A raid in Dallas marked a major victory in efforts to dismantle a nationwide network of South Korean brothels and brokers, says the Dallas Morning News . For 42 women, it began a journey guided by questions at the center of U.S. policies governing human rights and human trafficking: Were they common opportunists trading dignity for distant American dreams? If so, they would be returned to face uncertain futures in Seoul. Or were they prisoners of global flesh traders, trapped in a web of debts and threats? If so, they might stay in the U.S. for three years with the chance to become residents. To date, 34 have been ordered home or are in deportation proceedings. Five have been identified as potential victims of trafficking. Three faced no immigration or criminal charges. “It’s very common and sort of tragically so,” said Terry Coonan of the Center for the Advancement of Human Rights at Florida State University.
The Morning News followed the women’s journey over 6,000 miles from Korea to Dallas. Most were lured by Internet sites, newspaper ads, and word of mouth. By the time most of the women arrived, their debts to transporters and smugglers exceeded $13,000. They became sexual sharecroppers, says the Morning News, working off the balance at hundreds of South Korean brothels across the country. “I believe it’s the largest sex-trafficking racket out there,” the human rights center’s Coonan said. He calls the Korean sex workers “the oldest sort of ethnic group” that operates like this. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 provides protection for immigrants who have been subjected to force, fraud or coercion, including debt bondage. Victim status would give them access to an array of social services. If they agreed to help law enforcement in the investigation of brothel owners and brokers, they could also qualify for a three-year visa with the possibility of permanent residency.