A man in Texas was working on his roof when he happened to look down into his neighbour’s property, usually obscured from his view by an eight-foot concrete fence. What he saw shocked him: a young girl, her sunburnt skin covered with cuts and bruises, cowered next to a pole, where she had been tethered by her hands and her feet. The emergency responders dispatched in answer to his call had to carry the dehydrated and malnourished girl away on a stretcher – while police led the woman responsible for the girl’s condition away in handcuffs.
Sandra Luz Bearden, who was born in Mexico but lives as a permanent resident of the state of Texas, knew firsthand the appeal of a better life north of the border; it seemed only natural, then, when she struck up an acquaintance with a family in Veracruz and offered to smuggle their 12-year-old daughter across international lines to be her live in-maid, promising the girl that her chores would not be much more than what she had to do at home, and that there would be plenty of time to get a fine education in the US . The girl readily agreed to the proposition, and hid in Bearden’s car until they were safely in Texas.
Power is a curious thing. It is not clear if Bearden was predisposed to such violence beforehand, but she was definitely aware that this girl, as an illegal immigrant, was now completely dependent upon her – and completely unable to turn to anyone around her for help, for fear of revealing her illegal status. Even more unfortunately, the girl’s status as a ‘servant’ lowered her inherent worth as a human being in her mistress’ eyes; similar cases have such chilling features, such as a pair of Taiwanese girls forced to serve their family’s guests on hands and knees. It was not long before Bearden was hitting the girl, even spraying pepper spray in her eyes to keep her awake when she grew tired. Knowing that she had complete control over the girl meant she could do anything she liked; had that neighbour not chosen to call authorities, who knows how long – and how severe – the abuse would have become?
Sandra Luz Bearden was sentenced to life in prison for her crime, but her captive, whose name has not been released and is now back in Mexico with her family, is one of the lucky ones. Slavery might be illegal in name, but behind the closed doors of suburban America and other ‘first-world’ countries, an army of forgotten people toils in filth, depredation and terror. Held in place by fear and a system of unequal power based on wealth and social status, these are prisoners of the most extreme form of undue influence.
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