University of Kent research on women working as drug 'mules' has found they aren't victims of their sex but of the trade, and its illegal status.
Dr Nayeli Urquiza Haas of the University's Kent Law School compared different legal developments and strategies in Europe and Latin America.
Globally, women who traffic drugs across borders are over-represented in prison in relation to their limited role in the trade. Dr Urquiza Haas found attributing victim status to women who traffic drugs is used to minimise prison sentences if they are arrested and charged.
But she suggests this legal bias, born from pre-conceived judgments and expectations about women's behaviour, distracts law and policy-makers from paying attention to the negative effects of punitive drug control laws and the so-called 'war on drugs'.
Her research examined how courts fail to consider how drug mules, among other participants in the drug trade, endure precarious work conditions in foreign countries; disregarding the conditions which make them more vulnerable to exploitation.
Dr Urquiza Haas says gender does play a role but only in the same way as in any other 'workplace' where sexism and poverty may restrict women's access to safe working conditions.
Dr Urquiza Haas presented her research at a workshop bringing together international researchers, activists and practitioners from the field of global drug policy reform in Budapest, Hungary, earlier this year.
Vulnerability Discourses and Drug Mule Work: Legal Approaches in Sentencing and Non-Prosecution/Non-Punishment Norms is published in a special issue of The Howard Journal of Crime and Justice dedicated to international advances in research and policy regarding drug mules and couriers.
Note to editors
Established in 1965, the University of Kent - the UK's European university - now has almost 20,000 students across campuses or study centres at Canterbury, Medway, Tonbridge, Brussels, Paris, Athens and Rome.
It has been ranked 22nd in the Guardian University Guide 2018 and 25th in the Complete University Guide 2018, and in June 2017 was awarded a gold rating, the highest, in the UK Government's Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).
In the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2015-16, it is in the top 10% of the world's leading universities for international outlook and 66th in its table of the most international universities in the world. The THE also ranked the University as 20th in its 'Table of Tables' 2016.
Kent is ranked 17th in the UK for research intensity (REF 2014). It has world-leading research in all subjects and 97% of its research is deemed by the REF to be of international quality.
In the National Student Survey 2016, Kent achieved the fourth highest score for overall student satisfaction, out of all publicly funded, multi-faculty universities.
Along with the universities of East Anglia and Essex, Kent is a member of the Eastern Arc Research Consortium.
The University is worth £0.7 billion to the economy of the south east and supports more than 7,800 jobs in the region. Student off-campus spend contributes £293.3m and 2,532 full-time-equivalent jobs to those totals.
Kent has received two Queen's Anniversary prizes for Higher and Further Education.