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The Russian Incident
This situation is still developing, and many details are being obfuscated for the time being by the primary participants. The entire incident took place over two parallel Metafilter threads, and can be somewhat confusing to follow given the conversational nature of the discussions and the distribution of information across the two separate threads. For a more complete recount and back story, both Mother Jones and Newsweek provide actual journalism (The Daily Beast also interviewed the principals a year later).
For those unfamiliar with Metafilter's commenting and moderation policies, it may help to understand that the Ask Metafilter subsite is moderated fairly heavily in order to keep threads on-topic and to get the user asking a question the answers they need. Comments that do not answer the question are generally removed; users wanting to have a more free-form discussion about the topic are directed to Metatalk, a policy-and-metadiscussion subsite. (Given the unusual nature of this incident, that policy was at times less sternly enforced than normal, e.g. a number of comments expressing concern or relief remain in the thread that would otherwise have been better directed to the related Metatalk thread.)
As the events unfolded this has the consequence of keeping the comments in the Ask Metafilter thread fairly limited to those directly involved. Still, there were many updates in Metatalk that did not appear in AskMetafilter and vice versa. Please note that the Ask Metafilter thread is considered "resolved" and any questions or comments should be placed in Metatalk.
These events occurred while mefi user fake (aka Dan Reetz) was traveling on the West Coast with limited access to the Internet; most of what happened actually took place on the East Coast.
Long-time user fake posted this question about helping his friend and former student. Referred to as K, the Russian college age student was traveling with a friend, S, to Washington DC on a J-Visa through the Aloha Travel Agency. Upon arriving in Washington, DC the two women were told by the agency that the job in DC fell through,
The program promised a job offer in advance, but didn't deliver. They said they would send one via email, but failed there, too.
They were, however, informed that a job was available at a club in Brighton Beach area of New York City. They were instructed to go to Lux Lounge at midnight where they'd be interviewed for a job as hostess. As embrangled explains, this appears to be a common bait-and-switch tactic used by human traffickers,
To those saying this still might be an honest job offer: I've studied human trafficking and other forms of forced migration under a professor who specialises in researching it. This is quite literally a textbook case of women being trafficked into the sex industry. Traffickers target Russian women. There's always a promised job offer, and it always falls through at the last minute. There's always financial pressure to stay, often to repay loans taken out to finance the trip. The actual job is almost always prostitution, usually forced and unpaid. If there was any hope of this being a legitimate job offer, the employer would be making a much greater effort to distinguish himself - in word and in deed - from the standard operating procedure of human traffickers. Not interviewing them at midnight in a strip club would be a really good start.
By the next day, multiple people were engaged in trying to convince K & S from going to the job interview. Pollomacho, a US State Department agent that deals with visa issues ("This precisely is what I do for a living"), addressed speculation that this might be a cultural misunderstanding, "(Referring to legitimate visa sponsorship programs) that is the sort of program they are supposed to be on. This ain't that kind of program."
Fake continued to press K & S's sponsor at the Aloha travel agency. It is currently unclear what role the agency played in securing the interview at Lux Lounge, however, according to fake,
Just got off the phone with Kevin from their visa sponsoring agency. He told me that he did not know their contact, that the contact is unaffiliated with the sponsoring agency, and that he did not know that lux lounge served alcohol or occasionally held stripping events. He also did not know about their accommodations being substandard. By the sponsoring agencys rules they are not allowed to work at lux. He has work for them in DC but they were adamant that they needed to meet with the contact. He called the girls on the bus and spoke with them. In a brutalizing about-face they assured him that everything is fine, that they feel safe, and apologized for the 'problems I am causing'. They insisted on continuing in spite of his asking them not to go.
K & S were adamant on going to the interview and Lux Lounge, and could not be persuaded to stay in Washington. Pollomacho, "Likewise, without going into too much detail, I am similarly running into the barrier of the fact that they are adults with free will." There was some debate at this point as to whether it would be ethical to try to intercept them at the bus station.
Fortunately, during the trip to New York, K & S changed their minds,
[K & S]: D [fake], please, stop calling somebody, please, don't call to xxxx. All is ok.There is no problem!!!
[K & S]: D! Listen. I don't know how thanks you. Lux lounge is a strip bar, if we will go there, i don't know what would be... Thank you so much.! You saved our lifes.
[fake]: No thanks necessary. It wasn't only me.
[fake]: Also, there may be people to escort you at the station. They are good people.
[K & S]: Yeh, i know. I've sms with (mefi member) i think she is cool) miss you. & see you soon.
internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 managed to contact K & S and convince them not to go to the interview and Lux Lounge :
Knowing what I do about 20-ish women who are in NYC for the first time (been there, drank that) my strategy was not to try to convince them of anything. Instead, I provided them a fun third alternative to Sketchy Boss and Nagging Dad-type (no offense, Fake, you were incredible throughout). I emphasized that I didn't care what they did, or who they met, I just wanted to hang with them and have fun and go out. Sheesh!
At this point I thought the plan was still to meet the trafficker at midnight, giving me a lot of time to talk to K and S. Then they told me they couldn't meet me for drinks until 9 or 10, after they met the trafficker. Oh, I said, that's your new boss? Shouldn't you change and put on makeup before meeting your new boss for the first time? They agreed and decided to meet me and go to my apartment before meeting him. So I changed into my best facsimile of fun-party-girl clothes instead of my it-hurts-to-move clothes*, put on some makeup, and headed to Port Authority.
I was at Port Authority for a while, fully expecting to perhpas encounter the trafficker(s) at the bus station itself. Or maybe K and S would get the chance to drop off their luggage at my place and then leave to meet him (and possibly tell him my address, where he would try to find them if they left). Unless I could somehow convince them not to go meet him.
I couldn't find the police who were supposed to be there. There is bad/no cell phone service at their bus arrival gate. I was going upstairs to the main terminal to check my phone, going back down to check the arrival gates K and S, going up to check my phone again...back and forth for about twenty minutes, because their bus was late. The plainclothes policemen who were waiting at the gate didn't have cell phone service either, which is probably why they didn't get a phone call alerting them to my presence.
An impromptu meetup occurred shortly after with several New York users verifying the veracity of the story, "K also asked fuq and I why we both had beards. Obviously, she hasn't been to Brooklyn yet."
According to Newsweek, "The girls aren’t out of the woods yet, though. Hines says Aloha Travel contacted them Friday and tried to persuade them to fly to San Diego."
As of 5/21 K & S are staying in Chelsea with the Internet Fraud Detective.
It's a nice, clean, fairly upscale place in a safe neighborhood. It seems to be popular with 20-something Russian kids.
It is absolutely not a strip club. It is absolutely not a brothel.
After visiting Lux Lounge bingo had several doubts as to how much danger K & S were in. The skepticism is detailed here. Astro Zombie did some further research into Lux Lounge and came up with the following.
The story zipped around the internet on the evening of May 20 and was noted in several places online.
- The Awl
- BBC Ukranian
- Hacker News Network
- Newsweek front page of MSNBC screenshot
- Mother Jones front page screenshot
- Oh No They Didn't: political
- Reddit (also Reddit threads that discuss BoingBoing, Mother Jones, Newsweek articles)