Farmer kept woman as slave for 40 years

Austrian social workers say they have freed a woman kept as a slave on a remote Alpine farm for more than 40 years.

Martina Moik was handed over by her parents at the age of 15 and had to work for four decades on the farm at Deutschlandsberg in Arnold Schwarzenegger's home province of Styria in Austria.

Now psychiatrists and social workers are trying to help her learn how to live in a world she hasn't seen for four decades.

"The first time she saw a road crossing she stopped and wouldn't carry on walking until it was explained and she knew just what it was and what it was for.

"But even then there is a whole new set of problems. How do you explain a traffic crossing to someone who has never seen traffic?" said one of the team.

"When she saw cars for the first time she just walked straight out in front of them. She doesn't understand," they added.

Martina who is understood to have learning difficulties and is now in care, told police that life had not been too bad with regular meals and a TV of her own until 2004 when the farmer had died.

But when his wife Christine Assigal took over the property she was beaten and fed bread and marmalade for every meal.

The now 55-year-old slave complained: "She used to beat me and pull my hair. She even took away my TV."

Police acting on an anonymous tip-off raided the property and freed the woman who has now been put in the care of a foster family.

One of the carers said: "Farmers should not even treat their animals the way they treated this woman. She was paid nothing for her 40 years of work there and kept as a slave - she worked every day."

The woman was taken from the farm just twice for hospital visits to treat injuries she picked up doing hard manual labour.

"She was driven straight there and back again and told to tell them she'd fallen," said one case worker.

Local council spokesman Helmut-Theoboald Mueller said: "She had been seen by visitors in the area over the years and she was always working. Because she had learning difficulties that made it hard for her to communicate - and no one realised her predicament.

"It was only when her meals started being cut and she started to get ill that we were alerted."

The woman had been indentured to work as a maid on the firm 40 years ago - a common practice for young unmarried women in those days.

Now prosecutors are examining evidence to see if there is enough proof for a slavery charge against the farmer's wife.

"It's a difficult case. She has learning difficulties and no real memory of how she came to be there and the wife is blaming her husband," said one police source.