Saudi Arabia: Story of a Saudi slave

Story of a Saudi slave is a documentary which began in 1993 and followed the journey of Jessica, a Filipina who chose to become a housemaid in Saudi Arabia.  She was placed with a Saudi family from Jeddah.  After five months of not receiving any salary in addition to being beaten and fending off sexual advances, Jessica runs away.  She is taken into an Egyptian household where she thought she had found refuge but instead finds herself again an unpaid slave at the beck and call of the new family.  Now, without a passport and an illegal in Saudi Arabia, Jessica believes she has no options.

Eventually, the British media entity, Dispatch, tracks down Jessica in Jeddah.  Dispatch undercover reporters take her to the Philippine Consulate where she can explore options.  Jessica learns there are few viable options for a runaway illegal housemaid.  However the Egyptian family returns to Egypt and Jessica finds herself getting passed from family to family as an indentured servant.  After suffering more abuse and a rape, with the assistance of Dispatch, decides she is ready to return to her country.

Because Jessica’s initial sponsors, the Saudi family, had Jessica’s passport, her departure from Saudi Arabia is not an easy matter.  Jessica identifies an individual at the Philippine Consulate who will arrange documentation for her for a steep fee which will allow her to exit the Kingdom.  Saudi Arabia requires all individuals departing the country to have an exit stamp issued by the Ministry of Interior.  The Consulate employee states his fee is steep because part of it must go to pay off a Saudi who will help with Jessica’s departure.

This documentary is dated but it highlights the problems a housemaid can face when confronted with an employer who does not abide by the contract.  The documentary also illustrates the changes which took place in Jessica.  She started out as a somewhat meek woman but after the abuse describes in chilling detail how she dreamed and planned of killing her Saudi sponsor.

The documentary highlights flaws in the systems between two countries.  Yet, in spite of the risks associated with a Filipina taking a position as a housemaid in Saudi Arabia there are thousands of Filipina women willing to take that chance.

Not all employers of domestic help are abusive and cruel.  The video also points out that a housemaid does not need to be working for a Saudi to be ill-treated either.

The documentary is broken down into five separate videos.

51 Responses

  1. Savagery of the lowest common denominator. This is happening in land of Allah, justice and religion of peace and justice.

  2. Is it possible to send a monetary donation to help her daughter? This is blatantly unjust, and pulls on my heartstrings. Do you have any more information on this family? What a crooked world we live in.

  3. I remember watching this maybe 4 years ago, and the scene of her running to her children at the end of the traumatic ordeal with almost nothing to show for was so saddening i can still remember it. She came back to Philippines with nothing but lost time with her family. That is a crime in it self not to mention the other suffering she incurred just trying to make a living. Thats all she wanted to do. She wasn’t going to saudi to prostitute or sell drugs or steal or cause trouble, she was coming with humble intentions to make a better life for her family and the result shows the reality of a society that has clear racial/discrimination issues as well as a sense of entitlement + big ego.
    On the other hand not all saudis treat their maids badly, this doco was speaking from jessicas side and what she went through but i know many who’s maids are one of the family..and are treated much more then just an employee.

  4. “Slavery is an immoral act”

    CDHR’s Commentary: Many major and smaller human rights groups, including this organization, as well as some Saudi citizens and even a few unofficial royals have deplored the maltreatment of the millions of mostly expatriate Asian workers in Saudi Arabia, especially maids. The conditions under which most Asian laborers work and live have been described as “modern slavery” and that is not an exaggeration.

    The misfortune of expatriate Asian workers in Saudi Arabia commences in the lands from which they hail. They are recruited by agencies that charge them exorbitant fees and place them in the hands of Saudi laborers’ agencies who assigned them to Saudi employers, known as sponsors. Upon their arrival in Saudi Arabia, their passports are confiscated and handed to their future employers. They literally become hostages. They cannot seek other employment, communicate with their families when they need to or form social groups to support each other and evoke the social, political and religious freedom they enjoyed in their homelands.

    In addition, the Asian laborers receive no help from their homelands’ representatives in Saudi Arabia. This is mostly due to their governments’ fear of Saudi economic and religious reprisals. Many Asian states benefit from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab oil rich states’ aid and businesses, including the billions of dollars sent back home by abused laborers.

    The abuses and exploitation of poverty stricken Asian laborers in Saudi Arabia bear testimony to what many Saudi citizens, activists, reporters and non-Saudi groups have been saying about the rampant injustices and corruption committed against defenseless workers by the Saudi system, businesspeople and thousands of households.

    Saudi Arabia is a member of the World Trade Organization, WTO, and must be held accountable to the WTO’s charter and other Immigrant Workers’ International Declarations. The Saudi people will be served well by holding their autocratic and theocratic institutions accountable and by treating their guest workers with dignity and paying them their meager hard-earned wages. The UN Human Rights and Migrant Labor agencies as well as the International Labor Unions should not be selective and must speak up against the Saudis’ maltreatment of the estimated 10 million expatriate laborers in Saudi Arabia.

  5. The only way to do away with this is to make employment free and at-will. If the maid is not happy she should be allowed to leave, but the way the system works and the system of visa’s and sponsorship doesn’t make that possible. at the least they should have a strict rule that no one can take someone’s passport – employee or otherwise, you cannot even hold your 19 yr old’s passport it’s insane you can take away a stanger’s passport , that too another national.

    doesn’t it say in most passports – “DON’T GIVE IT TO ANYONE , DON’T MAIL IT ” etc., that’s the least they can enforce.

  6. And remember that KSA is NOT the only place this happens.

  7. @ Wendy

    This is exactly what the Saudi critics of my work scold me for ” Why don’t you expose other abusers, why are you focusing on us?”

  8. Oops! I’m not trying to excuse Saudi as I know how bad it is there for so many of the domestic workers. I didn’t mean to imply that I was excusing them in any way. I think you work very hard at trying to get things fixed and issues out in the air.

  9. The issue of maid abuse is sadly not solely a Saudi phenomenon. In Malaysia it was once always hitting the headlines. Most of the abused maids are Indonesian and the abusive employers for some reason or other, were Chinese Malaysian. On the other hand, we do read news of maid doing horrendous acts towards their own employers. Unfortunately, my family have experienced undesirable acts by five different maids, from thievery to abandoning my baby sister to bringing a man into our house. The maid-employer issue is unlikely to be resolved as there are so many intangible factors.

  10. I think it is also tragic that she was taken in by other families (non-Saudis) who continued to not pay her.

  11. Absolutely! I just watched a video that took place in Lebanon where an Ethiopian maid was dragged by the hair, kicking and screaming, into a car by three men while others stood by and watched. She was supposedly working for one of them and was trying to escape. She was later found hanged – supposedly committed suicide. Maybe she did or maybe she didn’t but either way she was so obviously being abused and all these big brave men just stood on the sidewalk and watched abuse.

  12. So, so sad. I don’t think the family could give enough “zakat” to even the scales of justice.

    I do know the recruiters for teachers have a wretched reputation. Of course a western teacher has an education and a more powerful country backing them than these women.

  13. Saudi Arabia and Lebanon are the worst offenders in terms of racism and employee mistreatment.
    The attitude in these hell hole countries is that they think that they are doing the employees a favor by giving them jobs and salary, that combined by their “holier than thou” attitude, racism, culture which condones or turns a blind eye to their mistreatment, etc.
    Some countries like Pakistan and India have now banned sending their ladies as maids to KSA.

  14. There was also a Filipina who was held a prisoner in the desert for 25 years (saw this on the news some years ago). She was very young when she went abroad and she was sent home in her 50s. She didn’t even remember who her original sponsor was. According to her, she was always left with no food (if ever she’s left some food, it’ll be food for the animals or left overs that have gotten spoiled) and whenever they leave her alone, they tie her up. She was rescued by some individuals (on a pick-up) who saw her crawling on the road begging for help.

    According to her, when she came back to the Philippines, she didn’t get to see her mother alive. The people who picked her up from the airport in Manila were strangers to her (who apparently are her siblings and cousins).

    It is unfortunate that our government (the Philippine Government) isn’t much of a help as well. Some had to solicit funds from private organizations to support their repatriation tickets.

  15. Having lived in Pakistan during two different periods, I never saw a female Pakistani housemaid. Maybe a female Pakistani would be hired as an ayah (nanny) but it was always the men who worked as cooks and kept up the house.

    I never saw a female Pakistani housemaid or ayah in Saudi Arabia either.

    There were some Indian housemaids but they seemed to be in the minority in Saudi.

  16. i think most indian girls go as nurses. The housemaids in india are mostly women but thent hey are not usually live-in, they come for a few hrs and leave , each one may clean in many houses.

    i think that type of thing would work better in saudi, the housemaids living in their houses and just coming to clean/cook etc., in a few homes, that way they can have the flexibility of picking the homes they want to work in and also have some semblance of a social life outside work.

  17. Goodness, can you see a woman trying to get to her job. Who would drive her? How could she live on her own and still have a good reputation? It would certainly be lovely if that happened but then she wouldn’t be at the beck and call of her ’employers’ 24/7.

  18. Is it really necessary for these saudi families to have maids?? Most of the women there don’t even work, and the men should learn to help around the house ! Alot of the saudis I’ve seen are obese! They should learn to get up from their behinds and learn to do things for themselves. Their children as well becomes lazy.

    Anyways, If someone does need a maid , that doesn’t give anybody the right to mistreat them! I agree with Radhaa these maids should just do their jobs during the day and leave.

    Sadly this is how I see it, as long you don’t look white or of european descent, Saudia Arabia will always have a huge problem with racism against any other person of color. Which is not surprising because it was only in the early 1960’s that they abolished slavery, so alot of older generations I’m sure still have that attitude towards other people of color. It’s funny because also of Saudis are very mixed!

  19. Correction: It’s funny because alot of Saudis are very mixed.

  20. Actually my housemaid in India did live in. Fortunately my home had an apartment above the garage where my housemaid lived.

    I am a strong advocate of domestic help in Saudi Arabia and especially if you are part of a large Saudi family. Homes need to be cleaned multiple times each day due to the amount of dust and sand that can get tracked in and that’s not even counting all of the other tasks required to keep a home in order.

    At one point I did have a Filipina housemaid who came in 3 times a week to work for me. But I found that with my own full time job, I needed someone full time and eventually we sponsored a housemaid.

    Until one has spent time in Saudi Arabia amidst the culture, the weather and types of homes, it may not be easy to comprehend why most families do engage domestic help.

  21. What is being missed here about the treatment of house maids is they are not allowed practice their christian faith in private as well. I know in Saudi it is illegal to practice any non-muslim faith but one can practice it in private and this is also denied to the house maid.
    I know a filipina maid whose bible and cross was confiscated by her Saudi employers and thrown away!!!
    Being a House maid in Saudi basically means being a Slave so therefore all countries must ban sending their ladies as house maids until those rag heads change their attitude.

  22. rag heads? maybe you should re-evaluate yourself and change your racist attitude, sammy!

  23. I agree there’s a lot of dust in saudi that needs ot be cleaned constantly, I don’t think the treatment meted out to maids will get better or worse if saudi women do their own cleaning, irrespective of if one stays home or not having or not having a maid is a personal thing. I live int he US and have a cleanig service come every week , i did that even when i worked part-time.

    All that needs to happen is to treat a maid as you would any human being, be courteous and let them do their job and pay them for it, it’ snot any different than any like if you had a business and had employees. All it needs is a minset change that they are human too and just because they work as maids doesn’t mean they are meter out bad treatment.

    There is dignity in ALL work.

  24. what a biased documentary ! and how do they explain the presence of 3 million Philippians worker in Saudi!

    that’s very rare situation and this documentary are making it look like its an epidemic.

  25. Mrs Bawazir, on April 6, 2012 at 11:41 am said: rag heads? maybe you should re-evaluate yourself and change your racist attitude, sammy!

    Sweetheart Honey :)-

    Sami is not a “racist”, since “islam” or “arab” or “malaysian” or “indian” is not a “race”, but an ethnicity. Sami is definitely a BIGOT, though, big time !!!

    Race and ethnicity seem to be used interchangeably and erroneously, quite often. There is no “arab race” just like there is no “American race” or “christian race” or “muslim race”.

  26. @muniera – there is nothing to explain. Even 1 human being tortured is one too many.
    EVERY human has a right to be free to do as they please without harm.

  27. Dust or no dust you should NEVER treat another human being like that! It’s disgusting and it reflects bad on them as a country, in other words they end up looking uncivilized.Like Radhaa also said , treat people with dignity.

    Btw, a little hard work doesn’t kill anyone , they should get up and still do things for themselves. Especially when obesity is a very high concern over there.

    I was wondering what did you guys think about the alleged protest against Moroccan maids from saudi women (which happened around late 2011)? ?

  28. @Abe: May be you haven’t lived with your arabs, check with them they think “Their Arab Race is the most superior than any body else” For many Arabs you are definitely a low status if you ain’t arab.

    Your name calling me is typical Arab/Muslim behavior, when somebody condemns your abuses which you all do, you get into defensive calling the other party “oh! he is racist!, Islam is under attack!, islamophobia!, etc.”
    The fact remains that Saudis are abusive employers which is a result of their culture in which they grew up. In fact Slavery in Saudi Arabia wasn’t abolished until 60’s.
    Even today i is only muslim countries which officially practice slavery like Mauritania, etc

  29. Sam, you started the name calling, and you generalized whole demographics in your name calling, I think that somebody with such bad manners as you displayed cannot claim the right to whine when another person calls him out on it.
    And Mrs Bawazir was quite polite I could not find any name calling in her comment.
    Calling you a racist was just stating a fact.
    We know nothing about you but your comment and that was racist. So what is your point???

  30. Oh, and the head coverings of Saudis are anything but ”rags”, on the contrary, they look as if they had been washed, ironed and starched for hours before they are pristine enough to be worn by the fashionable male.

  31. Sam, while I highly agree that there are too many Saudi employers or just Saudis in general in being rather horrible in the waybthey treat foreigners from Asian background, I too highly disagree with giving any race/culture/ethnicity/etc any degretory names. By the way, I’m no Arab sweetie,married to one though. You’dbe surprised at how much he despises the acts of his countrymen at times. I had to shut him up about it at times. And naw, I’m not the regular Muslim who go all crazy shouting INFIDEL THOU SHALT GOTH TO HELL FOR ABUSING ME THE MUSLIM. I just don’t like hating and hatred, that’s all.

  32. Munira, I don’t agree maid abuse as being rare cases. Too many a times I would read these disgusting news. Human need to treat another human being as that, humans.

  33. Here is an article triggered by the suicide of the Ethiopian maid in Lebanon. It is an interesting read.

  34. This is appalling. If the people lose fear from Allah when they deal with their employees then the Government must step in and take measures that insure the dignity and justice for the employees. More pressure is needed to be put in the Government and on the society to enhance the treatment of their gusts. Documentaries is good method but it will has more effect if it is in Arabic or at least translate into Arabic.

    Could someone please explain what RAG HEADS exactly means. I triad to find it in Oxford dictionary but found nothing, I never heard it, never read it, but first time come across this word in this blog.

    @ Honest Abe
    you wrote arab is not race. I read report issued by the state department about the treatment of Palestinians in West Bank, and found that some Jewish people classified the Palestinians as SUBHUMAN. I wonder if you share your brothers in putting the Arabs under the classes of humanity. I am illiterate as far as race is concerned, and if you enlighten me about this issue! How people are classified as far as race is concerned?

  35. lol snowman I highly doubt you will find a word like “raghead” in the oxford dictionary. It’s just another derogatory term referring to people who are middle eastern and south asian. The “rags” , as they rudely call it, basically refers to the traditional head dresses that are associated with those specific areas of the world (i.e. the turban , ghutra, etc..).

  36. Snowman:

    Raghead is a derogatory term for a subset of individuals typically based upon ethnicity. The term raghead is intended towards Arab not muslims. Particulars since non-Arab Muslims greatly out number Arab muslims. Therefore, the conclusion is that it is meant to be a derogatory term for the Arab ethnicity not the religious belief.

    Now Arab is an ethnicity as far as I am concerned. Muslim denotes a person who has a particular religious belief. So I see the two as two different and distinct items. You can be an Arab who doesn’t believe in hateful backward fairytales or you can be one that believes in hateful backward fairytales. See the difference. Again, I have no problems with the ethnicity. I have a problems with the hateful backward belief system to which history has shown as god/allah sanctioned and upheld discrimination, murder, slavery, barbaric tendencies, tribalism, hatred, gender aparthied, deceptions, and insert any other evil as religion upholds it. It is a belief system to which I see deserves no respect only contempt.

    Long live the easter bunny may it rule supreme over the hate ideologies as I hope we see the Easter Bunny and Christianity/other evil religions on the same level,…… make believe.

    Maybe we can stop depending on evil religious make believe and fearing make believe as it doesn’t correct the problem particular since the make believe says it is okay to beat your slave(maid).

    Remember Judiaism is another tribal theololgy that is based upon a chosen group and the rest(people) are just barely tolerated as sub-human. This is religion particular the backward, proven to be made up, Abrahamic religion. Remember the Exodus never occurred, David is a myth, Solomon is a myth, Yahweh can’t defeat iron chariots, Mose is a myth, Jesus is a repeat cycle of a non-original already been done again over and over virgin birth of a god child (bad re-run), etc. El-Elyon was the Supreme God with Asherha before the concept of The One who is fearful of all gods,Yahweh, who was a minor pagan god later transformed to the one fearful of other gods – THE GOD. Seriously make believe. Stop the insanity just say no to religion.

    Instead why don’t we make laws that would punish the people with fines, imprisonment, public shame, etc. for actually violating the rights of a person to be treated with dignity and respect.

  37. @Wendy – that is an interesting article and I appreciate that you shared it.

    @Snowman – I see that several answered you about the term you asked about. Sadly, it is a derogatory (bad) term that individuals with small minds may use. ):

  38. Fact is—- most arabs are brutal, dirty and stupid by Nature—-
    without their oil they are nothing but shites, so go for pure electric cars :-))

  39. @ an apple … A bit bigoted are you? Jeez!

  40. I hate to disappointed Wendy and other discussants, but I think Apple is more humorous than dump and/or completely hopeless and bigoted.

    We need people like this to keep us going on and morbidly entertained.

    Can you tell us more about yourself Apple and what led you to your comprehensive conclusion? I know some Arabs fit in your categorization, but I feel some of us are actually decent, clean and against brutality. Ali

  41. Ali, you must be bored! LOL!!!

  42. While we go on and on accusing others of being bigots. The fact remains that it is the Saudi Culture, Saudi Law, the action or inaction of all the Saudi Citizens that we have modern day slavery in its worst form perpetuated on the less fortunate.

    Expressing anger and condemnation against thee brutal uncivilized barbarian Saudis is not a crime or must be called bigots.

    If there any so called “good Arabs” they they must stand up. Instead of hiding behind their rags ( I mean their perfectly pressed shmagh which was labored by their enslaved maids)

  43. @ Wendy

    I wish boredom is one of my problems, but thanks for reminding of what I am missing and badly need.

  44. Many people who do some of the most good in the world choose to remain anonymous.

  45. @ American Bedu,

    Those are the selfless and good doers who do things to help others more than to promote their tangible interests or vent their feelings without out identifying themselves for fear of becoming known and held accountable for their actions. Good try.

  46. Before one RIGHTLY criticizes KSA about slavery and treatment of its’ slave maids, one must be introspective and realize that although slavery was abolished (via the emancipation proclamation) in 1865 (?), slavery was practiced and was alive and kicking in the US, well into the late 1930s. It was practiced in various creative forms and under different names such as “convict leasing”, peonage, debt slavery, etc.

    This dark period in our own history is conveniently glossed over in our textbooks and only presented as a sanitized version. Here’s a heart-rending PBS documentary, “Slavery by Another Name”:

  47. Here we go again just like any other brain washed Muslim, btw slavery was not invented by the Americans it was a common practice by all civilizations.

    However it was the west which first took the steps to abolish slavery and we have come a long way correcting our ills. To such extent that we had to fight a civil war. Today in America and west we have laws against discrimination on race, culture, gender, religion, sexual orientation, etc. And our founders had the courage to fight for these freedoms. Yes we have some minority red necks whom we abhor and are not mainstream.

    But In KSA slavery was officially recognized until 1960’s until US intervened and forced Saudi to abolish it. But Saudis reinvented slavery in the form of domestic servitude which is very much alive and kicking still in the form of your kafala system.

    In America if I force my maid to only work with me and lock her up in my basement I will be arrested and sent to prison, just like your brother  Homaidan Turkey who is now serving time in Colorado. 

    So don’t you ever compare your wretched country with USA which has fought for equality and freedom while your KSA supports, encourages modern day slavery.

    Look around you it is only the Islamofacist Arab nations like Saudi, Mauritania, Lebanon, etc. which still practice slavery while the west has atoned for its past by shedding its blood and sweat. 

    You sir must stop pointing your fingers.

  48. Sam,

    I am a full-blooded redneck american living in san diego, who doesn’t believe in god or allah or yahweh. And more importantly, I don’t believe in “my country right or wrong :)-

  49. Now I know what causes earthquakes and why the earth shakes when they hit. Mystery solved. Happy reading.

  50. Sam:

    The US has it problems particular in foreign policy as it overlooks human atrocities for its vested interest. In addition, the US is having an upsurge of religious “Christian nut jobs” currently; who want to put back women’s rights to the dark ages and impose their ideology on the populace by shoving their hate dogma down the throats of everyone who doesn’t believe in the sky fairy. Check out the recent state by state laws from rolling back many of women’s rights to include women’s fair pay in Wisconsin (lilly ledbetter act), abortion rights are curtailed by calling women stupid or just raping them by government probe insertion, trying to ban birth control and the changing tax payer money into bishop bucks. The US needs to get the religious nut jobs out of office before they completely erode even the thinly veiled version that sort of exists today of separation of church and state. Seriously the US has a dismal record on rights for minorities, gender and sexual orientation many times due to the institutions of hate ideology that is religion. I often times believe the reason why the US has the worst offense in violence is because the US is so religious and the religious are the first to exhibit hate, discrimination in the form righteousness of racism, rape, etc.

    Just remember the Catholic church is a beacon for the many religious and they hid raping children but will go after doctors who will perform life saving procedures on 9 years who would die if they gave birth after being rape by the step-father. Just a note everyone involved in this life saving measure was ex-communicated except for the rapist. This is the message of the church. It’s okay to rape children and hide it. Love some of the early examples of Christian hate mongers and their thoughts on women, races, slaves, etc. This is religion, this is their followers and this is what a lot religious people do. But don’t worry just turn the other cheek right.

    Just so you know I blame conservative thinking here in the US for much of the attacks on women due to their religious hatred of women and those who don’t belong to their hate group, or the little hate clicks. It is their constant bemoaning of women and their place and they will show them their place often times by abuse or violence. Then they often times hate each other, LGBTs, different races, etc. They are typically the biggest deceivers, cheaters, bigots, womanizers, racists, etc. This is what many religious represent to me in the USA and you will see the religous play this same old tired saga out again and again even the other religious branches have the same game. Same shit different day.

    I spend years in law enforcement and I can tell you the religious are some of the worst groups on violence and hiding it.

    So spare me on the whole USA has atoned for it’s sins crap. It just happens to be a better place to live than Saudi. However, that is not saying that it doesn’t have a long way to go because it does.

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