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From: melissa (honeypot@panix.com)
Date: Tue Jan 16 2001 - 19:43:09 EST


By Kevin G. Hall Knight Ridder/Tribune January 10, 2001

RIO DE JANEIRO -- At Agenica Roberta, a call-girl service in this
tourist haven known for sun and sin, business is booming, thanks in
large part to the Internet.

Italians, Germans, Americans and other foreigners can make arrangements
for services in advance, even before their planes touch down. The oldest
profession in the world is getting a boost from the newest technology.

"It's globalization," explains Vanessa, a manager of the online escort
service that charges men about $150 for three hours of pleasure.

"Everybody has a Web page. All the prostitutes know about this," says
Betty, a freelance hooker in Rio who speaks over a rattling television
and the laughter of children. She advertises her Web site in the
Brazilian newspaper O Globo.

The Internet gained early fame as a tool to arrange consensual sex via
chat rooms. But it also has a more sinister function. It has become a
tool that aids the exploitation of women who are tricked or forced into
prostitution around the world. In fact, advanced digital cameras mean
these women find themselves performing sex acts for voyeurs across the
globe. With a few clicks of a computer mouse, a man can log on anywhere
from suburban Maryland to rural Montana and be transported instantly to
a bedroom in Thailand or the Ukraine.

"People can get so selective that they can now see a particular type of
woman doing a type of act, and can do that from a global connection out
of sight. Over time, it will increase the demand for real sex slaves,"
warned J. Robert Flores, vice president of the National Law Center for
Children and Families in Fairfax, Va., and a former high-ranking
official in the Department of Justice's obscenity and child exploitation

Law enforcement officials have known that women are often held against
their will and forced into sex at Asian brothels or those controlled by
the Russian mob, even in the United States. But now there is a new
twist: The act can be sold around the world, Flores said.

"The Internet has made the sex market even stronger, and has even made
it possible to market women around the world," said Flores, adding that
few Web sites are actually so bold as to advertise sex slaves.

In Brazil, prostitutes have become prime targets for global sex
syndicates, who lure them to foreign countries and then enslave them,
said Carla Dolinski, a police investigator who leads anti-trafficking
efforts in Rio. An estimated 75,000 Brazilian women work in Europe as
prostitutes, many against their will. Dolinski said police recently
received a complaint about a widely circulated e-mail trying to recruit
Brazilian prostitutes for work in Spain. And there are well-documented
cases of ordinary women being tricked into traveling abroad for work,
only to be forced into prostitution.

One of them is 20-year-old Beatriz, an ebony-skinned woman with a
cover-girl smile. She left her home on the rough outskirts of Rio for
the tourist island of Lanzarote, near the Canary Islands. She said she
thought she would be part of a Brazilian dance troupe, but she ended up
enslaved in Lanzarote, forced to perform sex acts for Spaniards and
other tourists--without pay--until she managed to escape.

Another Brazilian woman, who asked to be called Ana, said she was lured
to Tel Aviv two years ago believing she'd be a high-paid waitress. After
she arrived, her documents were confiscated and she was told the icy
truth: She was now an unpaid prostitute at the service of the Russian
mob. She was put to work the very afternoon she arrived. Like Beatriz,
she escaped. Her captors murdered one of her friends for not

Beatriz and Ana did not find out about their "jobs" through high-tech
means, but Dolinski fears that e-mail and Internet sites will more
easily entice other desperate women to travel across the globe for
promises of a better life, only to suffer similar fates.

"If a foreigner has a site offering $1,000 a month, the girls will go.
It is difficult to investigate when it [the Internet message] comes from
outside of Brazil," Dolinski said.

Authorities are still trying to document the myriad ways the Internet is
involved in sex trafficking, but sites that are little more than
marketing tools for traffickers are proliferating.

One Web site, for example, features private chat rooms for men who may
or may not be aware of the misery they are supporting. They exchange
tips on brothels around the world where authorities say many women are
virtual slaves.

The Internet appears to offer countless ways to deceive and promote
illegal activities. Flores points out that many sites offer to help find
a marriage partner. But, he adds, "If you go to those sites, the vast
majority of them offer nude pictures of these women. The reality is that
after you have been on the site for a few minutes, what you really are
talking about is buying and selling of women."

A Miami-based Internet site called Cuba Connections claims to be a
matchmaking service, by offering "mail-order brides" and charging fees
to introduce men to foreign women.

Cuba Connections, whose site features photos of women along with
information about them, tells cybersurfers not to let worries about
their own looks or a lack of money deter them from trying to contact
women on the sites.

"If you make only $800 a month you will still be making many times more
than the average Cuban worker," the site says.

A site from Rugby, N.D., called Your Destiny, advertises a buyers'
market, since, it says, there "is an overabundance of young single women
in Russia."

Authorities are worried about these subtler approaches. Some are
legitimate matchmaking services, but experts think many are a ruse for
trafficking women into the United States.

The Justice Department estimates that 50,000 to 100,000 women and
children have been trafficked into the United States in the past few
years. Lawmakers are considering legislation to grant special visas to
women tricked into slavery who are willing to testify against their

There are no statistics on how the Internet's mail-order bride sites
have abetted trafficking, but experts believe they have, and that
traffickers will become even more sophisticated in using the Internet to
reap profits.

At the same time, anti-trafficking activists in Brazil and around the
world say they will try to fight back with the very same tool--tapping
the Internet to warn women about sex slavery.

Cristina Leonardo, a human rights attorney in Brazil, is trying to set
up a Web site to provide information about known traffickers. Her
"Project Against the Trafficking of Humans" would create a national and
international telephone center where people provide tips to authorities.
And through her Brazilian Defense Center, Leonardo also is trying to
create online training programs, so police and the courts can share
information around the world to better protect women.

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