[Stop-traffic] News/Russia: Online service offers love from Russia

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Subject: [Stop-traffic] News/Russia: Online service offers love from Russia
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Mon Jan 22 2001 - 09:36:04 EST

Online service offers love from Russia
By Melissa Fletcher Stoeltje
The San Antonio Express-News, December 27, 2000

SAN ANTONIO -- Julia Neal opens the door with a delicate swoosh, the very
picture of soft-spoken grace and deference.

She is 22 and pretty, her peroxide blond hair swept up in a ponytail, a
little fur collar accenting the gray suit that hugs her svelte figure. She
is tentative and shy, smiling demurely and gesturing toward the couch. She
speaks only halting English, words that emerge like smooth, curved globes.

Later, Julia will jump up every time the telephone rings to answer it.
Otherwise she sits quietly on the couch, hands folded in her lap, looking
over adoringly at her husband, hanging on his every word. When she speaks
it is soft and careful, never insistent or interrupting. Sometimes she will
gently drape her hand over his.

She is the perfect mail-order wife.

Ashley Neal knew that, of course. He spotted her on his first night of
filming in the Siberian disco and knew instantly she was the woman for him.

"It was like this," he said, dramatically snapping his fingers. "I was
like, `Wow, she's just so beautiful,' and she was just what I was looking
for in terms of personality."

Actually, the personality part was a bit tricky. Julia didn't speak a word
of English back then, so Neal had to divine the contents of her character
by drawing tiny scribbles on cocktail napkins and relying on the expertise
of hired interpreters. Still, by 4 a.m., after hours of drinking champagne
and dancing together, Neal had ascertained she was his soul mate.

Such is the nature of love at www.ForeignSecrets.com, Neal's 3-month-old,
San Antonio-based marriage service. Neal assists men on the hunt for
"traditional" women -- he always calls them girls or ladies, never women --
who live in Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union.

In his three years in the foreign matrimony industry, Neal said he has
arranged 150 marriages. In the past year alone, he has single-handedly
videotaped more than 1,100 women for his online warehouse. Just recently
Neal created www.FacesofSiberia.com, a "sister site" to
www.ForeignSecrets.com that adds yet another plank to his growing empire.

So confident is Neal of his service that he offers clients a full
money-back guarantee.

"Of the guys that go over there, 90 percent get engaged," said Neal, who
arranges occasional "tours" to his overseas offices, where male clients
choose among females they have surveyed on line to find mates. The schedule
is vigorous, Neal said: "We introduce them to up to eight ladies in one day."

Neal is as forthright and self-assured as his wife of one year is
tentative. He strides out of a bedroom in his apartment on San Antonio's
north side dressed in a bronze, disco-ish shirt paired with black pants and
black, tasseled loafers. His hair is dyed brown. He has opaque green eyes
that seem never to blink. A 36-year-old graduate of Baylor University with
a degree in business and accounting, Neal has the salesman's habit of
repeating the first name of the person he is talking to, a verbal tic
geared to instill warmth, familiarity.

Spend any time with Neal and it becomes clear he envisions himself as a
romantic figure, a humanitarian on a mission to rescue poor, bedraggled
American men from the uppity ranks of career-obsessed American women.

"This all goes back to the women's liberation movement," he said, warming
to a topic he's clearly pondered a lot. The mail-order bride business "is
just guys' natural response to it, to feeling trapped. At some point, guys
just said, `Enough.' Whatever happened to traditional values? What about
the way God made man and woman?"

The result of unfettered female freedom, he continued, has been the sharp
rise in divorce, a plague in broken families and general social decline.

Neal's own romantic history mirrors that of many of his male clients, he
said. He married his college sweetheart. Had a kid. Got a divorce. He would
not elaborate about the demise of his first marriage except to say that
issues "culturally oriented to American women" played a part; his
10-year-old son now lives with his ex-wife in Bandera, Texas.

But it was what came after his divorce that set him on the road to
searching for love in overseas places. He dated woman after woman, he said,
none of them willing to sacrifice careers for family. He dated five women
over a 12-month period, each one as hardheaded as the next.

"And one day, Melissa, I woke up and thought, `There must be a trump card
left for a smart guy to play."'

Turns out, there was.

Neal had seen an episode of "60 Minutes" on a foreign mail-order bride
service based out of Russia and figured, hey, if those "goofball guys" can
do it, so could he.

He went to St. Petersburg, Russian, and the Ukrainian capital of Kiev with
interpreters in tow and made his connections. Once back at home, he got
busy designing an Internet business.

He worked with partners for about a year, all the while keeping his day job
in the insurance industry. But Neal's partners didn't share his vision to
create the most state-of-the-art online bride service in the world, he
said. So, in 1999, he quit his job and struck out on his own.

Today, www.ForeignSecrets.com joins more than 200 foreign-bride services
that each year advertise around 100,000 to 150,000 women, most of them from
impoverished areas of Southeast Asia, Russia and other countries of the
former Soviet Union.

Why Russia? Neal said the "girls" there are very family-oriented.

"There hasn't been a women's liberation movement over there," he said.
"When you explain it to them, they look at you and say, `Oh, you mean like
Hillary Clinton."'

According to a 1998 report done for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization
Service, a surge in recent years in the mail-order bride industry can be
traced to Russia and the former Soviet Union, where women have flocked onto
foreign dating rolls. It's not surprising: The average wage in Russia,
according to government statistics, is the equivalent of $50 per month. A
startling 37 percent of the population lives on $1 a day or less.

To be listed on Neal's service, females pay nothing. Male clients can
choose from a selection of "packages" from $79 to $300 that grant them
access to the women's profiles, phone numbers, home addresses, online
videos and e-mail addresses. The women also may contact men they are
interested in.

As desirable as his female clients are, so too are the men he offers as
husbands, not all of whom live in America. His male clients aren't
desperate "geeks" or weirdoes, Neal said. "We have doctors, lawyers, a
mechanic, lots and lots of guys in the computer software industry," he
said. "One is even a model."

According to the immigration service report, a survey of foreign-bride
services found that men who use such services tend to be white,
well-educated, politically and ideologically conservative and economically
well-off. Most have been married at least once; 75 percent wished to father
additional children. The average age is 37. The survey found the men tend
to be 20 to 50 years older than the foreign women they ultimately marry, a
fact that led one researcher to conclude such men were seeking younger
mates they could "mold."

"It's apparent that power and control are critical for these men," the INS
researcher wrote.

To the contrary, Neal said, his male clients are searching purely for love,
as are his female clients. And love typically happens quickly during the
tours, which cost $3,300 for airfare, transportation and room and board.
Interviews are arranged at Neal's onsite offices over coffee -- with the
use of interpreters since most of the women speak no English.

"I tell the guys, `Use your brain first before you fall in love.' It's
important that you have something in common, because there are so many
beautiful ladies over there."

How do www.ForeignSecrets.com marriages fare? Neal doesn't know, since he
doesn't do follow-up interviews with clients.

Likewise, no hard data exist on the rate of domestic abuse among such
marriages, but experts cited in the INS study believe it may be higher than
in the general population. Unions based on wifely submission and other
traditional ideas are ripe for battering and other forms of abuse, they say.

Neal, however, said "not a single girl has been hurt" through his service,
although he acknowledged that he does not have follow-up data proving his

And Neal insisted he is not selling sex.

"We're selling marriage and traditional family values," he said.

Melanie Orhant
Stop-Traffic Moderator

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