Twelve Thai nationals and five Americans have been arrested and accused of running a prostitution ring that ensnared hundreds of Thai women in the United States.
The women were forced into sex trade in Chicago; Los Angeles; Washington, D.C.; Atlanta; Honolulu and other cities to pay off “bondage debt” of $40,000 and $60,000. The string of arrests made on Tuesday and Thursday culminated an investigation that spanned two years and cracked down the ring that has been operating since 2009.
Thai women from poor backgrounds were lured under false pretenses of a better life and given a loan of $40,000 to $60,000. Once in the U.S., the traffickers demanded they pay off their debts and trapped them in massage parlors, apartment and hotels where they worked as prostitutes for long hours to repay the gang.
The victims, who spoke little English, were forced to undergo breast implants and the surgical procedures, further adding to their debt. They were not allowed to leave without their escorts, who also had sex with them as part of their payment. If they resisted or tried to escape, the gang threatened harm to their families. In one case, a victim’s relative was assaulted and his bones broken in Thailand.
“They promised women in Thailand a chance at the American dream, but instead exploited them, coerced them and forced them to live a nightmare. In short, the victims lived like modern day sex slaves,” U.S. lawyer Andrew Luger, of the district of Minnesota, said in a statement.
In addition to trafficking, the suspects also got fake visas and travel documents to expedite the victims’ relocation.
Officials also detailed the operation that used code words for the various people involved in the commercial sex. “House bosses” were the advertisers and owners of the places used for prostitution while “flowers” were the victims themselves. The “facilitators” organized the victim’s movements in the country while “runners” were the women’s “escorts.”
The wide scale of the arrest could hurt the ring “very badly,” said special agent Alex Khu in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Minneapolis. Four other suspects still remain at large.
Over the past 10 years, anti-trafficking group Polaris reported more than 14,500 sex slavery cases in the United States. Nearly 21 million people are victims of human trafficking, according to the United Nations' International Labor Organization, including the 4.5 million who are trapped in sex trades.