Vietnamese women in Victoria are at risk of being arrested and imprisoned for drug offenses that they commit to pay their gambling debts, according to a report in The Age. After the women accumulate gambling debts at Crown Casino, drug smugglers recruit them by offering them loans. Facing 10% weekly interest on their loans, the women are told that if they cannot pay they must smuggle heroin into the country or oversee the production of marijuana in growing houses.
A researcher for Swinburne University found that, as of 2011, 20% of the women serving a prison sentence in Victoria were Vietnamese. That percentage increased from 5% just four years earlier.
Many Vietnamese women begin gambling in the forlorn hope that they will make enough money to support their husbands, who often have a second family in Vietnam. Other women began gambling as a social activity and became addicted.
The women are easy pickings for police who raid marijuana growing operations and find only one person who is tending the crop. The women rarely know the identity of the person running the operation. That means the women go to prison and the more serious criminals remain free to operate.
Women who are caught smuggling heroin into Australia from another country typically face prosecution under federal law. Division 307 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code penalizes drug importation offenses. A woman who smuggles just 2 grams of heroin into Australia could face up to 25 years in prison. Importing 1.5 kilograms or more would subject a woman to the possibility of a life sentence.
Cultivation of marijuana is punished under the law of Victoria. Cultivating means sowing, planting, growing, tending, nurturing, or harvesting, among other activities. The activities of the Vietnamese women probably fall under the categories of tending and nurturing.
In Victoria, cultivation that is related to trafficking is punishable by imprisonment for a term of not more than 15 years. If more than 100 plants are involved, and if the woman knew or should have known that she was tending at least 100 plants, the crime is punishable by a prison term of not more than 25 years.
It seems unfair to the Vietnamese women that they are exploited by the drug dealers who take advantage of their gambling debts and are then punished by a legal system that does not punish the men who exploited them. While it could be argued that the women know the risks they are taking when they participate in drug crimes, they might be taking even more serious risks by failing to pay their gambling debts to the dealers who exploit them. It is a shame to use the criminal justice system to punish the women when society would be better served by treating their gambling addictions while focusing criminal justice resources on the drug dealers who exploit them.