Cultural Exchange Visitors or Topless Dancers?
Go-Go dance job ad in search for Summer Work and Travel and other J-1 program participants
In Sex. Money. Work and Travel Usa. Part One we have discussed sexual harassment, abuse and exploitation of Summer Work and Travel students. We talked about how structural flaws in the swt program result in sexual vulnerability of participants. We discussed prerequisites for the sexual abuse of participants. We described yet another cosmetic reform in the program – DoS’ requirement for participants to memorize Wilberforce pamphlet or “Know Your Rights” brochure.
In this section we complement Part One with additional findings and look at the issue from a different perspective.
10 years later
As it turns out, the swt program is not only used by US companies to import cheap labor, but it is also used to lure young girls for the American sex and erotic industry. For this reason, the program in the US and Russia is sometimes sarcastically referred to as “Whore & Travel”. Criminals under various covers may use this program to exploit young women for their own gain.
First well-known documented case of swt sexual abuse was reported in 2010 by Associated Press . The report cited that strip clubs and adult entertainment companies openly attract J-1 employees, although government regulations prohibit students from taking these jobs. For example, the report stated, ZM Studios, a broker for topless dancers, allured swt participants by advertising ”If you wish to dance in the USA as a J-1 exchange visitor, contact us”. The ad said ZM Studios is “affiliated with designated visa sponsors” and can get women J-1 visas and jobs at topless clubs in cities like Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
That was 10 years ago, and you may think things have changed. They surely have. Swt recruitment for erotic jobs in the US has merely taken a more subtle form.
Indeed, it is quite representative and disturbing that 10 years later the infamous ZM Studios continues to recruit “attractive” girls for topless and striptease jobs. The website, which is also available in Russian language, describes itself as a 28-year old agency with a perfect reputation . Just like swt immigration, sexual exploitation of swt participants became a sub industry itself.
Not reported but still happening
We know young people tend to avoid negative publicity. That is especially true for sexual abuse related problems. It is even more true for 19-years old female swt participants who are afraid to speak up in an otherwise perfect swt environment. Noone wants to be coined “losers” by swt agents. As a result, the harassers and other bad folks in swt chain continue their practice year after year with sad consequences for students and their parents.
We, authors, still remember a girl who was coerced to have sex with several half-drunken guys but it never became a subject of public discussion. She never talked about it. She left the United States physically and mentally broken. There are many more swt females who have been a subject of sexual harassment in US. Epidemic scale of sexual swt abuse manifested itself in all kinds of forms. Almost every single swt female had experienced some sort of sexual pressure during their trips in America and could share stories about it. In the process of researching this topic and recalling our own experiences it felt sometimes that some Americans are obsessed with swt females in almost maniacal manner. Notably, a large swt sponsor included sexual harassment of swt participants into the “Workplace problems or concerns” section on its website .
Indeed, a South Carolina newspaper referred to interviews with more than 40 foreign workers and revealed how temporary workers in tourist places became victims of sexual predators and thieves. The article also cited police which when interviewing swt students “heard stories about managers who made night-time “bed checks” – thinly disguised sexual advances”.
Of course local Americans notice sexual harassment of bonded swt participants. Here are jsut few examples how American citizen voiced their discontent with “indentured servitude” and sexual abuse of swt students:
“This sort of hiring has been going on for years here on Cape Cod and other tourist destinations, including the ski industry. It’s sheer exploitation and greed… Not only overtime w/o compensation and poor working conditions/hazards but nasty sexual harassment as well. It’s a sickening and disgusting system of indentured servitude that must be abolished” .
“So what did they want? If students come to work, but they are offered to engage in open prostitution. Or dancing in the bar, or hire as a waitress and force to have sex, starting with the boss. Probably Republicans think that students will line up at Scatini Laundry for $8 an hour? I’ve seen students who want to earn money honestly. This is a small amount of money and NOT often. That is why they find an alternative: gentlemen pay for the pleasure” .
Program participants remain sexually vulnerable
Pay for the pleasure… That doesn’t quite fit the cultural exchange objective of the program.
The State, sponsors and other swt beneficiaries keep claiming that because of recent reforms swt students are better protected. But that is not true because fundamentally nothing has changed. Swt participants are still being fooled into believing in making “pile of cash” in the US and therefore accumulate large debts to participate in the program. The debt creates vulnerability which leads to exploitation and trafficking.
In a simplified view, to understand why sexual abuse is still happening, let’s see how the supply and demand for sexual services in the US creates vulnerability of swt participants. The most important factor of course is the heavy indebtedness of participants by the time they arrive in the US. The presence of debt, the inability to earn promised money and fear of being fired and deported often forces students to accept any job and any living conditions. For precisely this reason, EPI stated that some “exchange visitors were either forced into sexual slavery or left with no choice but to become strippers or enter the sex trade”. Thanks to swt lobby, the debt part of the sexual abuse equation has never been a subject of reforms.
Causal link between swt sex abuse and chronic lack of money of swt students was documented earlier by US law enforcement agencies which stated “a large number of girls work in the sex entertainment industry, including escort services, strip bars, etc., which is strictly prohibited by official documents establishing the operating procedure of the Work and Travel program. Many students, because of low earnings, become victims of financial fraudsters and take part in various criminal financial schemes”[in74].
Worse, Russian swt agents know very well that instead of engaging in cultural exchange activities female swt participants work in the erotic industry. In fact, head of the largest swt agency after meeting with US embassy officials admitted that “a large number of girls work in the field of sex entertainment industry, including escort services, strip bars, etc.”. This is hypocrisy at best – agents continue to fool naive students and make money out of them.
Low ethical standards of swt agents. Sexual recruitment ads.
In the chase for profits swt agents are eager to sign up almost anyone. Recall how in 2009 the US Consulate in Saint Petersburg investigated Russian swt agency Rospersonal. One of its fake swt applicants “when questioned about why she was not attending university, admitted that she works in St. Petersburg at an erotic services salon” . That was back in 2009, nowadays, erotic swt recruiting has taken a more subtle and covert form. Indeed, in responding to much tighter swt rules adopted in 2011, the largest Russian swt agency recommended applicants “not to leave “traces” anywhere about their interest to illegal, i.e prohibited by program rules, work in the USA. For example, towards go-go dancers in night clubs” [235, in39].
While researching this topic we came across multiple posts on a large US embassy-accredited agency page marked “for young girls only” which openly invited females to earn $300 per night. After further analysis, it became clear there are many dance clubs, massage and spa salons trying to recruit young female swt students [in42].
Here are few examples of sexual recruitment ads posted on US embassy-accredited swt agents’ public pages and social media groups. Note these groups are not just limited to Russain nationals, all Russian speaking participants from other countries can see and utilize it. So here they are:
The following ads were posted in January 2019 on the largest Russian swt agency public page [194, sexads_1]. Post in the group of more 70,000 followers got thousands of views instantly. Timing of the post appears to be well thought out, it was perfect – new year holidays in Russia when people spent tons of time surfing the web and texting friends in VK. After several days sitting on the top of the page it finally disappeared. We tried to post something on that page but could not. It was not possible to post anything without admin’s approval. When asked the moderator of that group if we could place a post on their page, he said “No”. We were not allowed but ads with sexual context were permitted to be at the top for several days. How much money they got in return we can only guess.
In 2014, another ad said “We offer work in New York nightclubs to girls))) $200-300 weekdays one shift, $400-600 weekends)) if you are attractive, you like to dance and you really want to make good money – write me…” [194, sexads_2].
Another large US Embassy approved swt agency has been allowing erotic ads for years. For example, an ad posted in 2018 recruited swt girls to dance in night clubs as follows: “Work in 2 night clubs for girls! With tips $500 and more per day. Connecticut State. The richest district, sleeping part of Manhattan, 30 minutes by train to NYC”. It was posted in July and was active for at least 4 months [194, sexads_3].
Advertised link leads to the night dance club page that recruited girls-dancers “to the cleanest, elite gentleman clubs!!! FREE housing!!! Earnings from $500 to $2000 and even more per day!”.
Groups for swt girls in USA
There are many groups in social media for female swt participants who are already in the USA and are willing to work in erotic/sex industry. For example, one group called “Work for girls in USA… money)))” . Here are few examples of ads on that page:
“Offering a high-paying job in Miami, Florida, USA for beautiful girls from 18 to 35 years. Guarantee $20,000 – $40,000 per month for eligible girls working full time. I also give extras in Miami for part time. Verified VIP customers who pay from $500 to $800 per hour ($700 – $900 per hour for couples M/F). Work only by call, provide a luxury car with a driver. Covering 50% of the cost of living for girls working full time. Guarantee security! Have been working in Miami for over 15 years!” [194, sexads_4].
“Girls hot tour in the USA. City New York. In August and September. New York. Earnings from 10-15 thousand dollars and above. Caucasians earn from $20,000” [194, sexads_5]. The author’s page says that escort agency in the USA is looking for girls who have visa to come to the US or are already in the US.
“Work for girls in the USA: $20,000 – $50,000 per month! No. 1 Escort Agency in America invites beautiful girls from 18 to 28 years old to spend time with VIP clients in the best hotels and residences of Miami and South Florida. Our customers pay from $500 to $1,200 per hour!” [194, sexads_6].
There are plenty of groups in social media specifically targeting swt females interested in Go-Go dancing in the USA. These groups mostly recruit swt females as can be seen by posts and page headers.
For example, one group with more than 30,000 members is called “New York Go-Go Dance/ work and travel USA/ Everything about dances in USA”. In it’s discussion section there are tons of advertising for gentlemen and night clubs .
Another group called “NEW YORK NY GO GO DANCE/USA/WORK AND TRAVEL/DANCE IN CLUBS!” has almost 20,000 followers . It describes itself as “Girls! If you are attractive, love nightlife, clubs and want to earn good money on this, then this group is created for you. Here you will learn how you can earn from $1,000 to $3,000 per week. You can choose clubs and days in which you are comfortable to work. We work in the largest and most beautiful Go Go bars and Gentleman clubs.” Discussion section is flooded with offers to dance and erotic services.
Yet another group with limited access called “WORK AND TRAVEL USA *** РАБОТА ДЛЯ СТУДЕНТОВ *** **GOGODANCENY**” has about 6,000 followers. It says that “The group was created for young, active, self-confident girls who want to earn good money!” It even offers advice on how to remain in the US and suggests contacting a lawyer: “If a girl wants to stay, then there are several solutions in this matter. The first option is a tourist visa, the second option is a student visa.”
Next group called “Работа в New York City – GoGo Dancers – Work and Travel USA, J1” . It describes itself as “If you are planning to spend the summer in the USA or you are already here. Hiring GO-GO dancers to work in the largest city USA – New York City. Hiring girls (Work and Travel and J-1, or simply those who are in America) to work in clubs as a GO-GO support. Girls of all shapes are needed, earnings depend on the ability to present yourself! Girls, summer is very short, do not waste your time, join our friendly and very sociable team and you will return home with a very substantial earnings!”. By coincidence or not, this group’s lucrative front page’s space is filled with links to the largest US embassy-approved Russian swt agent. It is the very same agent that allows erotic ads in its group with almost 70,000 followers. Coincidence?
Another group that recruits swt girls for go-go dancing clubs features similar ads and promises easy and fast money up to $2,000 a day . Massage salons and other boutique clubs openly solicit “attractive” girls to call.
Here are few more social media groups actively searching for swt females to perform erotic services in America. Although these groups have less members, it is the ubiquity of groups like these is what is more reflective of the problem.
So enough of examples, clearly there are tons of ads and groups openly recruiting swt students for erotic and sex industry in US. And result of this advertising campaign is that some swt girls go to US already knowing they would be making money engaging in sexual or erotic activities. Agents process these students “as usual” and help them to obtain a J-1 “cultural exchange” visa. Here is one public example: in 2011 in NYC was arrested a woman who was “accused of participating in the scheme that recruited and assisted Russian and other Eastern European, in fraudulently obtaining summer work and travel visas. According to the US Attorney’s Office, she and the other defendants, sent these women false job offers for waitressing and other positions which they would then include on their visa applications. However, once the women arrived in the U.S., they allegedly worked as exotic dancers at the Strip Clubs, in violation of visa rules prohibiting employment in the adult entertainment industry…The women were allegedly recruited through Internet and newspaper postings to work as exotic dancers” . The woman was arrested but it did not stop swt erotic recruiting – swt forums agents’ pages continue to be flooded with fresh posts openly inviting swt applicants to work in American sex and erotic industry.
Such practice is quite widespread so that even local Americans notice it ,as can be seen from the following comments:
“Often the girl from the former cis is already going to america, knowing in advance what, where and when to pull out. Why work, even at 2 jobs, when you can easily pick up an American of 40-45 years without any effort and completely forget about responsibility and morality (if that existed). Florida, Vegas, Atlantic, hotels, entertainment, cars … and what is given in return is probably not valued at all. All seems good but later on you have to live somehow with it” .
“Moreover, J-1s are very active in trading their young bodies. I broke up with my husband 2 years ago, and he met a girl 30 years younger on the Internet. In the summer she came to him to visit at the work@travel program. It costs about 1200-1300 bucks, of course, my husband paid for it, she came here and had a lot of fun and returned to Ukraine. I think this is not her last visit to the United States. Is it bad for people like her?? My husband cannot offer her more or does not want to, but it is nice to walk with her, ride around Florida and other resorts!!! Plus all inclusive, gifts and stuff, is it bad??? !! And girls go with pleasure, do not look at anything but only to be paid. Of course, I am not against such programs, but if young people enter the country only to rob or engage in prostitution, then we must stop this business” .
Furthermore, after double Russian currency depreciation in 2014, the vulnerability of swt participants, so to speak, doubled as well. Recruiting agents use such differential earning potential to allure more students into the program. No one cares about cultural exchange. Given students’ desperation for money and high exchange rate, temptation to earn “easy” money and recoup program costs by engaging in erotic/sex services got even stronger.
Swt agents by facilitating sexual recruitment ads essentially serve as illegal sex and prostitution brokers. It is not known precisely how swt agents get compensated for allowing posts that other users cannot post.
It seems that advertisers of dance clubs, erotic and sex services perfectly understand the program’s gender makeup (2/3 of Russian participants are females) and students’ desperation and hunger for advertised earnings. Girls who genuinely believe in making “pile of cash” at one job, put those sexual ads aside but remember it. Once in the US and after realizing that thousands of dollars, promised by agents back home, do not exist they retrieve that information and use it to repair their desperate financial situation – the situation they were put in by greedy agents and sponsors. One advertiser for example specifically says “Attention: Save our phone number, even if you are in doubt now, in the future, it may become useful to you”. Another description says that students should join their club dancing because “It is very, very difficult for students and newcomers to find work in New York. Trust our experience and the experience of many of those girls who are already working with us. You may well earn from $ 1,000 per week and all this is completely legal, so this is a great opportunity to achieve financial independence and get closer to your “American Dream”[in162].
Combination of the demand for fit young bodies on one side and desperation of immature girls on another side creates high risk for sexual abuse of swt students. Other factors discussed in the report such as agents’ low ethics standards, participants’ inability to protect their rights, as well as information monopoly of swt agents obviously exacerbate the problem.
Of course, it is oversimplification and there are many moving parts but overall it makes perfect sense. As has been proven by numerous examples, the combination of above factors under unfortunate circumstances leads to tragic consequences for the program participants. Worse, the lion share of those tragic incidents remain unknown to the wide public. In addition, after suffering in America, swt agents call victims of sexual abuse a “unlucky” participants or “losers”. Great support…
Above noted examples of students’ sexual abuse are not isolated cases. It is so widespread that DoS and swt agents began requiring students to learn the “Know Your Rights” brochure. This is done because the documented violations of rights, complaints and exploitation of students were so serious that now the consuls and ambassadors are obliged to check the knowledge of this brochure at the interview. Looks like DoS thinks, naively or deliberately, that giving away Wilberforce pamphlet and making students to memorize the brochure, will fix the swt sex abuse problem. Quite sad actually since young foreigners are continued to be sexually abused in the US cultural exchange program. Remember, just because no-one reports it, that does not mean it is not happening.
Clearly, striptease dancing or waiting tables topless, whether forceful or willful, has nothing to do with the cultural exchange. It is a direct violation of the Fulbright-Hays Act and Code of Federal Regulations governing the program. Some girls openly admit working in night and strip clubs, escort services or having a “sugar daddy”. Yet, some try to hide being essentially a prostitute and claim winning a lottery. Regardless of your personal choice and opinion on this subject, as the research shows, this is not what swt recruiting agents tell students and parents. And this is certainly not the appropriate program for such activities, although we won’t be surprised if swt lobby persuades US Congress that these activities fall within the “cultural exchange” category.
Published October 29, 2019. Last updated November 2, 2020.
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