Victor Violante at The Canberra Times covered a big-deal trafficking case in Australia the day before yesterday. The court held by a 6-1 majority that Wei Tang, 46, a Melbourne brothel owner, intentionally possessed and used slaves. She paid each of the four Thai women–in Australian on tourist visas–$20,000 each and then held them in debt bondage at her brothel.
The court held that the prosecution did not have to prove Tang knew her treatment of the five women amounted to slavery. It sufficed that she exercised powers consistent with a sense of owning the women in question.
“In particular, a capacity to deal with a complainant as a commodity, an object of sale and purchase, may be a powerful indication that a case falls on one side of the line [between employment and slavery],'” Chief Justice Murray Gleeson said.
“The evidence could be understood as showing that they had been bought and paid for, and that their commodification explained the conditions of control and exploitation under which they were living and working.”
This decision essentially overturns a Victorian Court of Appeal order which set aside a jury’s guilty verdicts on the grounds that the trial judge had failed to address the jury on whether Tang intentionally exercised a power of ownership to enslave the victim.
Tang is the first person in Australia to be convicted by a jury of possessing and using a slave since the federal anti-slavery laws were introduced in 1999. It is because of this case that Australia’s slavery laws were changed in 2004 to recognize debt bondage.