Sexual harassment, abuse and exploitation of Work and Travel students.
Associated Press’ investigation revealed that Work and Travel students are forced to work in strip clubs instead of restaurants. Associated Press
For Sex. Money. Work and Travel. Part Two please click here.
Hi everyone! We are continuing publishing findings from recent research about the J-1 Work and Travel program (WaT). Today we will talk about sexual abuse and exploitation of participants in this so-called “cultural exchange” program.
We’ve collected a lot of material from our experience, press and stories of disappointed and abused students, and often, when choosing next topic for publication, we are scratching our heads a little. Everything seems important and useful to naive students and their even more naive parents. But without thinking twice this time, we decided it is time to talk about the safety of participants, namely, how not to become a sexual abuse victim of the wat program.
This topic is especially important since students, who are essentially still naive kids of 18–20 years old, are easy prey for experienced recruiting agents, employers, landlords, and other predators of the wat program. Moreover, students who have been subjected to sexual harassment often avoid discussing this topic for various reasons. Therefore many abuses and violations of their basic rights remain unknown to the general public. As a result, the harassers and other bad folks in this chain continue their practice from year to year with sad consequences for students.
Recently, one of the students asked why do wat agents hand out, and the embassy staff require knowledge of a brochure called “Know Your Rights”? So, shortly – this brochure, also known as Wilberforce pamphlet, is created in accordance with the US trafficking victims protection act .
“Wait, what? Victims? Trafficking” – you are surely surprised. “What does student program, for which one needs to pay thousands of dollars, have to do with human trafficking and exploitation???” Good question…
Indeed, why a brochure? Once having asked ourselves the same question, we were simply terrified by what was found and the scale of rights violations of foreign temporary workers in US. But today, of course, we will only talk about the wat workers – after reading this article, you should have an idea why participants are formally required to know this brochure. The keyword is “formally”, as understanding of the brochure does not solve fundamental problems with the wat program and therefore does not solve the problem of the exploitation and harassment of students. This is just another State’s cosmetic change to the program’s rules, but we will talk more about it sometime later in a separate article.
Interesting that, having asked wat agents about this brochure, we did not receive a clear explanation and entire story behind it. As it turns out, agents for obvious reasons do not want to go into details and talk about sexual harassment and violations of program participants’ fundamental rights and gradually shift conversation to wat myths…
And there are tons of myths diligently spread and maintained by agents – after all, more myths leads to more applicants and, consequentially, more money agents accumulate in their pockets. This is obvious and everything is pretty simple. But things are not that simple for the participants themselves, who paid thousands of dollars for the program. As has been said many times in the Myth about Cultural Exchange, the presence of debt and the inability to earn the promised money often forces students to accept any job and any conditions.
So what we found that the work and travel program is not only used by US companies as a source of cheap labor, but it is also used to lure young girls for the American sex and erotic industry. In addition, criminals often use this program and exploit young women for their own gain.
Examples of violations, unfortunately, are more than enough. Either informal conversations with participants or well documented cases in the press. What is alarming, as was said the Myth 6 and above, is that the lion share of harassments and violations remain unreported and unknown to the wide public…
Various articles in the US media also analyzed this dark side of the wat program. An interview of the Post and Courier newspaper with more than 40 foreign workers, as well as checking lawsuits and internal government documents, show how temporary workers in tourist places became victims of sexual predators and thieves, were deceived with wages, forced to live in dirty and crowded housing and they are threatened with deportation if they complain.
Similarly, the Associated Press news agency interviewed almost 70 students in 10 states from 16 countries and most of them said they were disappointed and some were angry with the program.
Not surprising at all, as some participants have to pay for the program not only in different ways, but also using different parts of their body…
The following press review and student experience clearly demonstrates the vulnerability of program participants. Below are a few examples of the sexual abuse of students from the American press. After the articles we will talk about the prerequisites of participants’ sexual vulnerability and why this is actually becomes part of their American cultural experience.
Sooooo, let’s go and search for work and travel girls in American strip clubs and bars…
Work and Travel participants work in topless bars and dance in strip clubs
Credit Associated Press
Investigation by the Associated Press (AP) found that students are forced to work in strip clubs instead of restaurants. Others bring home $1 per hour or even less. Some participants live in apartments so crowded that they sleep in shifts because there are not enough beds. Others have to eat on the floor.
AP interviewed students, lawyers, local government and social services and looked at thousands of pages of confidential records, police reports and court cases. Among the findings is that strip clubs and adult entertainment companies openly attract J-1 employees, although government regulations prohibit students from taking these jobs. For example, one ad said
“If you want to dance in the United States as a J-1 exchange visitor, contact us,” ZM Studios advertised on its website for topless dancers. The ad said that ZM Studios can make J-1 female visas and jobs in topless clubs in cities such as Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
Further, AP tells how a 19-year-old Russian girl in Florida went to work as a waitress at a topless bar as a store where she worked, paid little, and she lived with a store owner in a crowded, broken apartment.
The student gave the AP only her name, Olesya, because she did not tell her parents about her “cultural experience”.
“My father doesn’t know where I work,” she said, looking down at a tray of beer and mixed drinks.
As the AP says, many J-1 girls end up being employees of strip clubs, either by their own will or by external coercion.
Katya was forced to undress in Detroit strip club
In Michigan, Maksimenko and his company Beaty Search Inc used personal connections in Europe to recruit victims for the J-1 cultural exchange program. More than 12 girls were recruited from Eastern Europe with promises that they would be provided with a well-paid job upon arrival in states. Instead, they were forced to work as exotic dancers at strip clubs in Detroit for 12 hours a day, six days a week.
A Ukrainian girl asked AP to call her only as Katya, because she is afraid for her life. Katya, telling in Congress how the sex trade brought her to the United States, said that she was studying sports medicine in Kiev when her boss spoke about the wat program.
However, instead of working as a waitress in Virginia in the summer, as promised, Katya and another student were forced to strip in a club in Detroit. The boss confiscated their passports and said they had to pay $12,000 for organizing the trip and another $10,000 for getting papers, according to court documents.
Katya said that in the end he demanded that she find somehow $35,000, by dancing or in other ways.
“I said: “This is not what I signed up for. It is not right”. He said, “Well, you owe me money. I don’t care how I get them from you. If I have to sell you, I will sell you.”
In the following months, two men beat the girls, threatened them with weapons and forced them to work at the Cheetah strip club, according to court reports. Katya said that one of the men made her have sex with him, a memory with which she is still struggling. The girls were also told that if they refused, their families in Ukraine would be killed.
The victims of Maksimenko worked in the public industry, in the view of owners and patrons, from 2007 to 2011. One victim eventually managed to escape with the help of a visitor, four years after she was hired. Numerous witnesses ignored or overlooked the general signs of trafficking, including traces of physical abuse and obvious signs that the victims did not control their money or immigration documents.
“These women were brought to America with promises of education and travel, and instead they were forced to work in strip clubs,” said a law enforcement agent.
Not surprisingly, the US State department’s 2012 report of trafficking people states: “NGOs noted vulnerabilities in the J-1 Summer Work Travel program that could be indicators of trafficking, including reports of fraudulent job offers, abnormal work, [and] cancellations work on arrival … Vulnerabilities that are common indicators of human trafficking [include] threats, intimidation, and irregular pay. ” Temporary work visa programs are often used to hire foreign nationals as slaves in the US.
As Human Rights First, an independent rights organization in America, noted, the Maksimenko case and others demonstrate the prevalence and diversity of human trafficking problems in US.
Work and Travel Students were sold for sex in Florida
Jason Cooper organized sex trafficking of participants of the Work and Travel cultural exchange program. Credit nbcmiami
Cooper used Work and Travel program to attract two young girls from Kazakhstan to Miami, promising them to work in a fictional yoga studio. The girls naively thought that they would work in Miami in a yoga studio, six days a week, eight hours a day, 12 dollars an hour. Sounded really good. But instead they fell into sexual slavery in Florida. Cooper used fraudulent work papers to recruit international students, and then advertised them to clients for erotic massage and prostitution.
According to the lawsuit, Cooper sold students to potential clients on Backpage.com as “Beautiful ladies from Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Belarus, and Ukraine offering Sensual Body rubs. Work and travel students, visiting the South Florida area…their ages range from 18-22, completely ‘drama free’ and very happy. Lovely Miami Beach waterfront location, plenty of parking. If you are really interested in an amazing experience, don’t hesitate to call. “
Work in the studio was a lie from the very beginning – “Doctor Dasa” existed only as Cooper’s pseudonym, and there was no yoga studio at all. The only jobs that existed were erotic massage and prostitution.
After students arrived in Miami, Cooper first revealed that yoga studios do not exist, and that they will perform erotic massage for clients and provide prostitution services. The victims, shocked and frustrated, tried to find work elsewhere, but with no success, and eventually gave up and began working for Cooper. He also threatened that the girls would not be paid, and their visas would be canceled.
Miami Beach Sex Trafficker Sentenced To 30 Years in Prison For International Trafficking Scheme Targeting Foreign University Students
American raped Russian female, participant of the Work and Travel program
Paul Shuler raped Russian student-participant of the Work and Travel cultural exchange program
In 2015, in the city of Myrtle Beach, SC, a tragic event occurred with a Russian female participant of the work and travel program.
She was 20 years old, blonde and about 5 feet 3. She responded to an ad searching for models for a photo shoot on Craigslist and met on July 8, 2015 with a man named Paul Schuler. He worked on the rental as a cleaner and had keys to hotel rooms. Schuler set a time for a photo shoot at one of the hotels where he worked.
According to the police reports, the student met with him the next day for a photo shoot. A man invited her to a hotel room, and there took some photos in shorts and a shirt. Then he asked to take a picture of her in a bathing suit. She refused, then Schuler ordered her to face the wall and handcuffed her. He said he was an immigration officer, and then raped her. When he finished, he threatened her not to tell anyone, or he and his law enforcement friends would rape her in a group.
The warrant for Schuler said that the girl had bruises on her wrist from handcuffs. The student went to the police, and Schuler was subsequently arrested on rape charges.
Now little experience from participants
These examples of abuses and harassments unfortunately did not make it to AP…
How do participants pay off program costs?
Well… In different ways. Some with hands, some with head, whereas others have little choice left but to use other body parts. Topic of above average earnings especially for girls is particularly interesting and worth spending some time on. There is too much misinformation about the source of the windfall, but those who traveled at least once know what is the talk about. For naive female students, their parents, friends and ready to marry boyfriends we will take a look at some examples. Hopefully it will convincingly illustrate that there is no free lunch for girls in America, and essentially for anyone else.
There was one girl travelled to New York City supposedly to work as a waitress – quite a standard job offer for girls, nothing special. She was not particularly attractive, just an average looking white girl. What set her apart from counterparts is that she did not have obesity issues and she really wanted to make money. She certainly did and brought home twice the average student earnings. Later on for no obvious reason she claimed that she won a lottery. Lottery in New York? Seriously? Anyone who lived few months in this city knows how brutal and ruthless it can get out there. Especially for vulnerable folks like wat students. Sex and money rules that city, nothing else, read further.
Virginity for $1000
Another young attractive female with relatively large breast was frequently approached by several older strangers. One time in the grocery store 50 years old man walked to her and directly said: “Want to go with me, 1000 dollars”. He slightly opened his pocket and showed $100 bills. Usually girls that share such stories claim that they refused to sell their bodies. In this example as well the girl said that she was virgin and left the store in the horror and tears. Later on though, when time to leave arrived and she got no money to bring back but iphone with pictures, she often thought over this story. She admitted that she would reconsider such offer if met him again. Maybe she was not lying but how many other girls could not resist money temptation and claimed afterwards winning the lottery? No one knows exactly since no girl would like to admit being a prostitute in the work and travel program.
Beauty salons and alike
One more example. Cousin of my friend ended up working as a host in the beauty salon in upper New York. At the end of the summer her visa expired but she never came back and somehow continued to work in it. Later on, as she said, she began working as a personal assistant in the corporate office. She claimed to have a job offer from the recruitment agency. Sounds good for parents and alike. Again this innocent story can be told to relatives and other naive friends back home, to anyone who never lived in a big and rich city like NYC. Few years later after getting her papers she admitted working for escort services and other similar man pleasing agencies. No corporate job whatsoever. Complete bs.
The other day I saw posting on W&T forum marked “for young girls only” openly inviting females to earn $300 per night. Imagine how many dance clubs, massage and spa salons are out there trying to recruit young female students. Sounds like another lottery or beauty salon from the New York City, does not it?
One day I came across the conversation post between female WaT participant and her dad. After lengthy chat daughter asked for money because she had no money left for “life”. The dad happy to hear that she is safe quickly agreed to send money. After hanging up he noted with mixed feelings and sigh: “Well, at least she is not a prostitute out there”…
Girls for rent
As it turns out students can make money in a wat program, not only by scrubbing toilets. For example, some attractive students in South Carolina received large additional payments, not working like everyone else in nearby hotel as housekeepers, but having sex with a labor broker. Although, maybe this is also considered a job, if so, what kind of position is that? The recruiter liked to invite the most attractive girls to his house near the beach on weekends to “celebrate America.” There, they walked half naked on high heels and served drinks to guests and it was said that he “rented out girls” to hotel visitors. These beauties received their special payments and, most likely, STDs as a bonus. Sounds like a lottery, does not it?
WHY is this happening?
Like many, you are probably wondering what sexual harassment of students and the “cultural exchange” of the wat program have in common??? Nothing, absolutely, nothing, you are right.
To find out why this is happening, without considering many other factors for now let’s simply talk how the supply and demand for sex services in US creates vulnerability of wat participants. Enough to combine the demand of Americans for slender young bodies on one hand and the despair of deceived immature girls on the other hand to create ideal conditions for the sexual abuse of students. Everything is simple, no need PhD in sociology here to observe it… Little more detail about this:
+ Supply: Chronic lack of money for students
Difficulty / impossibility to recoup the program and earn the promised money on one job, we discussed in detail in the Myth about Money. So sorry, but you will have to look for a second job, at least.
But which girls would like to work 16 hours a day for the minimum wage? Not many. And who wants to pay off the program costs, travel and be on the photos advertised by wat agents? Everyone wants. So there comes a moral dilemma for students from non-rich families: either work 16 hours a day for a minimum wage, or get naked in strip clubs and topless bars. The guys naturally have fewer options – they have to work essentially like slaves. Those for whom money is not a problem come back simply with empty pockets, having spent 3000 bucks on the program and a couple of thousand more for life and travels. But not about them this site and our book. Others who heavily borrowed from all relatives to pay for the program have a completely different situation…
We have already mentioned that usually in the second month the participants begin to the realize the Myth about Money and especially inability to earn amounts promised by wat agents. Exactly for this reason, as AP investigation showed, the 19-year-old Russian girl left the gift shop with a meager salary and got a job as a waitress in a topless bar.
Similarly, in the situation with Schuler, the Russian girl did not accidentally start surfing the Craigslist in July. It is logical to assume that in this case the girl, having realized that she would not earn the promised money, decided to naively try to make easy money by photo modeling.
A similar monetary motivation in the situation with girls from Kazakhstan – witnesses in court said that the participants could not find another job, felt helpless, and therefore agreed to do an erotic massage and engage in prostitution with Cooper. Promised 24-hour support and assistance in America turned out to be another myth.
So you can see that that the Supply component of sexual vulnerability of participants is most often due to lack of income and their desperate situation, and much less is their own willful decision.
+ Demand: Widespread obesity of Americans
According to wikipedia, “Two of every three American men are considered to be overweight or obese, but the rates for women are far higher. The United States contains one of the highest percentage of obese people in the world.” One swt participant, genuinely shocked while shopping in grocery store, noted that “stereotype did not lie” and “nowhere I have seen some many fat people like in America” . The fatness of Americans, discussed earlier, due to chemical food and a specific lifestyle leads to chronic lack of normal and simply nonfat partners in personal relationships. Hence the constant need and the huge demand for slim young bodies in America. Should be noted that the girl’s appearance becomes less important as the main thing here is slimness and nonfatness of the body. The sexy obsession of Americans is also mentioned several times in the book.
So, as a result, we get the following unfavorable situation for the participants of the wat program:
Inability to pay off the program costs at one job + Obesity of Americans => sexual vulnerability of the wat participants.
Of course, it is oversimplification and there are many moving parts but overall it makes a perfect sense. As has been proven by numerous examples, the combination of the above factors under unfortunate circumstances leads to tragic consequences for the wat program participants. In addition to suffering in America, back home wat agents will also call you a loser. Great support… thanks.
In the example with Cooper, one should also note the negligence of the sponsor, who, limited checking the job offer to phone calls only. The sponsor did not fulfill one of its main functions of checking the work, put the participants’ money in its pocket and sent the female students for an erotic massage to America. If he had checked the firm in person, the sponsor would not have found a nonexistent yoga studio and would have prevented this horrible story of girls being sent for prostitution. And if the sponsor had checked Cooper’s background, he would have discovered that he was already involved in the pimping case in Florida. But none of this was done and as a result, naive girls who paid thousands of dollars to wat agents, were sent to sexual slavery in America.
Who is guilty? Shuler, Cooper and similar scoundrels? Absolutely. But if to dig a little into that without emotions, it turns out that there are a lot of scoundrels in this whole wat chain…
If you think that these are isolated cases, then now think why the State Department and the wat agents are requiring students to learn “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. So… friends, this is very serious, please be careful.
Now we hope everyone understands why the wat agents hand out the brochure “Know Your Rights” and recommend to take it with you???…
It must be noted that the above examples do not mean at all that all participating students earn money in amoral ways. Absolutely, Not! Thanks God!
Most of the participants, of course, hardworking, amazing and decent girls, but usually they do not earn above average. Therefore, my dear, be prepared if your daughter, girl or cousin explains the earnings of $10,000, as a result of a happy lottery or a job offer to a corporation. A job offer to the uneducated and barely English speaking person but a good looking one and desperate to make money. Perhaps she is the lucky one, but most likely not…
The above excerpts from the American press, our experience and students’ stories convincingly demonstrate the sexual vulnerability of the wat program participants. Now you understand that this topic has been widely discussed in the American public for the reason.
Anyway, thanks for reading, we hope that you will spend your summer without referring to a wat rights brochure and not getting naked at strip clubs and topless bars to pay off your debts. We wish you the best summer ever!
And of course sincere and true love!!!
For Sex. Money. Work and Travel. Part Two please click here.
Want to improve English, enhance your resume and make “pile of cash”? Good luck but before you pay $3000 check out these myths about the program:
- Money Myth
- English Myth
- Career Myth
- Tax refund Myth
- Medical insurance Myth
- Cultural Exchange Myth
- J-1 visa interview with commonly asked questions (more than 100)
- Niga, you have a dolar?
Published February 14, 2019. Last updated October 31, 2020.
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