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Huge International US–Thailand Sex Trafficking Ring Busted, 17 Arrested

CBS News reports that about a dozen people were arrested recently in cities across the U.S. for running what authorities called a sophisticated sex trafficking operation in...

By January 2, 2018No Comments

CBS News reports that about a dozen people were arrested recently in cities across the U.S. for running what authorities called a sophisticated sex trafficking operation in which hundreds of women were brought from Thailand to America through fake visas and forced to work as sex slaves to pay off tens of thousands of dollars in debt.

None of the women were allowed to travel or move freely, and more than one was forced to have sex with strangers for 12 hours a day, seven days a week. The women have been labeled as “modern-day sex slaves,” according to a redacted indictment of those charged.

Related: How To Spot (And Rescue) A Sex Trafficking Victim

The arrests, along with the recent arrest of the organization’s ringleader in Belgium, will effectively dismantle the operation, said Alex Khu, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Minneapolis.

Hundreds of Women Trafficked

“We feel pretty confident that based on the number of important-position folks we are taking down, we’ll really hurt this organization,” Khu said. “It will take down this ring.”

A dozen people were arrested in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago, and the Minneapolis area, and 17 people have been charged with various crimes, including conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, conspiracy to commit forced labor, conspiracy to engage in money laundering and conspiracy to commit visa fraud.

Khu said his office began investigating a sex trafficking case in the Twin Cities in January 2014 and discovered it was part of an international ring and “a very sophisticated, complex network operating throughout the United States … where women are really placed on a circuit, traveling from one city to the next.”

According to the indictment, since 2009, hundreds of women were brought from Bangkok, Thailand, to several U.S. cities, including Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Minneapolis, Washington and Dallas. The women were from poor backgrounds, spoke little English and were lured with promises of a better life.

Related Video: Taina Bien-Aimé Executive Director, Coalition Against Trafficking In Women, On Porn & Trafficking

The operation’s traffickers in Thailand entered the women into a bondage debt “contract” in exchange for a visa and travel to the United States. As part of the contract, the women would owe a debt ranging from $40,000 to $60,000 and would be “owned” by the organization until that debt was repaid.

The women were often encouraged to have breast implants to make them more appealing to potential clients. The cost of the surgery was added to their debt. No doubt, these women were forced to take on the appearance of porn stars to appeal to their future clients.

Imprisoned And Raped

Once in the U.S., the women were forced to have sex in various houses of prostitution including hotels, massage parlors and apartments. They were not allowed to leave without escorts, men who would have sex with the victims as part of their payment. The women were forced to turn over most of the money they earned, as well as pay for rent, food and personal items, making it virtually impossible to repay their debt, the indictment said. They were trapped as modern sex slaves with no way to escape.

RelatedJapanese Talent Agents Arrested For Forcing Models To Make Porn

The organization controlled the women by isolating them and threatening to harm their families in Thailand if they tried to run away. In one case, Khu said, a woman tried to get out of a situation and the organization sent “muscle” to assault a family member in Thailand, breaking his bones.

The indictment says one victim recruited in 2010 agreed to a $40,000 bondage debt. When she arrived in the U.S., she was sent to work at two prostitution houses for 12 hour days, six to seven days a week, and was not allowed to leave by herself. The terms of her contract changed and she was then forced to work at a “spa” in Houston that was open 24 hours a day.

There, she lived on a mattress on the floor with another victim, and was required to have sex at all hours. She ran away one night, and began receiving emails that suggested her family in Thailand would be harmed and her visa would be cancelled.

“They don’t control the money. They don’t control the customers or the johns. They can’t refuse a john. They don’t have freedom of movement. … The female victims are literally helpless,” Khu said. “They can’t get out.”

RelatedThe New App That Helps You Stop Human Trafficking When You Travel

The indictment describes a highly organized operation, with many levels of employment. In addition to the traffickers, the organization also employed house bosses who ran the prostitution houses and helped with money laundering or booking travel for the victims, and “runners” who would escort the women from place to place. Other “facilitators” also scheduled “customers” and advertised the women on websites. In this case, it’s easy to assume that the website ads targeted online porn viewers on pornographic websites and featured the victims in explicit images.

Khu said the head of the organization, who was based in Thailand, was recently arrested in Belgium for separate trafficking offenses there. He said the United States plans to seek her extradition.

Porn Is Heavily Linked To Trafficking

The reality is that prostitution, sex trafficking, and porn are more closely linked than society would believe. The truth is that sex trafficking is a global issue, and it is only made worse by pornography. Any form of sexual exploitation only fuels the demand for the sex trade as a whole.

RelatedThe Inseparable Link Between Porn And Human Trafficking

Obviously, human trafficking is an underground business, making firm statistics hard to come by. But the facts in cases that come to light are chilling. For example, in 2011, two Miami men were found guilty of spending five years luring women into a human trafficking trap. They would advertise modeling roles, then when women came to try out, they would drug them, kidnap them, rape them, videotape the violence, and sell it to pornography stores and businesses across the country. [1]

That same year a couple in Missouri was charged with forcing a mentally handicapped girl to produce porn for them by beating, whipping, suffocating, electrocuting, drowning, mutilating, and choking her until she agreed. One of the photos they forced her to make ended up on the front cover of a porn publication owned by Hustler Magazine Group. [2]

Those cases are just the tip of the iceberg; many more like them exist, and for each victim discovered, countless others suffer in silence. [3]

Related: Germany’s Legalized Prostitution Industry Looks Like A Real-Life Horror Movie

In the end, porn fuels prostitution; and porn and prostitution are the products the sex trade exists to deliver.

We fight to bring awareness to the fact that porn isn’t harmless entertainment, and the porn industry wouldn’t be where it is today without sex trafficking and prostitution. Stopping the demand starts with us.

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[1] U.S. Department of Justice. (2012). Two Men Sentenced to Multiple Life Sentences for Enticing Women to South Florida to Engage in Commercial Sex Acts and Distributing Date Rape Pills. Press Release, Feb. 17.
[2] Peters, R. W., Lederer, L. J., and Kelly, S. (2012). The Slave and the Porn Star: Sexual Trafficking and Pornography. In M. Mattar and J. Braunmiller (Eds.) Journal of Human Rights and Civil Society 5: 1-21; U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Missouri. (2010). Woman Tortured as Slave, Victim of Trafficking and Forced Labor. Press Release, September 9.
[3] Peters, R. W., Lederer, L. J., and Kelly, S. (2012). The Slave and the Porn Star: Sexual Trafficking and Pornography. In M. Mattar and J. Braunmiller (Eds.) Journal of Human Rights and Civil Society 5: 1-21.
[4] Farley, M. (2007). Renting an Organ for Ten Minutes: What Tricks Tell Us about Prostitution, Pornography, and Trafficking. In D. E. Guinn and J. DiCaro (Eds.) Pornography: Driving the Demand in International Sex Trafficking (p. 145). Bloomington, Ind.: Xlibris.