A cult leader in regional New South Wales is accused of subjecting a woman to physical, sexual and psychological abuse on a daily basis for years.
The 40-year-old former Australian defence force member was arrested in Armidale last Thursday.
Police allege the man manipulated the woman in Sydney between 2012 and 2015 as part of a cult.
The woman “was coerced, manipulated and threatened to be involved in a bondage lifestyle where there was alleged coercion and control”, Australian federal police assistant commissioner Justine Gough said on Tuesday.
The woman was held in “slave-like conditions”, with a slavery contract, a slave collar and a slave tattoo, Gough said. He threatened to kill her if she escaped.
Police said they hoped any other victims would come forward in light of the arrest.
After the man’s arrest, 50 officers searched his property for 15 hours. They seized a large volume of material including documents, phones, cameras and computers.
The arrest comes after the ABC’s 4 Corners program reported on the cult on Monday.
Despite the man posting about his activities on social media, it was the media investigation that gave police the detail they needed to lay charges, Gough said.
The man’s charges include reducing a person to slavery, intentionally possessing a slave, and causing a person to enter servitude. The maximum penalties are between 15 and 25 years in prison.
Gough warned generally that human trafficking can occur in plain sight. She urged community members to report anything that seemed unusual, given that victims were often too scared to come forward.
“Their movements are restricted, their financial affairs are controlled, identity documents are withheld and their identity is significantly destroyed,” she said. “It’s a desperate and difficult situation.”
For every one human trafficking victim who was detected, there were up to four undetected cases in Australia.
The man is to appear before Armidale local court on Wednesday, after being formally refused bail in the same court on Friday.
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