An Ethiopian woman told Melbourne police in Florida that she escaped abuse Wednesday evening after officers found her at Melbourne First Baptist church on Dairy Road.
According to police records, investigators suspect she may be a victim of human trafficking. She was carrying an Ethiopian passport and was not injured.
“In my experience, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of an instance of human trafficking locally,” said Sgt. Sheridan Shelley, who has served for 11 years.
They struggled to understand the woman, who could not speak English. They telephoned a translator service and were able to learn that the woman, 36, had been in the country for about 90 days working for a Arab family originally from Kuwaiti.
She said she worked for a different family in Ethiopia, who brought her to Kuwait and introduced her to the Kuwaitis, who brought her to London and then on to Melbourne to work as a maid.
Police said she told them, through an interpreter, she was treated badly and was not fed or paid as promised. Police said she told them she had been abused and forbidden from leaving the home.
On Wednesday night, she told police, she slipped out of the home while it was vacant and found her way to a home on Coventry Circle, near West Melbourne, where she was taken in and brought to the church, where she was fed.
Police said they aren’t sure where she was being held. Federal investigators are talking to the Kuwaiti family. No arrests have been made.
The case was handed over to agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“We’re still early on in the investigation,” said Nestor Yglesias, a spokesperson for ICE.
Investigators will try to determine whether she is a victim of human trafficking. They’ll figure out how to provide her help if she is a victim. They’ll look into how she got into the country and what she was doing in Melbourne.
“Every case is different,” Yglesias said. “There are a number of things we have to do.”