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Elaborate Thai-US sex trafficking ring dismantled

US and international agencies have taken down ringleaders of a scheme that forced Thai women to live as sex slaves in American cities. The scheme reportedly operated by luring women from impoverished backgrounds.

US authorities revealed on Wednesday that 17 individuals had been indicted for running a "sophisticated, widespread" sex trafficking ring that saw hundreds of women from Thailand transported to the United States.

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), with the assistance of several other agencies, was able to dismantle the network that saw women being "forced…to live a nightmare."

According to press releases from the ICE and Department of Justice, twelve of the defendants are from Thailand and five are US citizens. Eleven of them were arrested in various locations across the US, while the alleged head of the ring, 55-year-old Sumalee Intarathong, was already detained where he was living in Belgium. One suspect remains at large.

"Human trafficking is a degrading crime that undermines our nation's most basic promises of liberty and security," Attorney General Loretta Lynch was quoted by ICE as saying. 

An enormous scale of exploitation

According to ICE, the scheme operated by luring women from impoverished backgrounds with promises of a better life in the United States. They are then told they have incurred a debt of between $40,000 and $60,000 for transport and upkeep, which they will have to work off. Furthermore, they are encouraged to undergo breast implant surgery before leaving 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," said US Attorney for Minnesota Andrew Luger.

The Department of Justice wrote in their statement that the hundreds of victims were often forced to work all day, every day, and were not allowed to keep any of the money they earned "except for the occasional tip offered by a sex buyer."

Sex trafficking has become a rampant problem in recent years. According to Luger, Wednesday's indictment was the ninth such case since 2014, but the first to take down an entire organization in one go.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has reported that 79% of all human trafficking globally is for sexual exploitation, and the victims are overwhelmingly girls and women.

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