On 11 April 2012, Ms Watcharaporn Nantahkhum was found guilty by a jury of intentionally possessing a slave (s270.3(1) of Criminal Code), two offences of allowing a non-citizen to work in breach of a visa condition (s245AC of Migration Act) and two offences of allowing an unlawful non-citizen to work (s245AB of Migration Act). Ms Nantahkhum was also convicted of perverting the course of justice by offering the alleged victim money to keep quiet about her circumstances.
At trial, it was alleged that Ms Nantahkhum, who was herself exploited whilst working in the sex industry after arriving in Australia in 2004, recruited a woman from Thailand in February 2007 when the woman was searching for work to support her family. The woman was allegedly told she would incur a debt of $45,000 however she negotiated this debt to $43,000. The woman claimed that during a telephone conversation with Ms Nantahkhum, she was assured that it would not take long to repay the debt and she would only be required to service a maximum of approximately 5 clients a day.
The woman arrived in Australia and was taken to an apartment where she would live and work. She claimed her passport and return ticket were taken from her and she was not permitted to leave the premises unless escorted by Ms Nantahkhum or her friend. The woman contended that in order to repay her debt, she provided sexual services to approximately 700 clients, seeing up to 14 clients in one day. She was required to work even when ill or menstruating. Another woman was allegedly recruited later under similar circumstances but Ms Nantahkhum was only charged with Migration Act offences in relation to the second victim.
During sentencing, the Supreme Court of the ACT considered the personal circumstances of Ms Nantahkhum, including the similar treatment she experienced when first arriving in Australia. The Court did however note that she was not entitled to leniency for her apparent remorse due to her relentless stance that the victims had made false accusations against her.
Ms Nantahkhum was sentenced to eight years and ten month’s imprisonment with a minimum non-parole period of four years and nine months.
Ms Nantahkhum appealed her convictions and sentences and the appeal was heard by the ACT Court of Appeal on 13 February 2013. The appellant was re-sentenced to a reduced six years and ten month’s imprisonment, with a minimum non-parole period of three years and six months.