When the single mother and grandmother from India was offered a job to be a live-in helper with a Melbourne family, she saw it as an opportunity to improve her difficult circumstances.
The woman, whose identity has been withheld for legal reasons, raised her four children alone in India after her husband died. Her job with Kumuthini Kannan and her husband, Kandasamy, and their three children, involved cooking, cleaning and caring.
But the reality of the posting was far from her expectations.
In addition, the woman was allegedly hit with a frozen chicken, pushed down a flight of stairs and had boiling water thrown over her.
Melbourne health authorities became aware of the woman’s circumstances in 2015, when an ambulance found the victim lying in her own urine, weighing only 40kg, covered in sores and suffering from hypothermia.
Kumuthini had called an ambulance for her, but only after she returned home from a school concert, leaving her on the bathroom floor.
During the 10-week Supreme Court trial, judge Justice John Champion said it was the first prosecution of a domestic slavery case in Australia.
Kumuthini’s offences were found to be more serious than her husband’s because she verbally abused the woman. While Kumuthini was seen as being gentler towards the woman, he did not help her, which – according to Justice Champion – made him equally culpable.
Justice Champion said, “Slavery is regarded as a crime against humanity,” according to a report by the ABC.
“Your offending occurred in the daily presence and with the obvious knowledge and comprehension of your children.
“You set them a deplorable example of how parents should act towards another human being.”
“The fact is you developed absolute control over all aspects of her day-to-day life.”
Justice Champion said the couple were “compulsive” liars.
“The number and brazen quality of the lies has been nothing short of astonishing,” he said.
“I’m quite convinced that you both believe you have done nothing wrong.”
Justice Champion acknowledged prison would be difficult for the Kannans because their children will suffer. But he said the couple showed no remorse, and only focused on themselves, not even planning for their children’s care, even on the day of the verdict.
The victim, who is now 67, lives in a Melbourne aged care home. Though her health has improved, she will suffer life-long health consequences from the family’s mistreatment.
The couple’s legal team may be preparing an appeal.