slavers who continued to enslave Africans well into the first decades of the 20th century. Even to this day, Arab slavers are still at work in Sudan and Mauritania, buying and selling black Africans.

David Livingstone, the British missionary/traveller/explorer was so upset by the way the Arabs treated their African slaves that he wrote back home in 1870:

“In less than I take to talk about it, these unfortunate creatures — 84 of them, wended their way into the village where we were. Some of them, the eldest, were women from 20 to 22 years of age, and there were youths from 18 to 19, but the large majority was made up of boys and girls from 7 years to 14 or 15 years of age.

“A more terrible scene than these men, women and children, I do not think I ever came across. To say that they were emaciated would not give you an idea of what human beings can undergo under certain circumstances. “Each of them had his neck in a large forked stick, weigh ing from 30 to 40 pounds, and five or six feet long, cut with a fork at the end of it where the branches of a tree spread out. “T he women were tethered with bark thongs, which are, of all things, the most cruel to be tied with. Of course they are soft and supple when first striped off the trees, but a few hours in the sun make them about as hard as the iron round packing-cases. The little children were fastened by thongs to their mothers. “As we passed along the path which these slaves had travelled, I was shown a spot in the bushes where a poor woman the day before, unable to keep on the march, and likely to hinder it, was cut down by the axe of one of these slave drivers. “We went on further and were shown a p lace where a child lay. It had been been recently born, and its mother was unable to carry it from debility and exhaustion so the slave trader had taken this little infant by its feet and dashed its brains out against one of the trees and thrown it in there.”

Such was the brutality meted out to the Africans by the Arabs. Like the Atlantic trade, the Arabian trade’s “middle passage” was equally as horrible and terrifying. The “middle passage” describes the harrowing journey lasting several months from Africa’s west coast to the Americas during which millions of Africans, packed like sardines in the slave ships, died of thirst, hunger, rough seas, and sometimes from the sheer brutality inflicted by the European slavers.

David Livingstone, the British missionary/traveller/explorer was so upset by the way the Arabs treated their African slaves that he wrote back home in 1870:“In less than I take to talk about it, these unfortunate creatures — 84 of them, wended their way into the village where we were. Some of them, the eldest, were women from 20 to 22 years of age, and there were youths from 18 to 19, but the large majority was made up of boys and girls from 7 years to 14 or 15 years of age.

In the Arabian trade, the trudge across the Sahara, in leg and neck chains, and as Livingstone describes above, necks in large forked sticks and hands tied with bark thongs, was particularly harsh on the African slaves.

Says Duncan Clarke: “The hardships of these long marches across the desert were considerable, and much later travellers reported that the routes were lined with the parched skeletons of those who succumbed to exhaustion and thirst along the way.”

The Arab slavers did not only march their African captives to Arabia, they also sometimes sold them to European slavers.

In modern times, the popular image of African slavery springs from the vision of a tormented male suffering under the lash of unceasing labour on some “New World” sugar plantation. Yet the real face of servitude finds its focus in the forced migration of millions of girls and young women across the Sahara and the Horn of Africa in to the institutions of Islamic concubinage.

Why they preferred women

While in the European “New W o r ld ”, the measure of a man’s stature was mapped out and calibrated on the physical dimensions of empire built upon the sinews of forced masculine labour, in the Islamic Orient wealth was a reflection of prestige, young girls the vessel of male h u b r is , th e mats of male pleasure ground, the malleable material to be shaped to the master’s will.

Thus, women slaves in the Arab world were often turned into concubines living in harems, and rarely as wives, their children becoming free. A large number of male slaves and young boys were castrated and turned into eunuchs who kept watch over the harems. Castration was a particularly brutal operation with a survival rate of only 10%.

“The combined effect of all these factors,” says Duncan Clarke, “was a steady demand for slaves throughout the Islamic world, which had cover story to be met from wars, raids or purchases along the borders with non-Islamic regions. Although some of these slaves came from Russia, the Balkans and central Asia, the continuing expansion of Islamic regimes in sub-Saharan Africa made black Africans, the major source.”

So invasive was the practice of slavery into the economic, political, demographic, cultural, social and religious life of Africa and persisted for so many centuries, that while its effects varied both geographically and temporally in intensity, slavery out-distances in scale and scope any single or combination of disasters — natural or man-made, which descended upon the continent.

Thus, women slaves in the Arab world were often turned into concubines living in harems, and rarely as wives, their children becoming free. A large number of male slaves and young boys were castrated and turned into eunuchs who kept watch over the harems. Castration was a particularly brutal operation with a survival rate of only 10%.

Slavery unquestionably checked population growth in Africa and consequentially placed tremendous pressure upon gender and marital relationships during the three critical centuries of European expansion to global domination.

In this sense, the feminine-oriented Arab slave trade, though neither motivated nor executed with economic benefits as prime objective, caused far greater demographic damage and consequently greater economic decline, with its excessive poaching of the reproductive potential of the harvested areas.

The impact on Africa

No people are blank slates upon which can be inscribed untold miseries and expect no account thereof. The Arab slave trade began long before the Islamic conquest of Africa, remained at relatively low level compared to the Atlantic slave trade and did not become illegal or abolished, and was maintained till well after the colonisation of Africa. The Arabian trade was outlawed in Ethiopia only in 1935 in order to gain international support against the Italian invasion.

In the Atlantic trade, the slaves came predominantly from Africa’s west coast with a male/female ratio of two-to-one. In the Arabian trade, the slaves were exclusively from the Savannah and the Horn of Africa, and favoured females over males at a ratio nearing three-to-one.

When slavery in the Black Sea area (the traditional source of the best grade female slaves for the Arab market) dried up, it triggered an even greater demand for Ethiopian “red” slaves, in particular the Galla and Oromo on account of their unquestioned beauty and willing sexual temperament.

And while the Europeans paid a higher price for male slaves than females, the reverse was the case with the Arabs. Moreover, while the European/New World slavers profited mainly from male labour, the Arabs saw profit in sexual satisfaction/reproductive potential. (Offspring of the union between Islamic master and female slave was born free, out of respect of the child’s Islamic paternity. Any offspring of the Atlantic trade were born into slavery).

“The laws of Islam ,” as the historian Hugh Thomas attests, “were in some ways more benign in respect of slavery than were those of Rome. Slaves were not to be treated as if they were animals. Slaves and freemen were equal from the point of view of God. The master did not have power of life and death over his slave property.”

But to the Africans shipped across the Red Sea, the “benign” Islamic laws provided little comfort — they were still slaves of Islamic masters who had unfettered sexual access to them (if they were female) or castrated and turned into eunuchs (if they were men).

The upshot of this gender profile of the respective slave-classes in the Atlantic/New World and the Arab/Oriental world explains the large and visible population of African origin in the New World where sexual relations between white and black was the exception while in the Arab world where miscegenation was the practice, the slave trade has left few visible traces.

So where are the descendants of the African slaves sent to Arabia/Orient? There are no large concentrations of them, anywhere in the Middle East or Asia.

Five years ago, a British TV documentary showed how poorly the descendants of African slaves in Pakistan are treated by the authorities. The racial discrimination was so bad that one of the African descendants recounted on camera how, even in sport, they were not picked to represent Pakistan at national and international levels no matter how good they were.

Population decline

The demographic effects of Arabian slavery on the source population (those left behind) cannot be overlooked, and specifically when considering the palpable effects on African fertility as a consequence of the grossly reduced female numbers.

To ensure survival, the Africans in the harvested areas adopted a variety of social measures, which were in practice as extreme as the circumstances called for. These revolved principally around the sexual purity of the population’s remaining female reproductive stock, as well as accelerating the female’s reproductive capacity.

Though the number of female slaves exported per annum from the Savannah and the Horn was far smaller than the numbers taken from the west coast in the Atlantic trade, the proportionate impact of the remaining at-brink Savanna/Horn populations was far more severe.

The Arabian trade reached a total of perhaps 5-8% of the source populations – and as mentioned earlier — as the proportion of females harvested was exceptionally high, this resulted in a massive surplus of males in the non-harvested population. Consequently the area experienced demographic stagnation bordering decline.

In 1600, the black African population was some 50 million — about 30% of the combined population of the New World, Europe, Middle East and North Africa. By 1800, the population had fallen to 20% of the total. In 1900, at the end of the slave trade, Africa’s population had fallen yet further to just over 10% of the total — the population now so collapsed as to negatively affect the continent’s labour intensive agricultural output.

In effect, while the populations of Europe and Asia increased year on year, Africa’s population declined dramatically due to the excessive poaching by the slavers, both Arab and European.

In Arabia, the slave class (principally female), unlike the New World slave class, could never maintain itself as a distinct social entity — principally because of miscegenation. This created an even greater demand for more and more new female slaves, and coupled with the frequent natural disasters of drought and famine in the Savannah/Horn, led many African families to offer their young girls in to slavery as a last hope of survival. There are many stories of long lines of hundreds of girls, mainly Oromos from Ethiopia, trudging across the Horn towards the Red Sea seeking enslavement.

Deprived of ideology, ritual, and the African rite of passage to adulthood and social membership, female slaves were uncommonly vulnerable to conversion to Islam (the benefits of manumission aside). Manumission describes a child born of a female slave and a free Islamic father is thus born free.

For the population remaining in Africa, it is in order to embark on some speculation as to what changes the trauma o f slavery may have wrought on African thought. The experience o f sudden turn o f fate (a common experience when confronted by the ever-present threat of slavers) tended to systematically undermine any efforts at long-term planning beyond the constant need to replace lost members.

Deprived of ideology, ritual, and the African rite of passage to adulthood and social membership, female slaves were uncommonly vulnerable to conversion to Islam (the benefits of manumission aside). Manumission describes a child born of a female slave and a free Islamic father is thus born free.

It is a mistake to equate the bare survival o f Africa with cultural or social or economic stagnation, for the slave trade visited such panoply of tragically interconnected disasters into the lives of every African for centuries, that they have worked their way into the very “racial memory” of the continent and its people, particularly females, that only with time and kindness can it be expunged from the psyche o f Africa.

As one commentator puts it: “Could it be true that the corrosive effects of four centuries of commerce in humans, with its temptation, its in -built opportunism, its reduction of humans to a cash value, its cycles of revenge and its inevitable physical brutality, have built lasting flaws into African pattern of thought and action?”


I was sold into sexual slavery

A few weeks ago, Megan Stephens got on a bus in a bustling city centre in the north of England. A man sat across the aisle from her. He was wearing sunglasses and had a moustache. For a horrible moment, she thought she recognised him.

“I just froze and missed my stop,” Megan says. “I was using my phone as a mirror to see if it was him. I was really paranoid.”

The man on the bus had exactly the same features as someone from her past. As a result of what that person did to Megan, I am not allowed to use her real name or describe where she lives. I can tell you that she is 25. Other than that, she has asked me not to mention any details which might undermine her anonymity.

Every one of Megan’s days is shaped by the fear that she will be discovered and that her true identity will be revealed. This is because 11 years ago, at the age of 14, Megan was trafficked into the sex industry.

According to the United Nations, she was one of an estimated 2.4 million people around the globe who are victims of human trafficking at any one time, 80% of whom are being exploited as sexual slaves. One woman can earn a trafficker between £500 and £1,000 a week and can be forced to have sex with multiple partners in a single day. Megan, however, claims she used to net her abusers a similar figure each day.

The man Megan saw fleetingly on the bus reminded her of one of her traffickers: “I felt more scared than I thought I would be,” she says. “I was on a bus full of people in the middle of the city and I was terrified. Absolutely terrified.” It wasn’t him.

Megan’s story is a horrifying one. It is a story of how a vulnerable teenage girl on holiday in Greece with her mother was trafficked into the sex industry and spent six years as a prostitute – in brothels, on the streets, in dingy hotel rooms – before finally making her escape from a life of relentless physical and sexual abuse. It is horrifying not only because of the sadistic violence she endured, but also because of how easily she seemed to slip into this spiral of depravity and how difficult she found it to get out.

“Your whole identity is robbed,” Megan says. “Unless you’ve been in that position, you can’t understand.”

We meet in a beige hotel, chosen for convenience and its lack of defining features. We are here to talk about Megan’s memoir, Bought & Sold, which has been produced with the help of a ghostwriter.

The ghostwriter, a kindly woman called Jane, sits with us, to provide reassurance.

Outside it is dark and raining. Megan drinks a cup of instant coffee as she talks. When she speaks, her words seem curiously disconnected from the overall neutrality of her demeanour. It feels as though I am looking at her through a pane of glass – her eyes are veiled, the lines of her face set deliberately not to show too much emotion. There is a dissonance between what she is saying and the way she is saying it, almost as though the only way she can get the sentences out is to be as calm and matter-of-fact as possible.

Megan says writing the book was “therapeutic” and helped her rediscover her voice. In a different life, she would have liked to have studied English literature at university.

“When I came out of it [the sex trade] I couldn’t speak to anyone,” Megan says. “I had no confidence. I flinched when someone shouted. I’ve been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder by a psychologist who talks about how I disassociate from my past. For me, it’s like it happened to someone else.”

Megan had a troubled upbringing. Her parents divorced when she was four and both her father and mother had problems with alcohol. Her childhood was chaotic and punctuated by fights: “I was never taught boundaries or rules or life skills.” At the age of 14, she went on holiday with her mother to Greece. She remembers, at the time, being “desperate to be loved”.

So when, on the first night away in a local bar in a seaside town, Megan caught the eye of Jak, a handsome Albanian man, and he started paying her attention, she responded. Within days she felt herself to be in love. Within weeks Megan had persuaded her mother not to return to England and had set up house with her new boyfriend.

Athens by night: Megan’s trafficker moved her to the capital where she was forced to have sex with many men every day. Photograph: Alamy

Why did her mother allow it? Megan shrugs. “She was not a well person back then.”

In the book Megan recounts how her mother had also struck up a relationship with a local bar owner. Greece seemed to offer them both the opportunity to start again. Her mother moved in with the bar owner Megan moved in with Jak.

“When we left England we left our lives, really,” Megan says. “There was nothing left behind for us.”

Jak, dark-haired and dark-eyed, was attentive and kind at first, despite the language barrier which meant that neither of them could communicate beyond a few words. By her own admission, Megan was deeply naive.

“He treated me so well,” she says now. “I just believed him. I loved him and he loved me pretty much instantly. He was charming, really.”

But as time went on, this “charm” turned into control. Jak’s moods could shift without warning. He started talking about how his mother was ill with cancer and how the family needed more money for treatment. He told Megan he dreamed of having children with her, of living in a nice, big house in the future. In order to make that happen, he explained, they would have to move to Athens, where his cousins could get them café work. Megan agreed, even though it meant leaving her mother behind.

But the café work turned out to be something else entirely, and once they got to Athens, Megan found herself at the mercy of a network of pimps and traffickers. At first she wasn’t sure what was happening. It was only when Jak gave her a cardboard box and deposited her outside an office building telling her to deliver it to a man on the top floor that she began to suspect something was awry: “I remember shaking and stumbling up the stairs, because something felt odd.”

A man opened the door to her, took her into a small, windowless room with a single bed. At the foot of the bed was a video camera mounted on a tripod.

“And that was it,” Megan says now. “He… just… raped me, really. He was filming it and I was paralysed, because I was really shocked.”

Afterwards, with blood on the bedsheets, the man gave her a wad of €50 notes. As Megan was leaving, she saw the cardboard box she had been asked to deliver contained several packets of condoms. It was the first time she had ever had sex.

What, I wonder, would the Megan sitting in front of me today say to that scared teenage version of herself if she had the chance?

“I don’t know… ‘Get out, you stupid girl’?” she says, phrasing it as a question. “I still blame myself. I’m struggling with it. I’ve got quite a lot of anger at myself.”

But Megan didn’t get out. She began having sex with strangers for money – up to eight “clients” a day. She was in love with Jak, she says, and would “do anything for him”. He made her think that escort work was the only way to raise enough money for them to be together. He would shower her with affection one minute and, the next, humiliate her in public. If she said she wanted to stop, he would threaten to kill her mother. Gradually her confidence was eroded to the point of no return. She was utterly reliant on Jak and his network of underworld associates for everything: clothes, food, transport.

For a while she was a streetwalker in Italy (“That was horrible… I was scared of the other women as well as the clients. They were very, very tough characters”) and then she was forced to work in a series of brothels where men would pay €20 for a grubby, two-minute encounter. “It was just the way they operated,” Megan says. “They [the men] were queuing up outside. There were 10 to 15 rooms in the same place and it’s just… literally, you don’t stop… If I did 40 to 50 people, that would be nothing. It wasn’t enough.”

On one particular night, she says she had sex with 110 men before being violently sick. The owner of that brothel closed up early when he saw how ill she was. “I thought that was decent of him,” Megan writes, “which shows just how distorted my sense of normality had become.”

In the book Megan’s narrative seems to exist outside normal chronology. She was in a mental fog for much of it. She was ill – underweight and exhausted. She contracted syphilis and salmonella six times. And if she misbehaved, there was violent retribution – on one occasion, she was punched in the face by Jak and dragged across the floor by the roof of her mouth. “Things like that happened all the time,” she says blankly. “I can taste the blood even now.”

At some point, Jak left and handed her over to another pimp called Christoph, who moved her around wherever the work might be – from hotel to brothel to private apartment. All the time her captors told Megan to send postcards to her mother (who was still living with the bar owner in Greece) telling her she was working in a café and happy with her new life in Athens. She agreed because she felt helpless and didn’t want to put her mother in danger. She was also ashamed.

“These traffickers are really, really clever,” Megan says. “I want people to understand it’s not as easy as getting up and leaving. I should have got up and gone, but I didn’t because of the mental power they had over me. It is really powerful. It’s actually like they’ve taken over what identity you have and turned you into their property, a thing to be controlled. Robotic is the right word.”

This seems incredible, especially when Megan writes in the book that she helped a Polish girl escape by asking a rich client to book her a plane ticket back home. She says it simply never occurred to her to do the same for herself. Her own sense of worth had been diminished to such an extent that she no longer knew her own mind. And she was still only a teenager. She had been given no chance to grow into an adult capable of making her own decisions.

‘I don’t value sex at all. I think it’s horrible’: Megan on the legacy of being trafficked. Photograph: Alamy

Megan was picked up a few times by the police, but was too frightened to tell them the truth in case they were in league with her abusers. She didn’t trust authority. “I was so, so paranoid,” she says. “At that point, I was scared of being killed.”

Eventually she suffered a psychotic episode and was sectioned in a Greek hospital for three months. Cocooned from the outside world, she began to feel safe enough to confide in some of the staff about what had happened to her. They contacted Megan’s mother, who, in spite of living just hours away, said she had no idea about the kind of life her daughter had been living. The two were reunited shortly afterwards. What was that like?

“Really I was just zombified because I was on so much medication. I was emotional. All I wanted to do was go and drink, and I definitely didn’t want to talk about it.”

Megan and her mother returned to the UK. A doctor put her on Prozac. For a long time she struggled with everyday existence. She was scared of crowds. She jumped at loud noises. She couldn’t find the words to explain what she had been through. She turned to alcohol as a crutch. She spent too much money and had a series of bad relationships.

“Inside I still feel like a kid, a 10-year-old,” she says. “I struggle with sex. I do not know what ‘making love’ is. Just… it… that way… it…” she fumbles for the right word, “it just makes me feel so odd, so different and not normal. There are relationships I have been in where I’ve had to be drunk to let anyone see me naked or let them do what they want to me. I struggle to say no to sex because I thought that was all men wanted. I actually hate that. I don’t value it [sex] at all. I think it’s horrible.”

Eventually she found the confidence to get a job as a shop assistant, and she confided some of her story to a colleague, who notified an anti-trafficking charity. The charity got in touch with Megan. Within days she was in a safe house in London.

“After all the turmoil and chaos I had been used to,” she says, “it was like living in a calm, well-organised family home.”

Today Megan is cautiously rebuilding her life. She has ambitions to set up a charity of her own to help trafficking victims like herself. She is in therapy and has been alcohol-free for seven months. She has a group of trusted friends, made through her local church, and she is rebuilding her relationship with her mother.

Does Megan blame anyone for what she has been through?

There is a long pause. “I don’t want to sit here and say: ‘I blame my mum,’” she starts, uneasily. “I believe my upbringing could have been better and I should have been protected more as a child, but I understand why that wasn’t the case.”

It is interesting that she doesn’t immediately point the finger at her abusers and a sign, perhaps, of the complicated intermeshing of love and fear she experienced at the hands of the men who exploited her. She confesses that, shortly after returning to the UK, she called her former pimp, Christoph, “because I just… I actually felt in love with him, I did. I look back and it’s horrible. I felt trained into it.”

It is only recently that she has finally felt free from that mental imprisonment. And yet the young woman in front of me is still clearly damaged, existing at one defensive remove from her own past. She isn’t yet sure how to be, or what kind of person she is when she’s not living in a state of constant terror.

I ask Megan to try to describe herself in three words. She finds this difficult.

“Strong,” she starts, hesitantly. “I feel strong.” A pause. “Determined. Could that be one?” she asks. I nod. “Yeah, and… hopeful,” she adds in a small voice. “That’s me.”


The Lost Children of Tuam

Ireland wanted to forget. But the dead don’t always stay buried.

On Tuesday afternoon, Ireland’s president, Michael D. Higgins, hosted a reception and gala dinner for survivors. But what moved Ms. Coppin most was the reception she met when her bus pulled up outside the site of the event.

“The crowd on the street was cheering us,” Ms. Coppin said. “We couldn’t believe it. Not just women, but men and children, too. It was wonderful — very emotional.”

Ms. Coppin left Ireland the first chance she got after leaving the laundry and made a new life for herself in England. There, overcoming the poor education she received in the industrial school, she eventually went to college and became an elementary schoolteacher. She met an English man and had two children.

“England was my savior, like many women who went there, or to different countries like America,” she said. “My choice was to get as far away as possible from Ireland.”

But the Ireland that Ms. Coppin left is a far cry from the one she encountered this week. Ms. Coppin was struck, she said, by the many young women who successfully came together — “so articulate and so educated” — to campaign for the repeal of Ireland’s constitutional ban on abortion.

She also noted the new willingness to confront the systemic practice of forced and illegal adoptions, often without records, which preserved an illusion of Catholic chastity while depriving unwed mothers of their children and children of their birth identities.

Despite the new mood of openness and acceptance, many of the Magdalene laundry survivors in Dublin this week were either too frail or too shy to talk about their experiences.

Norah Casey, a businesswoman and journalist who was one of the driving forces behind the event, said that more than half of those in attendance had come from abroad. Most were from Britain, and a few were from the United States and other countries.

“A lot of them didn’t even have passports to come here — they got the hell out of Ireland as soon as they could and never came back,” Ms. Casey said. “It is great to have them here, talking, but it is also very sad. I haven’t heard one of them say that life was good after they left the laundries. It got better, that’s all.”

Most of them have spent their lives trying to find parents and siblings or children who were taken from them, Ms. Casey said. Many don’t know who they really are.

“Magdalene asylums” were originally conceived by Christian churches in Western countries, including Britain and the United States, as charitable institutes to support “fallen women.”

In Ireland, the Magdalene institutions became associated primarily with the Catholic Church, and by the mid-20th century there were at least a dozen industrial laundries in the Republic of Ireland.

Some women were confined to the laundries for life and were forced to work long hours in poor conditions with bad food, no pay and little or no medical or educational support. The women and girls — even those who had come into the laundries directly from orphanages or “industrial schools” for juvenile detention — were told they should toil as penance for their sins.

In recent decades, the power of the church in Ireland has dwindled, in part because of a number of abuse scandals, not least among them the revelations of the suffering in the Magdalene laundries.


Uniform and clothing

Women prisoners selected for work at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland, 1944. On arrival these women had their own clothes taken away and replaced by the smock uniform worn in the Nazi concentration camps. © 2011 Yad Vashem The Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority.

Original – A woman condemned to death in Mongolia is seen from the porthole of a crate inside which she is encumbered and left to die of starvation. (wikipedia)

Starving Mongolian Woman: This was published in National Geographic in 1913 by Stefan Passe. Mongolia was newly independent. A common punishment for criminals was being placed in a box like this in public possibly until starvation. (viralnova.com)

A sculpture in Mujibnagar, Dhaka depicts the tens of thousands of rapes of Bengali women by the Pakistani Military in 1971. (pinterest)

Simone Segouin, the 18 year old French Résistance fighter, French female collaborator punished by having her head shaved to publicly mark her, 1944.

The year of vengeance: How neighbours turned on each other and anarchy erupted in the aftermath of WWII

Humiliated: A French woman accused of sleeping with Germans has her head shaved by neighbors in a village near Marseilles

Humiliated: Her head shaved by angry neighbours, a tearful Corsican woman is stripped naked and taunted for consorting with German soldiers during their occupation
The truth is that World War II, which we remember as a great moral campaign, had wreaked incalculable damage on Europe’s ethical sensibilities. And in the desperate struggle for survival, many people would do whatever it took to get food and shelter.

In Allied-occupied Naples, the writer Norman Lewis watched as local women, their faces identifying them as ‘ordinary well-washed respectable shopping and gossiping housewives’, lined up to sell themselves to young American GIs for a few tins of food.

Another observer, the war correspondent Alan Moorehead, wrote that he had seen ‘the moral collapse’ of the Italian people, who had lost all pride in their ‘animal struggle for existence’.

Amid the trauma of war and occupation, the bounds of sexual decency had simply collapsed. In Holland one American soldier was propositioned by a 12-year-old girl. In Hungary scores of 13-year-old girls were admitted to hospital with venereal disease in Greece, doctors treated VD-infected girls as young as ten.

What was more, even in those countries liberated by the British and Americans, a deep tide of hatred swept through national life.

Everybody had come out of the war with somebody to hate.

In northern Italy, some 20,000 people were summarily murdered by their own countrymen in the last weeks of the war. And in French town squares, women accused of sleeping with German soldiers were stripped and shaved, their breasts marked with swastikas while mobs of men stood and laughed. Yet even today, many Frenchmen pretend these appalling scenes never happened. (dailymail.co.uk)

American soldiers were almost as bad as the Russian soldiers when it came to exploiting German women during and after WW2

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, then a young captain in the Red Army and a committed opponent to such outrages, describes the entry of his regiment into East Prussia in January 1945: “Yes! For three weeks the war had been going on inside Germany and all of us knew very well that if the girls were German they could be raped and then shot. This was almost a combat distinction. (uncensoredhistory.blogspot.com)

LEPA SVETOZARA RADIĆ (1925–1943) WAS A PARTISAN EXECUTED AT THE AGE OF 17 FOR SHOOTING AT GERMAN SOLDIERS DURING WW2

FEMALE NAZI WAR HANGED

Ota Benga (1883-1916) was an African Congolese Pygmy, who was put on display in the monkey house at the Bronx Zoo in New York in1906

Congolese women reality: Shackled together, enslaved in their own homeland, held as hostages until their men returned with enough rubber to make King Leopold and the Belgium people rich beyond their wildest dreams. While impoverishing and enslaving the native people. (usslave.blogspot.com)

Belgian women who had collaborated with the Germans are shaved, tarred and feathered and forced to give a Nazi salute.

Islamic slavery enslaving the women and children of a number of Arabian tribes (Quraiza,Khaybar, Mustaliq and Hawazin etc.).

Mauritania is consistently ranked as the worst place in the world for slavery, with tens of thousands still trapped in total servitude across the country. ( mirage-a-trois.blogspot.com)

—“Hercegovinian woman”, a young housewife and mother carried away by Turkish troopers, her husband and baby lie dead at her feet Mention the word ‘slavery’, and it will immediately conjure up pictures of negroid cotton pickers and sad savages being marched in chains by Arab slave traders, but very little is ever said about the enslavement of white European Christians.—Read More:http://armeniansworld.com/?tag=white-slavery

This, it can reasonably be argued, merely proves how deep the brutalization went. But what about the Paphlagonian names Atotas in the Athenian silver mines, who claimed descent from one of the Trojan heroes and whose tomb inscription included the boast, ” No one could match me in skill”? The skill and artistry of slaves was to be seen everywhere, for they were not used only as crude labor in fields but were employed in the potteries and textile mills, on temples and other public buildings, to perform the most delicate work. The psychology of the slave in the ancient world was obviously more complicated than mere sullen resentment, at least under “normal” conditions. (madamepickwickartblog.com)

The Irish: The Forgotten White Slaves

Slave Auction, Jean Leon Jerome, 1866. Jews were the foremost entrepreneurs in the White Slave traffic, selling even young Jewesses as sex slaves along with abducted women ans children of other races. The girls were paraded naked before customers and always asked to open their mouth wide. Like horses, they had to let their teeth be inspected and tapped for soundness.

A prospective buyer on the Barbary Coast of North Africa carefully examining a female slave before bidding.

In all the great European cities, a certain type of prostitute was always to be found: exotic and semi-Asiatic in appearance. She was Jewish, and she was very much in demand. The word “Jewess” therefore entered the language as a loose synonym for “Jewish prostitute”.

When Keats refers to Jewish prostitutes in an unpublished poetic fragment quoted in a private letter (1819), he doesn’t call them “prostitutes”. He just calls them “Jewesses”. Why? Because so many Jewesses were prostitutes that the two terms had virtually become interchangeable. “Nor in obscurèd purlieus would he seek / For curlèd Jewesses with ankles neat, / Who as they walk abroad make tinkling with their feet.” (darkmoon.me)

Jews had a monopoly on the slave trade. (deliberation.info)

Romanus Pontifex, issued on January 8, 1455, then sanctioned the purchase of black slaves from “the infidel”.

“… many Guineamen and other negroes, taken by force, and some by barter of unprohibited articles, or by other lawful contract of purchase, have been … converted to the Catholic faith, and it is hoped, by the help of divine mercy, that if such progress be continued with them, either those peoples will be converted to the faith or at least the souls of many of them will be gained for Christ.”

It most certainly was not “Christ” he was looking to “gain” those poor slaves for, nor did he give a fig for their “souls”.

It was power and money, plain and simple, that he was after. He was trying to shore up that faction of the Nesilim – the Catholics – and their insane world-domination plans.

It was also under Nicholas V, in 1452, that his Dominican Inquisitor Nicholas Jacquier“confirms” witchcraft as heresy in Flail Against the Heresy of Witchcraft thereby justifying European witchhunts. This began the burning of over 200,000 people over the next two hundred years – mostly women – on the charge of Witchcraft.

Slavery and burning witches began with this guy, he was the real thing – a slavemaster.

Nesilim nose – See book Scientology Roots, Chapter 5

The first African slaves arrived in Spain (Hispaniola) in 1501. By 1518, King Charles I of Spain approved the shipping of slaves directly from Africa as a trade.

Human slavery, despite all the flowery protestations of “humanism”, was the cornerstone of the fledgling British Empire. That term itself, British Empire, having been coined by slavemaster agent Dr. John Dee.

The first rumblings of what we call the Rise of the Slavemasters, had begun with Henry the VIII, Queen Elizabeth’s father. His was the House of Tudor, whom many considered had no rightful claim to the throne. Rightful, meaning as approved the Catholic Church, in other words. Henry accomplished many things during his reign, not the least was the breaking of the stranglehold that the Nesilim – the Holy Roman Empire – were exerting over what was termed “the world” – which was really just a small, obscure part of it. A few islands and some land on the continent.

The English, or “britons” all had their roots in the same race – a race which today we call “German”.

The English are the descendants of three Germanic tribes:

  • the Angles, who came from Angeln (in modern Germany): their whole nation emigrated to Britain, leaving their former land empty.
  • the Saxons, from Lower Saxony and
  • the Jutes, from the Jutland peninsula (Danish).

They, in turn, had been part of an emigration of the Nesilim, when they left their homeland of Nesa (modern Turkey), and settled first in Constantinople and then spreading to what is now Germany.

The name England (Old English: Engla land or Ængla land) originates from the first of the three tribes mentioned above. Their language, Anglo-Saxon or Old English, derived from West Germanic dialects. Anglo-Saxon was divided into four main dialects: West Saxon, Mercian, Northumbrian and Kentish.

After the Norman Conquest, their language changed into what is called Middle English, in the years leading up to the Rise of the Slavemasters.

This is the language we mostly find Dr. Dee having his “english” – as opposed to Latin – writings be in the form of.

All throughout this time period, what people refer to as “the Bible” was only in Latin, and very few people were even allowed to be taught this unnatural and invented language – a form of code – not dissimilar to the type of languages small children invent to speak to each other so that “grownups” don’t know what they are saying.

Note: There are no real records, of anyone using a language called Latin prior to the rise of the Holy Roman Empire. It is the invention of that empire, and the Catholic Church.

The use of this “special” language. This meant that priests and scholars could pretty much tell “the people” whatever they wanted as to what some book or tract said – or what God said even – and no one would be the wiser. That is how propaganda, (the word itself came from the Catholic Church) was handled prior to the 16th century.

To this day, many subjects have their own “special language” – in some cases using this same Latin – this act as a sort of ‘insider knowledge’. A fact, and an exclusory practice, which is in no way unintentional. (mikemcclaughry.wordpress.com)

German soldiers march Polish women to be shot in the woods

MASS RAPE AND ABUSE OF FRENCH WOMEN BY AMERICAN SOLDIERS IN WWII

The American soldiers too violated women during WW2 especially French women. If the motivation for rape for Russian soldiers was revenge for what the German army and SS did in their country, the Americans come through with an even smaller halo. Their motivation for violating French women was pure hedonism. And the sad part is that the American institutions, the press and the army, too egged them on. Perhaps the aim was to motivate the American soldiers to go and fight the Germans.

The U.S. military has considered the issue of prostitution and rape as a way to establish a form of supremacy.Remember, in 1945, the United States emerged as a world power. It was also a time when France, humiliated, realized that she had lost its superpower status. Sex becomes a way ‘to ensure U.S. dominance on a secondary power.

Mass Rape Of Italian Women By French Colonial Soldiers In 1944

War is hell. And The Second World War was undiluted hell. More soever for women. We have dealt in some details of the mass rape of German women by the invading Red Army soldiers in 1945. Comparatively lesser known is the mass rape of Italian women by the French Colonial soldiers in 1944. These soldiers later continued with their nefarious deeds in Stuttgart, Germany in early 1945.

The allies kept silent on this as the soldiers doing this were allied soldiers.

The senseless, brutal atrocities that women suffered during WW2 has not been adequately chronicled. It remains one of the most pathetic chapters of the Armageddon.

In Italy about 60,000 women from ages 11 to 85 suffered in May 1944.

In Italy, Moroccan mercenaries fighting with the free French forces in 1943 fought under contract terms that included free license to rape and plunder in enemy territory.

“Mamma Ciociara”: The monument at Castro dei Volsci in memory of those Italian women who suffered

Many women in Italy were raped the Italian government later offered the victims a modest pension in an effort to compensate the women for their trauma.


THE LONG ROAD TO ABOLITION

■ In 1807, parliament passed the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act, effective throughout the British empire.

■ It wasn’t until 1838 that slavery was abolished in British colonies through the Slavery Abolition Act, giving all slaves in the British empire their freedom

■ It is estimated about 12.5 million people were transported as slaves from Africa to the Americas and the Caribbean between the 16th century and 1807.

■ When the Slavery Abolition Act was passed, there were 46,000 slave owners in Britain, according to the Slave Compensation Commission, the government body established to evaluate the claims of the slave owners

■ British slave owners received a total of £20m (£16bn in today’s money) in compensation when slavery was abolished. Among those who received payouts were the ancestors of novelists George Orwell and Graham Greene.


These Religious Prisons Turned Orphans, Young Girls, and Pregnant Women into Slaves Inside Convent Walls

Interior of Magdalen Laundry in Dublin. Google Images.

5. A Mass Grave at &ldquoThe Home&rdquo in Tuam, County Galway, Ireland

Called &ldquoThe Home&rdquo by locals in Tuam, the Bon Secours order of nuns operated a mother and baby home in County Galway between 1921 and 1961. Unwed pregnant women harmed their families through shame that would prevent them from work and housing. If a family did not have money to send their daughters or sisters to England or America, they sent them to &ldquoThe Home,&rdquo a magdalen laundry. Inside the facility, the nuns provided food and shelter. After giving birth, the moms cared for their babies with assistance from orphaned girls and older inmates. Babies that survived infancy were adopted. Those that died were buried on property near &ldquoThe Home.&rdquo

As women suffered the trauma associated with giving up their child, they were forced to work in the laundry without pay. Many of the babies adopted from the facility were sent to America as a way to ensure that birth mothers would never find their babies. Between 1945 and 1965 over 2,220 Irish babies were adopted from the magdalen laundry. In 2014, an unmarked mass grave was found that contained over 700 dead infant and children buried without ceremony or in a coffin. Examiners determined that most of the dead succumbed to &ldquomalnutrition, measles, convulsions, tuberculosis, gastroenteritis and pneumonia.&rdquo


These Religious Prisons Turned Orphans, Young Girls, and Pregnant Women into Slaves Inside Convent Walls

Postcard of Gloucester Street Laundry, Dublin, Ireland. Folklore Project.

1. The Last Magdalen Laundry: The Gloucester Street Laundry in Dublin

Until recently, the powerful conservative Catholic Church controlled almost every aspect of life in the Republic of Ireland. Any young woman that found herself pregnant and unmarried had committed the most dire of all sins. Bringing shame, family members often sent their pregnant sisters and daughters to a magdalen home. The Gloucester Street Laundry in Dublin housed around 100 unwed mothers at a time. Forced to repent for her sin, these young women were hidden away inside the walls of a commercial laundry. Nuns provided shelter and meager food allotments while forcing them to work in laundries while they adopted out the bastard children.

The convent owned trucks. Boys and young men drove the trucks to Dublin hotels, picked up soiled linens, and then delivered them to the Gloucester Street Laundry. The nuns made sure that there was not contact between the divers and the &ldquopenitents.&rdquo Historians believe that over 40% of the inmates at the laundry entered as unwed pregnant young women. Many inmates returned to life in Dublin and beyond, their babies long removed from their care. Others remained institutionalized for the rest of their life. The Gloucester Street Laundry shuttered good on 25 October 1996. At the time of closure the oldest female resident was 79.


Fact vs. Fiction

The Irish slave narrative is based on the misinterpretation of the history of indentured servitude, which is how many poor Europeans migrated to North America and the Caribbean in the early colonial period, historians said.

Without a doubt, life was bad for indentured servants. They were often treated brutally. Not all of them entered servitude willingly. Some were political prisoners. Some were children.

“I’m not saying it was pleasant or anything — it was the opposite — but it was a completely different category from slavery,” said Liam Hogan, a research librarian in Ireland who has spearheaded the debunking effort. “It was a transitory state.”

The legal differences between indentured servitude and chattel slavery were profound, according to Matthew Reilly, an archaeologist who studies Barbados. Unlike slaves, servants were considered legally human. Their servitude was based on a contract that limited their service to a finite period of time, usually about seven years, in exchange for passage to the colonies. They did not pass their unfree status on to descendants.

Contemporary accounts in Ireland sometimes referred to these people as slaves, Mr. Hogan said. That was true in the sense that any form of coerced labor can be described as slavery, from Ancient Rome to modern-day human trafficking. But in colonial America and the Caribbean, the word “slavery” had a specific legal meaning. Europeans, by definition, were not included in it.

“An indenture implies two people have entered into a contract with each other but slavery is not a contract,” said Leslie Harris, a professor of African-American history at Northwestern University. “It is often about being a prisoner of war or being bought or sold bodily as part of a trade. That is a critical distinction.”

Image

How Ireland Turned ‘Fallen Women’ Into Slaves - HISTORY

- Virginia General Assembly declaration, 1705


One of the places we have the clearest views of that "terrible transformation" is the colony of Virginia. In the early years of the colony, many Africans and poor whites -- most of the laborers came from the English working class -- stood on the same ground. Black and white women worked side-by-side in the fields. Black and white men who broke their servant contract were equally punished.
• Arrival of first Africans to Virginia Colony
• Africans in court
Anthony Johnson was a free black man who owned property in Virginia
All were indentured servants. During their time as servants, they were fed and housed. Afterwards, they would be given what were known as "freedom dues," which usually included a piece of land and supplies, including a gun. Black-skinned or white-skinned, they became free.

Historically, the English only enslaved non-Christians, and not, in particular, Africans. And the status of slave (Europeans had African slaves prior to the colonization of the Americas) was not one that was life-long. A slave could become free by converting to Christianity. The first Virginia colonists did not even think of themselves as "white" or use that word to describe themselves. They saw themselves as Christians or Englishmen, or in terms of their social class. They were nobility, gentry, artisans, or servants.
One of the few recorded histories of an African in America that we can glean from early court records is that of "Antonio the negro," as he was named in the 1625 Virginia census. He was brought to the colony in 1621. At this time, English and Colonial law did not define racial slavery the census calls him not a slave but a "servant." Later, Antonio changed his name to Anthony Johnson, married an African American servant named Mary, and they had four children. Mary and Anthony also became free, and he soon owned land and cattle and even indentured servants of his own. By 1650, Anthony was still one of only 400 Africans in the colony among nearly 19,000 settlers. In Johnson's own county, at least 20 African men and women were free, and 13 owned their own homes.
In 1640, the year Johnson purchased his first property, three servants fled a Virginia plantation. Caught and returned to their owner, two had their servitude extended four years. However, the third, a black man named John Punch, was sentenced to "serve his said master or his assigns for the time of his natural life." He was made a slave.
• Virginia recognizes slavery
• Virginia slave codes
• Colonial laws

Traditionally, Englishmen believed they had a right to enslave a non-Christian or a captive taken in a just war. Africans and Indians might fit one or both of these definitions. But what if they learned English and converted to the Protestant church? Should they be released from bondage and given "freedom dues?" What if, on the other hand, status were determined not by (changeable ) religious faith but by (unchangeable) skin color?

In 1670 Virginia seized Johnson's land.

This disorder that the indentured servant system had created made racial slavery to southern slaveholders much more attractive, because what were black slaves now? Well, they were a permanent dependent labor force, who could be defined as a people set apart. They were racially set apart. They were outsiders. They were strangers and in many ways throughout the world, slavery has taken root, especially where people are considered outsiders and can be put in a permanent status of slavery.

Also, the indentured servants, especially once freed, began to pose a threat to the property-owning elite. The colonial establishment had placed restrictions on available lands, creating unrest among newly freed indentured servants. In 1676, working class men burned down Jamestown, making indentured servitude look even less attractive to Virginia leaders. Also, servants moved on, forcing a need for costly replacements slaves, especially ones you could identify by skin color, could not move on and become free competitors.