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Woman accused of keeping two Thai women as sex slaves3 min read

The woman accused of keeping two Thai women as slaves ‘and forcing them to perform sex work to pay off their debt to her’

A woman accused of keeping two Thai women as slaves and forcing them to perform sex work to pay off their $45,000 ‘debts’ has appeared in court.

Rungnapha Kanbut, 57, is on trial in the NSW District Court after pleading not guilty to six charges including intentionally possessing a slave and dealing with the proceeds of crime.

Kanbut allegedly told two Thai women they each had a $45,000 debt to pay off, and would do so through their sex work, after they arrived in Sydney and were taken to live with her in 2004 and 2005 respectively

Kanbut (right) allegedly told two Thai women they each had a $45,000 debt to pay off, and would do so through their sex work

The first female complainant told the court on Friday, through a Thai interpreter, that clients ‘quite often’ spat on her and caused her bruises and that she told ‘Rung’ about the ill-treatment.

The woman, under questioning from crown prosecutor Peter Neil SC, said that Kanbut’s response was ‘to take certain medicines, to just put up with it until the time was up and to just keep the customer’.

On Wednesday, the first complainant said she had been taken to a unit leased by Kanbut and her husband in the city’s inner west after flying in from Bangkok in November 2004.

The young Thai national had a conversation with Kanbut that evening.

‘She said I owed her 45,000 Australian dollars,’ said the woman, who cannot be identified for legal reasons.

Kanbut also asked whether she wanted to rest or start working the following day, to which she replied the latter.

Mr Neil on Wednesday asked: ‘Did Rung (Kanbut) tell you to keep a book of how many jobs you did to pay the ($45,000) debt?’.

‘Yes,’ she replied.

The woman, who started sex work in her early 20s, said she was also asked to hand Kanbut her Thai passport.

‘She said after I repaid the debt, she would return it to me,’ the complainant said.

She told the court about the process behind her coming to Australia as a sex worker, including that she had to take ‘completely nude’ photos beforehand but ‘passed the test’ of being ‘beautiful enough’ to be sent overseas.

‘The photos were security that I was not going to run away because if I were to run away then the photos would be put up to shame me,’ she said.

The man who organised her three-month tourist visa told her hours before she flew out that it’d been approved.

He gave her $100 before she got on the plane, took her phone, told her not to have a big bag otherwise ‘it would look like I wasn’t coming back’ and told her not to pack sexy underwear.

The man took her Thai bank account book and told her she would live with a person named ‘Rung’ in Sydney.

The woman said she didn’t have a ‘working name’ for Australia or Thailand but back home she ‘had a number’.

‘Everyone has a number on their shirt and when a client comes, they get to choose which number they want,’ she said.

Mr Neil on Tuesday said the fact the complainants came to Australia voluntarily for sex work didn’t prevent jurors finding ‘that either or both of them was possessed – that is used – by the respondent akin to her owning them’.

Defence barrister Jeffrey Clarke said there were issues with some of their allegations but overall ‘the real issue here is whether or not what is being described by these witnesses amounts to slavery’. The trial continues before Judge Nanette Williams

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