Feature Articles

September 18, 2000

Asian Mobs And The International Sex Trade

By John William Tuohy

John William Tuohy is a writer who lives in Washingon, D.C.

     John Tuohy's book, The Last Gangster; The Life and Times of Roger Touhy and the Chicago Mob, will be released by Barricade Books this fall.

     Her name is Sue Lee, or Sierra or Fong or maybe it's Araka. Despite the grinding poverty of her life, she was, once, a lovely, sweet and happy girl. When she played, she pretended she was a beautiful princess who lived in a great castle where she was never hungry and she wore pretty clothes. She was never beaten or neglected.

     But that was make believe. In real life she lived in a sweltering slum in a big city, or impoverishment remote hilltop village in the jungle. Her father is addicted to opium or alcohol, or both.

     When she was 12 or 13, her father sold her to a member of a local gang. It's not unusual in poor Third World countries for young girls to be sold into sexual bondage by their families. In some parts of India, parents sell their daughters for less than three hundred dollars and in Thailand some parents sell their daughters when they are mere babies. The buyers raise them like livestock and when these children reach puberty they are then resold into the prostitution circuit to serve foreign tourists.

     Or maybe she was kidnaped. Being kidnaped is worse then being sold because the kidnaped women who suffer the most abuse. They are often underfed and denied medical care and those who become very sick are often killed by the brothel owners. Their lives are worthless to the hoods who own them. Recently, sixteen women held captive in an Asian brothel burned to death when a fire broke out in their brothel, and they could not escape because they were chained to their beds.

     Sold or kidnaped, the results are the same anyway. The girl is taken to a big city and sold to an organized crime cartel who place her into the waiting hands of a pimp who beats the resistance out of her. When the bruises heal and the swelling in her face goes down, she's turned out. While she's still young, she'll command as much as seven dollars a trick. As she ages, her price will drop and drop dramatically.

     When she runs away, she's usually caught. When she was young and pretty, the pimp tied her to a bed and beat her across the bottom of her bare feet with a strap. It was three weeks before she could walk again. Once she escaped and made it back home. However, her father beat her and sold again.

     After a while she'll learn that running away is pointless. Many authorities in Third World countries are usually insensitive to the plight of escaped sex slaves, even when the victims are their own citizens. One group of girls testified that when they escaped from their brothel and went to the police, the cops tried to convince them to return to the brothel. When they refused, the police forced them to return to the hoodlum who had originally kidnaped them and forced them into slavery. He resold them into another brothel.

     When the girls escaped a second time, the brothel agent tracked them down to their native village and threaten their families with arrest unless they repaid him for the girls' value. They didn't have the money, and the girls went back to the brothels.

     But most of these women never run away because the first thing that the kidnappers do is to get them out of their native country as quickly as possible since it is much more difficult for enslaved women to escape from a foreign country. They don't know the language and are unfamiliar with their surroundings.

     Besides, returning home isn't always for the best. Recently, twenty-five Burmese women were kidnaped by organized criminals and forced to work in Thailand as prostitutes. Thai police raided the brothel where the twenty-five Burmese women were being held and rescued them. The women were deported to Burma after they all tested HIV-positive. Upon their return to Burma, Burmese health officials injected the women with cyanide to "prevent the spread of the [HIV] virus." Most of them died several days later.

     According to a social worker in Burma, the Burmese government routinely executes women who return from Thailand with the AIDS virus.

     Once the girl is beaten into submission, she's deflowered, her virginity being sold to the highest bidder. Today in Southeast Asia, the price to take a 13-year-old virginity is about three hundred dollars.

     After that, the girl is "put out," usually in a large brothel where she will work 16 hours a day with forty other girls. She'll sit in a large glass room, a number pinned to her shirts so that customers can choose her from the rest who wear different numbers. She'll be beaten for the slightest infraction and if any money is found on her by the pimps, she can be killed.

     While international community stands united in condemning forced sex slavery, no one seems to be doing anything to stop it or even has any plans to stop it. Some argue that they don't have the mechanism to fight, but most of the offending countries simply refuse to deny that the problem exists within their boarders.

     A major problem in combating sex slavery is that the business is sophisticated, globalized, and technical. A young, desperately poor girl in Seoul can be recruited for a domestic jobs and end up as a prostitute a day later and a world away in the Middle East.

     A second problem is that slavery is now integrated into the economies of some countries like the Philippines or Thailand.

     A few world leaders have proposed the creation of an international criminal court and law enforcement agency to manage the problem of international sexual slavery, but the never ending squabbles between the various nations over hundreds of issues related to the problem, prevents anything from happening.

     The answer to ending international forced sex slavery, the only answer, lies in the halls of power in the United States Congress and the US Department of States.

     The Congress has the power to substantially wound international slavery by withholding foreign aide, sending a flood of Congressional investigators to the offending countries or by shaming world leaders into action, in much the same way as it did with the recent global condemnation of money laundering. But, the sad reality is that a Manhattan banker cut out of collecting interest on dirty money has a much higher priority in Washington and other first world capitals then does the desperate needs of an illiterate teenage girl born into a third world slum. Therein lies the sin to this monstrous crime; the victims, by-in-large, are victims because they are poor, because they were born into the wrong class and as a result they are defenseless.

     If there is a special place in hell for the hoods who hurt these wretched souls, then, equally, there should be no room in heaven for the inhabitants of a great nation who sat, ideally, and watched it happen.

     In the mean time, the ugly procession or human being reduced to cattle continues and the end is always the same. Like tens of thousands of women forced into the sex trade, the girl will finally succumb to the international aids epidemic and died. Her dead body will be left outside, on a curb. A trash truck will deliver it to a hospital where it will be incinerated. She will be soon be replaced by a girl named Sue Lee, or Sierra or Fong or maybe it's Araka. Despite the grinding poverty of her life, she was, once, a lovely, sweet and happy girl.............

Mr. Tuohy can be reached at

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