Dr Samantha Jeffries from Griffith Criminology Institute.

Getting their families out of poverty is the most common reason why women risk trafficking drugs across Thailand’s borders a new Griffith University study has found.

The study, published in Psychiatry, Psychology and Law, interviewed 34 women and men to compare their lived experiences before being imprisoned in Thailand for international cross-border drug trafficking (ICBDT).

Three pathways to prison emerged for both groups: the ‘deviant’ lifestyle, financial hardship and the need to provide for their families, and inexperience and deception. The fourth pathway, romantic susceptibility, only affected women in the study.

Lead researcher Dr Samantha Jeffries from Griffith Criminology Institute said they found noticeable gender-based differences on the different pathways to prison for ICBDT between men and women.

“Men and women’s experiences change when you factor in their relationship to poverty, intimate partners, trauma, victimisation and caring for parents and children.”

“When you look at women’s reasons for ending up in prison it’s because they either needed to financially support their family or they fell in love with the wrong person,’’ Dr Jeffries said.

While both men and women in the ‘deviant’ lifestyle reported being influenced by their peers to use drugs, women’s drug use on this pathway started after meeting their partner.

“Men make up a larger proportion of this group, which is marked by using drugs, repeat offending and hanging out with the wrong people before travelling to other countries for cheaper drugs for either their own use or to sell to others.

“In contrast to the women on this pathway, none of the men report starting or escalating their drug use within the context of a romantic relationship. In fact, rather than acting as facilitators, the men’s girlfriends and wives tried to stop their drug use.”

Women end up in prison trying to help their families

The study found the most common pathway for women into prison for ICBDT is wanting to provide for their families due to financial hardship.

“Everyone on this pathway grew up in households affected by poverty. Many had to leave school early to work in low paid jobs to support their families, limiting their future earning potential. All of the women married young in the hopes of improving their situation but it often made their financial situation worse,” said Dr Jeffries.

The study also found no evidence of drug use among the women in this pathway. All of the women were approached by someone who knew of their financial hardship.

“They were eventually paid by these other people to traffic drugs into Thailand. This enabled them to support their families through illegitimate means,” Dr Jeffries said.

“These women were pushed into criminality because of poverty and caretaking responsibilities.”

The study is a collaborative project completed in partnership with the Thailand Institute of Justice.

5: Gender Equality
UN Sustainable Development Goals 5: Gender Equality