Monday, October 27, 2008

Operation frees dozens of child prostitutes

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Dozens of juveniles have been freed from forced prostitution by a nationwide operation that resulted in the arrests of hundreds of other people, the FBI announced Monday.

In the three-day operation, which began Thursday night, the FBI, along with local and state law enforcement agencies, took the 46 girls and one boy -- all of them U.S. citizens ages 13 to 17 -- into protective custody.

"Operation Cross Country II" involved efforts in 29 cities and resulted in the arrest of 73 pimps and 518 adult prostitutes, the FBI said.

Those arrested could face federal or state charges, depending on their alleged activities.

FBI Deputy Director John Pistole said some of the alleged sex traffickers were working in networks of six to 10 pimps.

"Sex trafficking of children remains one of our most violent and unconscionable crimes in this country," he told reporters.

Authorities said some of the alleged prostitutes were found at casinos and truck stops. Others were advertised on the Internet.

Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, likened teen prostitution to "21st century slavery" and estimated that tens of thousands of teens may be involved. He said it is "happening on Main Street U.S.A. ... These people are moving kids city to city."

Information from last summer's first "Operation Cross Country" led agents to some of the targets identified in the latest initiative, the FBI said.

When authorities received a tip about a possible juvenile prostitute, an agent would set up a sting operation to determine the person's age; anyone under age 18 was taken into custody.

In all, the initiative has freed 576 child victims from forced prostitution, the FBI said.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Of Human Bondage

Somaly Mam Escaped Years of Sexual Slavery, But Not the Burden of Helping Others Do the Same

By David Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 22, 2008


For so long, silence equaled survival for Somaly Mam -- when she was raped in her Cambodian village at 12; forced to marry at 14; sold into a brothel in Phnom Penh at 16; raped, beaten and tortured more times than she can remember by the clients and pimps until she escaped that world at about 21.

The ages are approximate. She doesn't know how old she is. ("Maybe 37. Maybe 38. Maybe younger.") She never knew her parents in the deep mountain forest of her childhood, where she felt safe talking only to the trees.

Along the way, somehow she learned not to be silent. That is the most extraordinary part of her shocking life's journey, an achievement she still cannot fully explain. Her hard-earned ability to speak out has helped her rescue 4,000 girls and women from brothels in the last decade. It has helped her build one of the largest nongovernmental organizations in Cambodia, with 150 employees, sheltering 220 women and girls in that country, with more in shelters in Vietnam and Laos. And earlier this month it brought her to Capitol Hill to urge members of Congress to pass a law against human trafficking.

"What can we do to help you?" asked Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), receiving Mam in her office.

"Your pressure can help," Mam replied, saying that the United States can be an example to Cambodia and other countries where trafficking is rampant.

A bill to bolster an existing anti-trafficking statute has passed the House and is before the Senate. About 2 million people a year are trapped in sexual bondage or labor servitude as a result of trafficking, including thousands in the United States, according to the State Department.

After visiting congressional offices and addressing the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, Mam planned to travel across the country promoting her autobiography, "The Road of Lost Innocence: The True Story of a Cambodian Heroine," and to raise money for her foundation, the Somaly Mam Foundation (

Her small entourage included two women who work with her in Cambodia and two executives of LexisNexis, which has taken up her cause as part of the corporation's philanthropic support for international "rule-of-law" projects. Her work has been supported by the United Nations, and in 1998 she was awarded Spain's Prince of Asturias Award along with six other women's rights activists. Her work was praised by the State Department in its 2005 annual report on human trafficking.

Mam's voice is soft and shy, as if even after nearly two decades of activism she were still getting used to speaking up. Her matter-of-fact accounts, delivered in halting, imperfect English, leave her listeners shaken.

"They rape them for one week, the virgins," Mam tells Schakowsky.

The clients believe having sex with a virgin confers all sorts of benefits, even curing AIDS, Mam explains. The men -- from lowly Cambodian taxi drivers to foreign sex tourists -- assume the youngest children must be virgins, so there is a lucrative market for ever-younger girls. The girls Mam rescues are as young as 4, sold into prostitution by their families.

"Oh my God, it takes your breath away," Schakowsky says.

"Sometimes the women themselves, they think that it is normal that they have been sold in a brothel," Mam tells her. "It's like me. Before, I think it's normal that I have been sold. . . . I never knew that I had rights."

"Where do you find that courage?" Schakowsky asks Mam -- which is another way of probing the central mystery of her life: How did she discover she had rights? Where did she find her voice?

There was no Somaly Mam to help Somaly Mam. How did Somaly Mam help herself? How did she learn to banish silence?

She was born in about 1970 or 1971 in a village inhabited by a dark-skinned mountain tribe that was scorned by the lowland Khmer. The upheaval of the Vietnam War was followed by the murderous strife of Pol Pot's dictatorship. Her parents disappeared, then so did her grandmother.

She was a child on her own in a culture where children are "a kind of domestic livestock," she writes, and where "there is only one law for women: silence before rape and silence after."

"I remember one day I have been raped by a man," she says in an interview while awaiting Schakowsky's return from a vote in Congress. "I just want to run away home. I want to talk to people, have them to know. But when I need people to help me, no one help me. So I keep silence."

A man who claimed to be her grandfather enslaved her as a servant in his house. Then he sent her to a brothel. There, she says, her will was broken. She stopped feeling, stopped caring or hoping. But she found she still cared for the new girls arriving all the time -- girls who were still alive inside.

What saved her was the possibility of saving others. She could speak up for them, even if she did not feel worthy to speak up for herself.

"I think that experience make me stand up," she continues, tears coming to her eyes. "Something happen to me I didn't want to happen to the girls. I didn't want to happen to another one. Because it's not easy to survive it."

Mam began by helping a pair of new girls from the country escape the Phnom Penh brothel where Mam herself was a prisoner, working to pay off the debt owed by her "grandfather" to the brothel owner. Then Mam was lucky enough to be picked up by a client who was a Swiss humanitarian worker. He was yet another john, but he was not violent, and he eventually gave her a present of enough money to help out more girls.

Mam met more foreigners, and in about 1991 became the girlfriend of a French relief worker who spoke fluent Khmer, and whom she eventually married. She got work cleaning houses and hotels. Her husband respected her more than she respected herself. She thought he was "crazy" to insist that she make her own decisions and "do whatever I want."

She learned to look people in the eye. She realized she had rights. She stopped keeping silent.

She and her husband had two children and adopted a third, but their marriage fell apart a few years ago.

In 2004, Mam and her staff helped launch a police raid against their biggest brothel target yet, a hotel in Phnom Penh where 200 women and girls worked. The owners had powerful connections. She and her staff received death threats. A mob of men broke into one of Mam's shelters and carried off 90 women and girls who had taken refuge there, she writes. Mam never saw them again.

A friend called her on the phone: " 'You know you're going to die, Somaly. Run away.' " Mam refused to leave "my girls, my victims," as she calls them.

Instead, she spoke in French into a tape recorder for three days and sent the tapes to friends in France. She wanted her story told, in case anything ever did happen to her. A ghostwriter helped fashion her dictation into her autobiography, published in French in 2005, and updated for the English translation, released this month.

Sex trafficking is more organized than it was when she was in a brothel. Pimps are more systematic, recruiting girls from poor families and villages. The girls are shuffled from Cambodia to Vietnam and Thailand and back, to keep them isolated and more powerless.

"We save many, but we have many still in brothels," Mam says. "It's why in the nighttime I cannot sleep. Because when I close my eyes, I know exactly the time that the client come, I know exactly the time that they rape the girl, the time that the pimp hit us."

She has tried to understand the mentality of families that abet this system. She met a mother who went to a brothel to pick up the money her 10-year-old daughter earned there.

"I have a husband who beats me," the woman said, as Mam quotes her in the autobiography. "As soon as there's any money in the house, he drinks, then he beats me up and rapes me. He hits the children. And my daughter is in the brothel so that, thanks to her, there's a little money."

The girls in Mam's shelters are given a chance to go to school and grow up. They are returned to their families only if it appears they will not be forced back into prostitution. Some die of AIDS in the shelters.

Leaving Schakowsky's office, Mam goes outside to a nearby fountain with pretty flowers. She and her Cambodian colleagues -- Sophea Chenda Chhun and Sylor Lin -- giggle and mug for a camera they have brought with them. The tears are gone from Mam's eyes, and all does not appear to be darkness in her life.

Yet, for all she has achieved, and learned how to say, she still struggles to believe she amounts to anything. "I still feel that I'm dirty and that I carry bad luck," she says in her book.

She wears a lot of perfume, and anyone standing near her on this day can smell it. She says the perfume is not enough to wash away the stench of the brothels that still haunts her. The better way to ward it off, she says, is her field work in Cambodia, her direct contact with fellow victims, who know what she means when she says she is dirty.

"It's insufferable," she writes. "The customers were dirty. They never showered. I remember one man with the most hideous breath. We had no toothpaste, but we would brush our teeth with ash or sand."

"I don't feel like I can change the world," she also writes. "I don't even try. I only want to change this small life that I see standing in front of me, which is suffering. I want to change this small real thing that is the destiny of one little girl. And then another, and another, because if I didn't, I wouldn't be able to live with myself or sleep at night."

When a new girl comes to the shelter, the activist who learned to speak up knows it is best not to use her voice then. The girl is too traumatized to speak. Mam sits with the girl, hugs her, holds her the way a mother might -- the way she wished someone had held her. She calls this silent communication "heart talking."

"Sometimes when you talk, you can say something that is not true," Mam says. "But the heart talking is true."

Monday, September 22, 2008

2008 Trafficking in Persons Report

2008 Trafficking in Persons Report can be found at:

Friday, March 28, 2008

Indian men in US 'slave' protest

Almost 100 Indians who moved to the US for jobs have marched hundreds of miles to Washington DC in protest at being forced to work "like slaves". The Indian ambassador said he would do all he could to protect their rights.

BBC News - 3/27/08

The men say recruiters tricked them into paying up to $20,000 each for a new life in the US, where they then had to work in exploitative conditions.

The Mississippi firm that employed them has denied they were mistreated. It claims the recruiters misled the men.

The employer, Signal International, says the men were paid wages above the local average and given good accommodation.

It accuses recruitment firm Global Resources of deceiving the Indians and has ended its contract. It has also demanded that the recruiters return the fees the men paid them.

Global Resources has in turn denied any wrongdoing, saying it recruited the workers to the terms of its agreement with Signal International and that the men's treatment since was down to the employer.

'We want freedom'

In 2006, some 500 men from across India each paid recruiters up to $20,000 for what they were told would be a new life.

They were given temporary visas and jobs at Signal International, a marine construction company on the Mississippi Gulf Coast which needed extra workers because of a shortage of skilled labour following Hurricane Katrina.

But the men say they were then forced to live in primitive conditions with 24 men sharing a dormitory, for which they each paid $1,050 a month.

Almost 100 of them made an eight-day journey by foot and bus to Washington in an attempt to highlight what they say is the exploitation of foreign workers under the US temporary guest worker programme.

Chanting "we want freedom, we want justice", the men carried signs demanding they be treated with dignity and held up pictures of family members left behind in India.

They have described their protest as a Satyagraha, a word used by Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi to describe a non-violent battle against injustice.

'Nothing left'

Former Signal worker Sabulal Vijayan, a father-of-two from the southern Indian state of Kerala, told the BBC he had sold everything he had to come to the US to try to earn a better life for his family but had been left with nothing.

We need to change this system to one that helps the employees who are suffering
Sabulal Vijayan
The 39-year-old fitter said he was threatened with losing his job when he complained about the men's treatment last year - at which point fear and despair led him to attempt suicide.

"I slit my wrists, tried to commit suicide, because there is nothing left for me to go home to," he said, adding that he had been treated in hospital for three days afterwards.

Mr Vijayan said the men had been living in "slave-like conditions" with cramped accommodation, nowhere to keep their belongings and inadequate food.

And while the wage of about $19 an hour was good, he said, it would have been impossible to earn enough to pay back the fee they were charged initially in the 10 months allowed by their visas.

They were unable to leave and seek other work because that would have invalidated their visa and forced them to return to India worse-off than when they left.

"We need to change this system to one that helps the employees who are suffering, not the employers," he said.

Saket Soni, director of the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice, called on the Indian ambassador to the US to help "almost 100 brave, courageous Indian guest workers".

He said the men had been held for 18 months "in forced labour in a labour camp" before walking out of their jobs and reporting Signal International to the US Department of Justice (DoJ) as a "human trafficker".

The workers, backed by Mr Soni's organisation and others including the Southern Poverty Law Center, have also filed a federal anti-racketeering lawsuit against their recruiters.

Ambassador Ronen Sen urged the workers to report any allegations of mistreatment to him so that the embassy could work to help improve the guest worker system.

Claims denied

Signal International issued a statement on Thursday saying it would hire no new temporary workers under the H2B guest worker programme until it was "reformed to better protect foreign workers and US companies that were misled by recruiters".

Temporary workers had been given the same benefits as other workers, including health insurance, the statement said, and the accommodation charge included food, laundry and other services.

"We think that anyone who uses the word 'slave conditions' has little respect for the truth or the use of that phrase," chief executive Richard Marler said.

He claimed the recruiting companies and their lawyers had misled Signal and "deceived the workers in India by demanding highly excessive fees" and making false promises about visas.

Global Resources gave a statement saying Signal had been "totally and completely in charge of the relationship with the Indian workers", including their visa and living arrangements, since the contract with Global had been terminated in 2006.

A Global Resources spokesman told the BBC that "there were no misrepresentations to anyone" and that any information given to the workers had been agreed to by Signal.

The DoJ has said it will not be pursuing certain charges of discrimination filed against Signal International. Lawyers for the workers say that other civil and criminal suits are in progress.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2008/03/27 23:21:05 GMT


Saturday, March 15, 2008

Do as He Said

March 13, 2008
NY Times

The last time I saw Eliot Spitzer, he encouraged me to write about his work involving prostitution. So here goes.

The governor buttonholed me because he wanted credit for passage of a tough state law against sex trafficking. Frankly, he deserves credit, for the law took the innovative step of cracking down on johns by increasing penalties.

The big worry now among those working to stop trafficking is that the Spitzer scandal will add to perceptions of prostitution as a “victimless crime.” On my blog,, one person named “Carmen” argued, “if a man can hire a pro to help improve his golf, why not let him hire a pro to help improve his sex?”

Another poster, who identified herself as a former prostitute in Australia, said she had “never felt exploited or trapped” and added, “It was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had.”

Yet the evidence is overwhelming that, in the United States, prostitution is only very rarely just another career choice. Studies suggest that up to two-thirds of prostitutes have been sexually abused as girls, a majority have drug dependencies or mental illnesses, one-third have been threatened with death by pimps, and almost half have attempted suicide.

Melissa Farley, a psychologist who has written extensively about the subject, says that girls typically become prostitutes at age 13 or 14. She conducted a study finding that 89 percent of prostitutes urgently wanted to escape the work, and that two-thirds have post-traumatic stress disorder — not a problem for even the most frustrated burger-flipper.

The mortality data for prostitutes is staggering. The American Journal of Epidemiology published a meticulous study finding that the “workplace homicide rate for prostitutes” is 51 times that of the next most dangerous occupation for women, working in a liquor store. The average age of death of the prostitutes in the study was 34.

“Women engaged in prostitution face the most dangerous occupational environment in the United States,” The Journal concluded.

We as a society forbid certain behavior by consenting adults because we deem it too dangerous or harmful. We do not permit indentured servitude or polygamy, or employment for less than the minimum wage. So why permit people to work in the unusually dangerous business of selling sex?

One response would be: Prostitution is inevitable, so we might as well legalize and regulate it. That’s a pragmatic argument that I used to find persuasive. If brothels were legalized and inspected, I believed, then we could uproot child prostitution and reduce AIDS and sexually transmitted infections.

I changed my mind after looking at the experiences of other countries. The Netherlands formally adopted the legalization model in 2000, and there were modest public health benefits for the licensed prostitutes. But legalization nurtured a large sex industry and criminal gangs that trafficked underage girls, and so trafficking, violence and child prostitution flourished rather than dying out.

As a result, the Netherlands is now backtracking on its legalization model by closing some brothels, and other countries, like Bulgaria, are backing away from that approach.

In contrast, Sweden experimented in 1999 with a radically different approach that many now regard as much more successful: it decriminalized the sale of sex but made it a crime to buy sex. In effect, the policy was to arrest customers, but not the prostitutes.

Some Swedish prostitutes have complained that the policy reduced demand and thus lowered prices, while forcing sex work underground. But the evidence is strong that the new approach reduced trafficking in Sweden, and opinion polls show that Swedes regard the experiment as a considerable success. And the bottom line is that if you want to rape a 13-year-old girl imported from Eastern Europe, you’ll have a much easier time in Amsterdam than in Stockholm.

A growing number of other countries are pursuing the Swedish model. South Korea had a vast trafficking industry in the 1990s, but a crackdown has led Korean gangs to traffic girls to California instead — because pimping teenagers there is seen as safer and more profitable than at home.

No approach is going to work perfectly. But the Swedish model seems to have worked better than any other. The New York law that Governor Spitzer pushed was inspired partly by the Swedish experience, and New York should enforce that law firmly, by cracking down on pimps and customers.

We’re not going to end the world’s oldest profession, any more than we’ll ever end the world’s oldest crime, murder. But mounting evidence from around the world suggests that a demand-side crackdown would drive some pimps to peddle pirated DVDs instead of pubescent flesh — and that would be a positive legacy of Governor Spitzer’s tenure that might balance its tawdry hypocrisy.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Big Law Firm Fights for Child Prostitute in Suit Against Her Pimps

New York Lawyer
February 26, 2008

By Evan Hill
The Recorder

Two attorneys from Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton used a novel approach to win a settlement for a client who probably wouldn't have put an Am Law 100 firm high on her list of likely knights in shining armor — a former child prostitute.

Robert Gerber, a partner and chair of the firm's pro bono committee, and Nathaniel Bruno, an associate, sued the girl's former pimps under §52.5 of the California Civil Code, established in 2005 with the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

To their knowledge, the statute had never before been used to win a monetary settlement for a child prostitute.

The bill created the crime of trafficking a person for forced labor or services and enabled victims of trafficking to bring civil actions.

The plaintiff, an 18-year-old woman, ran away from home three years ago and into the arms of a husband-wife pair of pimps whom she had met through her mother, also a prostitute, the complaint says.

The suit, brought in San Francisco Superior Court, accused the two of persuading the girl to have sex with them and teaching her the work of a prostitute: how to manipulate "johns," how much money to charge, and how to avoid being arrested. Her pimps charged $1,000 a night for her, according to the complaint.

Eventually, both the husband and wife and the girl were arrested, and she was put into the care of Los Angeles nonprofit Children of the Night. The president of the group had connections at Sheppard, Mullin, and the case was given to Gerber.

Though Bruno said he couldn't disclose the amount of the settlement, the complaint asked for an award "in amounts to be proven at trial, but in excess of $1 million."

He said he saw the case as a chance to "develop the law under this brand-new statute," and that Sheppard hopes to take on similar cases in the future.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Wrong Target

The New York Times /
February 19, 2008 / OP-ED COLUMNIST / By BOB HERBERT

A New York City police detective and his girlfriend have been accused of kidnapping and forcing a 13-year-old girl into prostitution.

According to the Queens district attorney’s office, the detective, Wayne Taylor, and the girlfriend, Zalika Brown, would parade the girl at parties and other places where adult men had gathered and force her to have sex with them for money — $40 for oral sex, $80 for intercourse.

The child was an investment. The couple allegedly told her that she had been purchased for $500 — purchased, like the slaves of old, only this time for use as a prostitute.

Other than the fact that one of the accused in this case is a police detective, there was nothing unusual about this tale of trafficking in young female flesh.

Our perspective is twisted. It was a big story when a television newsman was crude and thoughtless enough to use the term “pimped out” in a reference to Chelsea Clinton. The comment generated outrage — as it should have — and the newsman was suspended. But if someone actually pimps out a 13-year-old child, and even if that someone is alleged to be a police detective, it generates a collective yawn.

Across the country, young girls by the many thousands — children — are being drawn into the hellishly dangerous world of prostitution. They are raped, beaten and exploited in every way imaginable.

As part of the staggeringly lucrative commercial sex trade, the role of these children is to satisfy the sexual demands of johns who in most cases do not fit the stereotype of a pedophile.

“Many of the guys who buy sex with children would never consider themselves pedophiles,” said Rachel Lloyd, founder of an organization in New York called GEMS that offers help to under-age girls in the sex trade. “They’re not necessarily out there looking for 12-year-olds or teenagers. They just kind of don’t care.

“They feel like they have the right to buy sex from someone, and they prefer it to be someone who looks younger and cleaner and less drug-addicted.”

In the case of the accused New York City detective, the authorities acted promptly and effectively. The girl managed to escape and notified the police, who investigated immediately. Detective Taylor and Ms. Brown were arrested and the case has been turned over to the office of Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. Both are in custody.

But law enforcement does not always respond in a positive or constructive way. It is common across the country for under-age girls engaged in prostitution to be arrested, which is bizarre when you consider that it is a serious crime — statutory rape — for an adult to have sex with a minor.

If no money is involved, the youngster is considered a victim. But if the man pays for the sex — even if the money is going to the pimp, which is so often the case — the child is considered a prostitute and thus subject in many venues to arrest and incarceration.

“We often see the girls arrested and the pimps and the johns go free,” said Carol Smolenski, the head of Ecpat-USA, a group that fights the sexual exploitation of children. “One of the big problems is that there is this whole set of child sex exploiters who are not targeted as exceptionally bad guys.”

What’s needed is a paradigm shift. Society (and thus law enforcement) needs to view any adult who sexually exploits a child as a villain, and the exploited child as a victim of that villainy. If a 35-year-old pimp puts a 16-year-old girl on the street and a 30-year-old john pays to have sex with her, how is it reasonable that the girl is most often the point in that triangle that is targeted by law enforcement?

A measure of how far we still have to go is the fact that some enlightened officials in the state of New York tried to shift that paradigm last year and failed. The proposed Safe Harbor Act would have ended the practice of criminalizing kids too young to legally consent to sex. Under the law, authorities would have no longer been able to charge children with prostitution, but would have had to offer such youngsters emotional counseling, medical care and shelter, if necessary.

Legislative passage was thwarted in large part because prosecutors made the case that it was necessary to hold the threat of jail over the heads of these children as a way of coercing them to testify against pimps. In other words: If you don’t tell us who hurt you, little girl, we’re going to put you in jail.

It was an utterly specious case, filled to the bursting point with tragic implications and unworthy of a civilized society.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Sex Tourism on the Rise in Nepal

From treks to sex: Is a new sort of thrill-seeker heading for Nepal?
Jan 24th 2008 | KATHMANDU
From The Economist print edition

“I CAN only dance when I'm drunk,” confides Srijana, a 20-year-old employee of the Pussy Cat Bar and Shower, a tavern in Thamel, Kathmandu's main tourist hangout. A few slurps from a customer's glass later and she mounts a small stage. There, to whoops from a few tipsy locals, she sheds most of her clothes and gyrates to a Hindi pop tune. Dangling above her is the Damoclean sword included in the bar's name: a silver shower nozzle, positioned to spray flesh-revealing water on a dancer below.

Such gimmicks are common in Thamel's bars, where competition for lascivious males is fierce. Until a few years ago Nepal had no obvious sex industry. There are now an estimated 200 massage parlours and 35 “dance bars”, such as the Pussy Cat, in Thamel alone—with over 1,000 girls and women working in them. Many sell sex. In the Pussy Cat, another dancer admits to turning tricks, for 1,800 rupees ($28).

That is a tidy sum in Nepal, South Asia's poorest country. It is much more than Nepali women are paid in India's flesh-pots—to which over 5,000 are trafficked each year, according to the UN. But the dancers in Thamel are chasing a richer sort of Indian: tourists. And their government seems to be encouraging them. In an advertisement for “Wild Stag Weekends”, the Nepal Tourism Board offers this advice: “Don't forget to have a drink at one of the local dance bars, where beautiful Nepali belles will dance circles around your pals.”

In a country with a rich tradition of dance, where paying for sex is illegal, this might be harmless innuendo. But not everybody thinks so. During the recently-ended civil war, Nepal's Himalayan tourism industry collapsed. Some activists think that sex tourism is replacing it. According to John Frederick, an expert on South Asia's sex trade, “Ten years ago the sex industry was underground in Nepal. Now it's like Bangkok, it's like Phnom Penh.”

The war, which put much of rural Nepal under the control of Maoist insurgents, has increased the supply of sex workers. Srijana is from the poor and still violent district of Siraha in southern Nepal. She was widowed there two years ago, and left an infant son to come to the capital. Yet she is remarkably cheerful—perhaps because she is drunk, and the shower is not working.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Sex slaves, human trafficking... in America?

In spring of 2004, Katya (not her real name), like thousands of other foreign exchange university students, was looking forward to the summer job placement that she and a friend had received in Virginia Beach, Virginia. When she and her friend Lena arrived at Dulles Airport after a long flight from Ukraine, they were relieved to be met by fellow countrymen who spoke Russian.

The two men, Alex Maksimenko and Michael Aronov, were holding signs with the girls’ names and greeted them by taking their bags and luggage. Charming and reassuring, Aronov informed the girls that they had been reassigned to a job in Detroit where they would waitress and perfect their English language skills.

The men drove Katya and Lena to the Greyhound bus station and gave them tickets to Detroit. Confused and exhausted, the girls had no reason to question the change of plans.

“When we got to the hotel in Detroit, everything changed,” says Katya. “They closed the door and sat us down on the couch, took our passports and papers and said, you owe us big money for bringing you here. They gave us strip clothes and told us that we were going to be working at a strip club called ‘Cheetahs.’”

Shocked and scared, the two women were subjected to physical, mental and sexual abuse over the next year as they were forced to work 12-hour shifts stripping for local Detroit men’s clubs. According to immigration customs agent Angus Lowe, the men controlled the women through intimidation with guns and threats to hurt family members back home.

Katya and her friend are two of the estimated 17,000 young women and girls annually who are forced to work in the sex industry in the U.S. by organized criminals. “Chicago, Houston, St. Paul, Minnesota, these crimes are happening in every community in America big and small,” says Marcie Forman, Director of Investigations for ICE (Immigration Customs Enforcement.) “We’re talking about money here. Millions of dollars and these people don’t think about these women as human beings. They think of them as dollars and cents,” Forman says.

In February 2005, after months of planning and finally confiding in a customer from the strip club, the two girls escaped and were brought to the FBI and ICE. Their escape resulted in the arrest of Alex Maksimenko and Michael Aronov, both of whom pleaded guilty and are serving time in federal prison for their crimes.

Even though her captors are in prison, Katya says she will never live without fear. Maksimenko’s father — who was also convicted of forced labor and illegal trafficking — continues to live openly in Ukraine as a fugitive from authorities.

Adapted from: Grace Kahng, "Sex slaves, human trafficking... in America?." 3 December 2007. (