Subject: [Stop-traffic] Houston and Prostitution
From: Vera Zlidar (email@example.com)
Date: Wed Jan 03 2001 - 14:44:18 EST
AP US & WorldTuesday, January 02, 2001 1:52:00 AM
Copyright 2001 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.@bThe
contained in this news report may not be published, broadcast or
distributed without the prior written authority of the Associated Press.
By MARY LEE GRANT
Associated Press Writer
HOUSTON (AP) -- In rundown houses only blocks from Houston's
gleaming downtown office buildings, federal officials say a modern
form of slavery endured.
Young Asian women smuggled into the country were handcuffed,
chained or tied with leather restraints behind barred windows in at
least three brothels and were forced to have sex with about 15 men
daily until each raised $40,000 to pay the smugglers, authorities
The Chinese and Thai women were not allowed to make phone calls,
write letters or leave secret compartments in the houses where they
"Even when they weren't physically restrained, they were held
captive psychologically, by threats and by fear in a country where
they had no papers and couldn't speak the language," Assistant
U.S. Attorney Edward Gallagher said.
Two people convicted of smuggling the women into the United
States and selling them into prostitution are set to be sentenced
Thursday before a federal judge.
They are among seven people charged as a result of Operation
Little Dragon, a two-year undercover investigation by the Houston
district of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, the
FBI and officials in Thailand and Chile.
Richard Kuniansky, the attorney representing Sriwan "Sonya"
Sakyai, a prostitute and ring member, said federal officials are
misinformed if they believe the women were exploited.
"What they view as horrible smugglers taking advantage of
women, these girls look at it as the break of a lifetime," he
said. "These women make less than $1,000 a year in Thailand. Here
they make enough money to pay off their $40,000 contract in a year.
The government should quit wasting astronomical amounts of money on
Kuniansky said the women commonly are locked in at night and
have limited access to a single phone, although they sometimes go
on group shopping trips to a mall. He said he knows nothing of
restraints or abuse.
Kuniansky, a former assistant U.S. attorney and state
prosecutor, said Houston is a hub for prostitute-smuggling groups.
"It goes on more in Houston than any other city, although Los
Angeles and Atlanta are also big," he said.
The Houston ring, suspected to be headed by a Bangkok woman,
smuggled about 30 women a month over at least two years, says Roger
Piper, director of the Houston INS office.
Their journey would begin in the hold of a ship that took them
from the Far East to Chile, Ecuador or Guatemala. They would then
either travel north through South America overland or fly to Los
Angeles or Houston.
Sakyai, 28, pleaded guilty to 17 counts of conspiracy,
encouraging unlawful immigration, document fraud, and causing
others to travel internationally for prostitution. She faces up to
120 years in prison and up to $4 million in fines.
Co-conspirator and brothel boss, Ratiporn "Tomboy"
Tantirojanakitkan of Los Angeles, pleaded guilty to 14 counts,
including encouraging others to unlawfully immigrate, transporting
illegal immigrants and causing others to travel for prostitution.
Tantirojanakitkan, 30, faces up to 90 years in prison and fines of
up to $2.5 million.
Women of Thai, Chinese, South African, and increasingly, Russian
and Eastern European descent are most commonly sold into the
Houston sex trade, Piper said.
"There hasn't really been a country we haven't seen, though,"
Piper said. "It (shows) what the world thinks of women."
According to the United Nations, an estimated 4 million people
worldwide are smuggled each year to work against their will, about
50,000 of them to buyers in the United States.
In the Houston cases, the extent to which the women were
Most of the Thai women already were prostitutes and understood
they would resume their occupation in the United States. Chinese
women more often were kidnapped or deceived by smugglers who came
to their rural villages promising jobs as waitresses or maids,
"We see so many 14- and 15-year-old girls who were tricked into
thinking they would work as waitresses or nannies," says Lilian
Care, a member of Women Against Global Trafficking at Houston's
First Unitarian Universalist Church.
Charles Foster, honorary Thai consul in Houston, said his
country is working to educate women to avoid traffickers. "The
government of Thailand takes it very seriously," Foster said.
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