Prison sentence for woman who kept slaves

Rungnapha Kanbut has been jailed for intentionally possessing a slave.
Rungnapha Kanbut has been jailed for intentionally possessing a slave.

A Sydney woman who kept two Thai women as slaves has been sentenced to more than eight years in prison.

Rungnapha "Lisa" Kanbut, 57, was found guilty by a NSW District Court jury in May of two counts each of intentionally possessing a slave, exercising powers of ownership over a slave and dealing with the proceeds of crime.

Judge Nanette Williams sentenced her to eight years, two months and 30 days in prison in the Parramatta District Court on Friday.

The two Thai women voluntarily came to Australia to do sex work and lived with Kanbut and her husband in 2004 and 2005, respectively.

They testified at trial that she took their passports when they arrived and returned them once they had each paid off a $45,000 "debt", which took some months.

At a sentencing hearing in September one of Kanbut's victims told the court her heart was broken from the experience and that she "will live with the scars" for the rest of her life.

Through her interpreter, the victim told the court she was made to service up to 10 clients a day and work while she had her period.

"I vividly remember the pain I was in," her statement read.

"I had to use a sponge ... and continue to work when I was menstruating ... I feel my heart is broken."

The woman told the court she believed the forced use of the sponge was behind the "extreme debilitating pain" she now suffered during her period and said doctors had told her she needed surgery to remove "membrane" inside of her.

"Now when I menstruate, I can't even walk, I'm in extreme pain for several days," she said.

During the trial, Judge Nanette Williams told the jury the law defined slavery as "the condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised, including where such a condition results from a debt or a contract made by the person".

Crown prosecutor Peter Neil SC pointed out to the jury in his closing submissions that one of the women wasn't familiar with Sydney, had little money of her own and couldn't speak English.

The woman - who can't be named for legal reasons - said Kanbut had told her not to run away because there was "nowhere for you to run".

"Just because you accept your fate because there is no alternative doesn't mean you consent to it," Mr Neil told the jury.

Kanbut will be eligible for release in 2024.

Australian Associated Press