‘You can’t go’: Woman’s hellish life as slave
A woman who was brought to Australia by a Sydney couple, who forced her to work 24 hours a day and restricted who she could see and where she could go, has revealed what her life was like as a slave.
Court documents reveal she was threatened against leaving, told she couldn't socialise with others and, when she eventually fled the home, the couple hired a private detective to track her down and bring her back.
Joshua and Shiela McAleer, from Rockdale in Sydney's south, have pleaded guilty to a series of charges relating to their treatment of the woman, including conducting a business involving the forced labour of another person between November 26, 2014, and October 30, 2016, and harbouring an unlawful non-citizen.
In a sentencing hearing this week in Sydney, the court heard that the woman - who cannot be named for legal reasons - felt as though she had no option but to go along with the couples' plans for her to work around the clock for three years.
Documents tendered to court show that, in late 2012, Mrs McAleer began searching for a woman from the Philippines to work in her home as a babysitter around the time she was expecting a second child. The plan was for that person to travel on a three-month tourist visa, but that they would overstay it.
The victim was working in the Philippines making around 10,000 pesos ($267) a month, and was told by Mrs McAleer that she and her husband could arrange for her to come to Australia - where she could make double her current pay.
She was told that she would be doing nanny and 'maid' work for around five years.
The victim had never been overseas before and thought this would be an exciting way to travel and support her family in the Philippines - who would be receiving her wages directly.
The agreed facts state that she believed she would have been able to come home if she didn't like it in Australia.
The McAleers gave her money for a passport and told her that she would have to apply for a three-month tourist visa, which they helped her with.
In the application for the visa, the McAleers wrote that the victim would be living with them and that they would take responsibility for her food and travel expenses.
Stating that they had a baby due in May 2013, they said the victim would help them with "day-to-day chores" as they had a busy schedule.
The victim's visa - which stipulated that she wasn't allowed to work in Australia - was granted in April that year and, at that point, she told Mrs McAleer she was concerned about overstaying it.
She was told words to the effect of: "You will be okay. It is a good country. Nothing will happen to you here and you won't tell anyone that you are working, you are just living with us and helping me."
A few weeks later, on May 6, the victim arrived in Sydney and she was told she would not be allowed to go home.
Mrs McAleer told her, in words to the effect of: "I have spent a lot of money for you to come out to Australia. You will not go home even if a member of your family is sick or dies.
"I will not pay for your ticket to go back home until after five years. You will be my nanny to help with the children and look after the housework like cleaning, washing and cooking."
She was told she would not have to pay for rent or food but that she would get $100 a month - in addition to the previously agreed amount being sent directly to her family in the Philippines.
The victim was told she needed to ask permission to leave the house and was discouraged from socialising with other Filipinos in the community - despite the fact her English was limited and she didn't know anybody in Australia. She was told to use a fake name in public and told she couldn't be in a relationship.
When the McAleers found out she spoke to another Filipino and given them her phone number, they made the victim change her phone number.
When the woman's visa expired, she told the couple she wanted to go home.
However, she was told, with words to the effect of: "You cannot go home until you pay me for your travel expenses.
"If you go back before you pay me back I know people in the Philippines in the police and higher up and who I can hire to harm you or your family if you go home early."
The documents state that she worked on a full-time basis looking after the couples' children, even sharing a room with them, and she began to work at the couple's Filipino grocery store 6-7 days a week without pay.
"I did not know when I came that I would have to work 24 hours a day. I did not get paid for my work," the woman said in her victim impact statement.
Crown prosecutor Jennifer Single, SC, told the court the woman had so little money that she "couldn't get a taxi to get to the airport, nevermind a flight back to the Philippines."
As the McAleers' business expanded, the victim was told to do an increasing amount of work and she complained.
Mrs McAleer said words in response to the effect of: 'Why are you complaining? I am your boss, I am paying for you.'"
In October 2016, the victim fled from the Rockdale home.
Court documents show that on November 1 that year, Mr McAleer sought the assistance of a private investigator in finding the woman, who he said was his fiancee and that she had gone missing.
"I have friends who have told me they have seen her driving around with another mail [sic] in the Sutherland area over the weekend and I have had my suspicions as well for a while now," Mr McAleer wrote. "I would like you to locate his home address and try to see if (the woman) is with him."
The Australian Federal Police got a tip-off in July 2017 from Anti-Slavery Australia and the couple were issued court attendance notices in October 2019.
Last October they both pleaded guilty to several offences relating to the matter.
The victim said in her impact statement that, before coming to Australia, she had been happy, had job security and her family.
"I felt like a slave but I didn't say anything," the woman wrote. "I feel it would have been better not to come (to Australia). I had no power to change my situation".
She has been free and living in Australia for nearly five years now, but she says she still fears the husband and wife.
She said she was anxious and still didn't trust people. But the woman concluded her statement saying "happiness is starting to come back" and "I am stronger now".
The McAleers meanwhile are facing a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
In a sentencing hearing on Thursday, the couples' barrister James Glisson, QC, told the court his clients had offered to compensate the victim $70,000.
They will be sentenced on June 11.
Originally published as 'You can't go': Woman's hellish life as slave