The defendant managed a brothel called Diamonds and another brothel called Darlings, exercising significant control in the business of Diamonds and over the victims.
The defendant, Ms Wong, coordinated with agents in Malaysia who made the arrangements for the complainants to go to Australia, and with an education agent who facilitated the appearance of the victims’ enrolment and attendance at educational courses. The victims, four Malaysian women, all came to Australia on student visas, with the condition not to work more than 20 hours per week and not to work before their course had commenced. The defendant knew the conditions of the student visas held by all the complainants and she directed them to work in excess of the 20 hours per week permitted, to not attend the educational courses they were enrolled in, and coached them to lie to Immigration officials about their working hours and study. Moreover, Ms Wong either directly, or using Diamonds employees, manipulated attendance records of the complainants at some educational institutions and sometimes met with staff at colleges.
All of the complainants knew they were to work in a brothel and had done so in Malaysia. While the victims were aware of the nature of the work they would be performing in Australia, they did not know, nor did they agree to the conditions they would be subjected to during their performance of such work. After their arrival in Australia, Ms Wong directed the complainants to apartments leased or owned by her business partner, K.L., or members of his family. There, the complainants lived in crowded conditions, sleeping on mattresses on the floor or in double bunks, four bunks to a room, paying rent disproportionate to the accommodation which had no space for clothes or personal belongings.
Ms Wong used a debt bondage system to pressurize and coerce the women: after their arrival in Australia, she would tell them that they had incurred in a debt to cover the arrangements made for her to go to Australia, and that they had to repay that debt before they could leave the brothel. Moreover, while the victims’ earnings went towards repayment of their debts, they did not dispose of any money, and thus had to borrow from Ms Wong to buy food and essential items, amounts which were added to their initial debt.
Ms Wong decided and controlled the women’s working hours. Furthermore, the complainants were not allowed to leave the brothel during working hours except with her permission and only for short periods of time. The complainants were dressed in transparent clothing and identified by numbered tags, they were required to work 17hour shifts, to work during illness, they could not refuse clients, they were constantly threatened and were forced to engage in sexual acts they did not wish to perform, such as unprotected sex, under threats of deportation. Moreover, the victims were threatened with harm to themselves and their families if they left Diamonds before their debts were repaid.
Court: District Court of New South Wales
Date of decision: 27-03-2013
Reference: R v Chee Mei Wong
When sentencing, the Court considered that there was a significant overlap in the facts which formed the basis for the sexual servitude charge, and the Migration Act charges. This is because the exploitative element in the migration charge of “allowing a lawful non-citizen to work in breach of a work-related visa condition and knowing the worker is being exploited”, involved the women being subject to sexual servitude and working in excess of the working hours permitted by their student visas. In this regard, the Court emphasized the need to avoid double punishment where the offences arise out of essentially the same conduct.
The jury first, and then the Court, considered that the evidence provided by the complainants and the intercepted phone calls showed that the defendant exercised significant control in the management of Diamonds and over the complainants themselves. Furthermore, the Court considered that the conditions in which the complainants were forced to work by the defendant caused them to suffer physical and emotional harm.
In its decision, the Court highlighted the significance of the debt, which compelled the victims to work for Ms Wong and deprived them of their freedom to choose, as they had to work to repay their debts, under threat of deportation or harm to themselves or their family.
Moreover, the Court held that the work the complainants were forced to perform under threats of deportation or of harm from Ms Wong was demeaning and dehumanizing, including being paraded in front of potential customers wearing numbers for identification. The conditions under which the complainants were made to work meant that the defendant treated them like commodities, like “machines to make money” in the judge’s words, rather than like human beings: they were forced to have sex with people they did not wish to have sex with, forced to engage in unprotected sex, forced to perform sexual acts they did not wish to perform, and they were made to live in crowded conditions, paying disproportionate amounts for rent and having to borrow money for food.
The Court considered that it was clear from the evidence that Ms Wong had a primary role in the conduct of the business: discussing the arrival of the female workers with the Malaysian agents, meeting the victims on their arrival, directing them to work, including during their periods and illness, directing an employee to arrange bedding in the place of accommodation so she could squeeze more women into the apartment, coordinating with the education agency to organize the enrolment of the workers in courses, and managing and controlling their attendance at colleges.
Regarding the drug offence, there was no evidence of Ms Wong having a commercial purpose or financial gain as the reason for her possession of the drug. Therefore, the judge assessed the objective seriousness of the offence as low. Furthermore, because the defendant pleaded guilty to this offence, the judge decided to discount the sentence by 12.5%. Moreover, the Prosecutor appearing in the drug supply charge conceded that the sentence for that offence could be wholly or substantially subsumed in the sentence for the other offences.
Taking all the aforementioned matters into account, the Court resolved to sentence Ms Wong to a concurrent sentence of a maximum of six years imprisonment, comprising of: a sentence to six years imprisonment for the count of conducting a business involving forced labour, to two years imprisonment for each count of allowing a non-citizen to work in breach of a work-related visa condition and knowing the worker was being exploited (four counts), to one year imprisonment for each of the two counts of allowing a non-citizen to work in breach of a work-related visa condition, and to eight months imprisonment for the offence of supplying drugs to be served concurrently.
Section 270.6 subs (2) of the Criminal Code: "Conducting a business involving forced labour
(2) A person commits an offence if:
(a) the person conducts any business; and
(b) the business involves the forced labour of another person (or persons).
(a) in the case of an aggravated offence (see section 270.8)—imprisonment for 12 years; or
(b) in any other case—imprisonment for 9 years.
Section 245AC(2) of the Migration Act: “An offence against subsection (1) is an aggravated offence if the worker is being exploited and the person knows of, or is reckless as to, that circumstance.”
Section 245AC(1) of the Migration Act: “(1) A person (the first person ) contravenes this subsection if:
(a) the first person allows, or continues to allow, another person (the worker ) to work; and
(b) the worker is a lawful non-citizen; and
(c) the worker holds a visa that is subject to a work-related condition; and
(d) the worker is in breach of the work-related condition solely because of doing the work referred to in paragraph (a).”
Supplying Prohibited Drugs
District Court of New South Wales