[Stop-traffic] News/US: Asian prostitution rings on rise

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Subject: [Stop-traffic] News/US: Asian prostitution rings on rise
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Mon Oct 30 2000 - 22:06:46 EST

Asian prostitution rings on rise
Brothels are spreading beyond major U.S. cities
By Steve Kanigher
Las Vegas Sun, September 25, 2000

Despite its Sin City reputation Las Vegas is not known as a hotbed for
Asian prostitution rings.

That distinction traditionally has belonged to gateway metropolitan cities
such as New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

But academicians and law enforcement officials said they were not surprised
that an alleged nationwide prostitution ring involving smuggled Asian women
found its way to an apartment complex in the 4000 block of West Twain Avenue.

Asian organized crime expert Ko-Lin Chin, a professor at Rutgers University
in New Jersey, said increases in Asian tourism and migration to the United
States over the past 10 years have caused the spread of Asian prostitution
to cities not previously known for that activity.

"As early as six or seven years ago Atlantic City had no Asian brothels,
but they have had quite a few in the last three or four years," Chin said.
"They cater mainly to Asian males. Most of these customers are married, but
their wives are still in Asia so there is a strong demand for the services
of Asian women here."

The FBI and Immigration and Naturalization Service, aided by Metro Police,
earlier this month arrested five Las Vegans as part of "Operation Jade
Blade." The indictment alleged that they participated in a network of
brothels involving Asian women who were smuggled into this country for a
fee. The women were then forced into prostitution to repay their debts.

Metro vice Lt. Terry Davis said that was the first time he could recall
that an illegal Asian-based brothel was discovered in Las Vegas.

"It's a new thing for Las Vegas," Davis said. "It's always in the back of
your mind that as soon as one (illegal) lucrative business closes down
another pops up to take its place. This is a major tourist destination, and
there is a large amount of money that runs in and out of the city."

A federal prosecutor, in fact, has alleged that a Hong Kong travel company
was tied to the brothel network.

"Las Vegas is being seen now as an emerging Asian cultural center in terms
of tourism," said UNLV anthropology professor William Jankowiak. "It looks
like these brothels were for the middle class, not the whales."

More than 33 million tourists flock to Las Vegas annually, including an
increasing number of Asians. Last year's tourists included 478,000 from
Japan, 85,000 from Taiwan, 75,000 from South Korea, 38,000 from Hong Kong
and 18,000 from Singapore.

Nevada's Asian population also has grown by 123.7 percent over the past 10
years, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Asian prostitution in the United States dates back at least to the late
19th century, when women were brought here to service Chinese laborers who
built the nation's first railroads. The sex slave trade in Asia itself goes
back centuries.

In a 1991 series on Asian sex slaves, the Chicago Tribune reported that at
least 1 million women and children were sold or auctioned into slavery each
year on that continent. Jankowiak said that with increased
industrialization of China and other Asian nations in recent years, women
and children have been forced to move from rural to urban areas.

"Prostitution is in every city and small town in China today," Jankowiak
said. "China has a surplus of labor that its economy cannot support so
women are moving into prostitution."

Many of those women are so desperate for employment they buy their way into
the United States. Bill Yeomans, chief of staff of the Justice Department's
civil rights division, said an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 foreign women
are smuggled into this country annually. A "significant number" come from
Asia and are used as domestic servants or migrant labor as well as
prostitutes, he said.

"We recognize that the problem of trafficking in women, and not just from
Asia, is a growing problem," Yeomans said. "We have taken steps to
coordinate federal law enforcement to crack down on it."

Federal authorities concede that once a person enters the United States
illegally, it is fairly easy for them to move around. But smuggled Asian
women are routinely told that harm will come to their families back home if
they do not make enough money through prostitution to pay off their debts.

Yeomans said the Justice Department has been urging Congress to make it
easier to prosecute individuals for smuggling women.

"Right now we have to prove that they're being held by force or under a
threat of physical harm," he said.

Law enforcement agencies have made some inroads. Mai Le Ho, a lecturer on
Asian-American and women's studies at San Jose State University in
California, said police have cracked down on Asian massage parlors in the
San Francisco Bay Area that served as fronts for prostitution. But she said
the offenders either open up a new business under a different name or move
out of town.

"The people who run these kinds of things have a history of illegal
businesses," she said. "It is very profitable, and they have international

The latest Bay Area trend has been the emergence of Vietnamese coffee
houses where customers, normally males from Southeast Asia, are served by
scantily clad Asian women who double as prostitutes, Ho said.

"They look nice on the outside, but they have tinted glass so you can't see
the inside," she said.

While some prostitution rings in this country have been tied to Asian
organized crime, Chin said most Asian brothels in the United States are
operated by internationally connected independent businessmen, some of whom
employ street gangs for protection.

"It's relatively easy to operate one," Chin said. "Four or five people can
come together and decide to open such an operation. Organized crime groups
are more likely to be involved in gambling and extortion."

Aside from word of mouth, tourists can discover the whereabouts of illegal
brothels in some Asian-language newspapers, Chin said.

"They will advertise as massage parlors, but some of the prostitution
houses are called health clinics," he said.

Some brothels have been exposed by suspicious neighbors who notice the
large volumes of customer traffic.

But law enforcement officers often have problems busting Asian brothels
because the operators often recognize local Asian-American police, who
would be used to work undercover. That is why law enforcement agencies have
been known to bring in officers from other communities to infiltrate the

"Cracking down on Asian prostitution has always been a major problem for
law enforcement authorities because the operators tend to maintain a low
profile," Chin said.
Melanie Orhant
Stop-Traffic Moderator

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