Posts Tagged ‘Prostitution’

In tightly organized sex trafficking groups there is more specialization and division of responsibilities than in loosely organized ones. For example local law enforcement Columbus and Toledo report that in these organized groups, “…people involved know only what they need to know to do their jobs. They do not know the traffickers names, or at least their real names, and whole operations can be run from the homes of traffickers without them ever coming into contact with the victims themselves.” (Wilson & Dalton 2007, p. 24)

In the US and throughout the world, many or most sex trafficking groups are ethnically-based (Shelly 2010b, 84). East Asian trafficking groups operating in the United States are particularly organized, in contract to domestic trafficking which consists mostly of loosely organized US-born pimps (Finnekauer 2007, Shelly 2010a). Operations are often vertically integrated, with organizations controlling operations from recruitment through to retail. For example, Chinese sex trafficking groups operating in the US “control the smuggling at all stages from recruitment…to an assignment in a brothel in order to secure long-term profits,” which are then reinvested back into legitimate businesses in East Asia. (Shelly 2010a, 124). This degree of organization makes their operations particularly effective and difficult to combat. For this reason we will focus on the operations of East Asian sex trafficking retailers operating in the United States.

East Asian groups in the United States typically operate out of different forms brothels. These typically take the form of East Asian “massage parlors,” located in many major US metropolitan areas including Washington, DC, where there are many of these businesses area (Washington Post). This contrasts with the model of domestic retailers in the US who typically utilize the ‘flying prostitute’ model.

Polaris Project (2011) reports that East Asian massage parlors are typically managed by older women (many of which are presumable former CSE victims) and owned by men. This reflects traditional East Asian social structure where women are subordinate to men. Other roles within East Asian trafficking operations include enforcers and transporters. (Polaris Project 2011).

East Asian sex retail operations outside of massage parlors are often conducted in “room salons/hostess clubs, residential brothels, karaoke bars, [and] escort services,” (Polaris Project 2011). Polaris Project Executive Director Bradley Myles believes that level of knowledge and effort required by retailers to hide behind the legal veil of legitimate business in these settings– regarding “laws, licensing, zoning, interacting with landlords and with legitimate reporting systems” – means that it would be very difficult for retailers to achieve or maintain this business model were they not part of a larger criminal enterprise (Washington Post).


Migration and sex work expert  Laura Agustin (who, as some readers may know, recently left a brief comment on this blog), has published a scathing criticism of Siddharth Kara’s Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery, in which she launches into a tirade against Kara that alternates between valid critiques of his work and questionable criticisms of his personal motivations.

I’ve read Inside the Business of Modern Slavery from cover to cover myself, often citing it on this very blog . But I have hesitated to cite it as  a primary source in my academic work because of its own questionable references and research methods. With these shortcomings in mind, Ms. Agustin tears into Kara with statements like: “Apparently unaware of over ten years of difficult debates reflected in hundreds of scholarly articles and journalistic reports, Kara is an MBA on a mission, using statistical sleight of hand to solve the problem of slavery,” and “the absence of academic supervision to control his preconceptions, critique his lack of methodology, or check his spin makes one wonder what Columbia University Press thought they were doing publishing it.” I agree that we should all demand much more of so-called “scholarly works” than Mr. Kara provides.

Unfortunately however, Ms. Agustin intersperses her review with reductionist theories that frame the interest of ALL men in the sex trafficking “rescue industry,” or rather all “Good Men,” (Ms. Agustin’s terms) as limited to a stereotypical desire to “prove themselves” and rescue “damsels in distress.” Citing Kara’s “exalted sensibility and anachronistic rhetoric” as a base for these claims, she frames this as the latest in a long tradition of mens’ chivalrous attempts, which apparently include “slaying knights and giants.” More than anything, Ms. Agustin’s own anachronistic rhetoric feeds into the sexist mindset she attempts to shed light on with her piece. Must men have a “damsel in distress” complex in order to care about the horrible phenomena of sex trafficking? Do not all people, including men, have the duty to be aware of the heinous nature of sexual slavery and mitigate its damaging affects on society? Here I refer to duty not in the traditional chivalrous sense that Ms. Agustin is so critical of, but in a contemporary sense of social responsibility and caring for others who share in the human experience.

In broader terms, I appreciate Ms. Agustin’s efforts to delineate the distinction between sex slavery and prostitution. And I agree with her that Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery was not scholarly and should not have been published by the well-respected Columbia University Press. But I fail to recognize how Ms. Agustin’s reductionist theories of male interest in the abolition/rescue industry movement contribute any substantive thought to the debates taking place today over human trafficking.


Agustin, Laura.  Feb. 27 2012. “Sex trafficking: not inside the business of modern slavery.” Counterpunch. (accessed 02/29/2012).

Kara, Siddharth. 2009. Sex trafficking: inside the business of modern slavery. Columbia: Columbia University Press.

Not too long ago I wrote a post about Rances Amaya, a member of MS-13 who was arrested in Springfield, VA on accusations of running a prostitution ring composed of minor females. Between then and now, I have been able to obtain some of the court documents filed in the case, including an affidavit filed by a the FBI in support of the criminal complaint. The supporting affidavit documents some of the observations made by Federal law enforcement agents that led to the charges against Mr. Amaya. Without walking you trough the specifics, I would like to highlight some details that I learned about the case which touch on concepts that we’ve discussed in GLOA 491. Keep in mind that these are only accusations, and not necessarily facts (though most are supported by witnesses):

  1. Beginning in the Spring of 2010 Amaya employed 4 underage runaways as prostitutes. He recruited approximately 15 clients around this period for the girls to service. We’ve all heard horror stories about victims forced to service 20 clients a day, so Mr. Amaya’s business seems relatively moderate in comparison, though this would probably be of little comfort to Mr. Amaya’s victims.
  2. Mr. Amaya provided the underage girls with condoms and the morning-after pill. Forced use of contraceptives and abortions seems to be a widely used, but not universal, practice in the forced sex trade. Frequency of use in the Amaya case is unclear.
  3. Mr. Amaya is accused of verbally abusing, threatening, and physically abusing the girls, yelling at a girl on at least one occasion, “bitch, you better fuck!” On another occasion, he assaulted one of the runaways for trying to leave a hotel room. Threat/use of force and restrictions on freedom of movement are key differences between the voluntary and forced sex trades.
  4. At least one girl was said to have a hand in some of the administrative functions of the business by obtaining and distributing condoms and accompanying the other girls during transportation to clients. This reminded me of the former sex slaves in Thailand and Moldova who moved on to become recruiters for their former abusers.
In researching the Amaya case, I learned that it actually had its roots an another case, USA v. Ormeno, in which another man, Alonso Ormeno, also associated with MS-13, was charged with sex trafficking of a minor and recently sentenced to nearly 25 years in Federal prison. I have also obtained the court filings for the Ormeno case and will be skimming through them over the next few days/weeks. The Ormeno case filings contain a lot of detailed information because the case is completed so all of the details have been documented, as opposed to the Amaya case which only recently started.
Let me know if you want info on how to obtain documents filed in Federal courts for your research; it is really easy but can take up to a week or two to get your info processed initially. Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) charges $0.10 per page to view docs, but won’t send you a bill until you have $10.00 in charges. So if I understand correctly, you won’t get billed at all as long as you view less than 100 pages.