Slavery, is supposedly a condition that any right minded person would oppose. Most people and dictionaries define it as the oppression and suppression of a persons liberty whilst forcing them in to work. However, another defintion exists as defined by business, industrial relations & Human Resources teams: ‘work done in harsh conditions for low pay’. Now exactly what defines harsh conditions and low pay is not determined and as such must therefore be subjective but it has lead trade unions and human rights groups to conclude that it is a lot more widespread than we have been lead to believe. The fact that some people still consider that it is was abolished over two hundred years ago says much about how little the mainstram media interrogate and investigate the key experiences of human existence. So it must be of considerable surprise when the media report a criminal case, now in 2012, in which the term slavery is at the heart.
But, and it is a big BUT, we are not informed that it is a common practice but only amongst the travelling community. Why is this so? Well from the media’s perspective it grabs the attention. This is a group of people that have already been demonised and stigmatised. They are an easy target for anger, hate, ignorance… because they enable people with direct or indirect experiences to reinforce this prejudice and say ‘I told you so’. Locally, we have had campaigns by householders against travellers moving onto land close by. Letters were sent to all those living within a vicinity and all householders were invited to write letters opposing this community moving on to this designated site. The spite in which some took up this task was comparable with the reaction by some towards the Jewish population during the 1930’s and 1940’s. The adjectives adopted by some to describe members of their fellow species were at best inappropriate. Driven by fears generated by stereotyping and a lack of knowledge and understanding these householders linked all of the travelling community to crimes, drugs and poor hygiene as if householders are nothing but moral purity. All of these accusations though are not reflected in reality. As identified by An overview of the nature and extent of illicit drug use amongst the Traveller community the discrimination that the travelling community experience from mainstream society seriously alters how some of them live their lives. We can conclude from this that drug use in particular is heightened as a result of this discrimination.
In terms of crime, Jake Bowers, in his excellent FAQ Pack: Gypsies and Travellers: Their history, lifestyle and culture identifies that ‘crime rates can actually go down when Gypsies move into an area. There is no evidence that offending is any higher among the Gypsy and Traveller population than any other’.
We have an opportunity to start challenging the media and our own ideas but only if we embrace the fact that people will do bad things, even us, but that should not then define them (or ourselves) for ever more.