Marginalized Maids

Park Slope, New York. A town within a city, where Brooklyn locals and yuppies from around the world congregate over lattes and ten dollar cupcakes.

The neighborhood is home many families and young professionals who want to take advantage of the highly-rated public school system, the limitless bars and cafes, and the green spaces like Prospect Park.

This year Park Slope was ranked the #1 part of New York City to live in by New York Magazine. The area’s growing popularity has caused property value to skyrocket, and the young families moving in are wealthier and wealthier.

That is why it might come as a surprise that the area is a hub for slavery.

Slavery and human trafficking affect the rich and the poor. In many cases, poverty breeds traffickers who want to make a living and see a demand they can meet. But just as white slave-owners in the U.S. South were very rich, today’s young and wealthy also sometimes give in to the temptation of taking people in as their own property.

The situation often looks like this: a young couple with a baby moves in to Park Slope for the schools, the parks, and the nightlife. They both work, and they are terrified of their new friends knowing that they moved in to the neighborhood long before they could afford it. They are stretched beyond their means.

When it becomes obvious that they will have to hire a nanny to allow them both to keep working, they start asking around and are soon shocked by the cost. Most of the families in the area who hire nannies and maids pay them pretty well and even let them have room and board depending on their situation. Some families might try to get away with not providing health insurance, or paying low wages under the table, but this family can’t even afford that.

So they do what is becoming increasingly common in Park Slope and beyond. They find an immigrant, often illegal, and convince her to come and work for them as a nanny – not difficult to do when promising a large salary, room and board, and a chance for the immigrant to bring her family up to the United States eventually.

But when she arrives at the home to work, the couple takes her property and any identification or papers she might have, and tells her that if she tries to leave they will turn her into the authorities, without her papers if she once had them.

They might pay her, they might not. They do give room and board. She cooks, cleans and takes care of the baby. And she becomes their slave, unable to leave, terrified of punishment, hoping one day they will show mercy and allow her to see her own family again.

The problem has become commonplace in other parts of New York City and now in other urban areas as well, including with couples where one spouse does not work or has ample money to spend on a proper nanny/maid situation.

Park Slope is a beautiful neighborhood, and if residents want to keep it that way, they will need to start using open eyes, refreshing their college holas and adioses, and getting to know the many women in their area who speak Spanish and look scared. They are our modern-day Mary Poppins’s.

Join in!

What do you think of hiring nannies and maids?
What could this young couple in the example do differently?

4 Responses to “Marginalized Maids”
  1. Darrell says:

    How would you like to leave someone alone with your children to be their caretaker who was there under such circumstances? This couple is in desparate need of a complete reexamination of their priorities and what they all mean. They can’t even let go of enough self worship to love their own children. They must have really wonderful jobs that they are willing to surrender their children and all human decency. What of their employer who pays such immoral, self loving people. The moment he turns hia back he’ll get a knife in it. How would you like to be their friends or even live next door to them.

    Surely there can’t be that many couples like this living in Brooklyn but if there are it confirms that the goals of Thomas Dewey, now over 100 years old, are finally complete.

    • Joanna Miller says:

      There are an estimated 10,000 forced laborers in the United States today. Of these, roughly one third are domestic workers in suburban homes. Park Slope is fairly well-known for the problem, but that is probably due in large part to the number of families using domestic help there. The actual percentage of Park Slope domestic workers who are also slaves is quite low.

      But, unfortunately there are many couples like the one described in this article, and worse. You bring up a good point that it would be terrible to leave your child with someone stuck in this position, but some of the victims have said that they fell in love with the children and grew very attached to them during their servitude.

      We’ll be talking more on this for the week.

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] Enslavement of domestic workers in the United States means children are being raised by women whose papers have been confiscated, who have been threatened and manipulated, and who are trafficked into their roles by criminals. […]

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