Unregulated Internet Matchmaking Trade Booms

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Anastasia Soloyeva

SEATTLE (WOMENSENEWS)–She came to Seattle in 1998 from the Central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan, entranced by the promise of a better life by a man, twice her age, who courted her on the Internet. And like many modern mail-order brides, 18-year-old Anastasia Soloyeva was young, attractive, highly educated and determined to succeed in what she imagined as the land of milk and honey.

But last Sunday, five months after she was reported missing by family and friends, more than 70 mourners and her grief-stricken parents said farewell to the murdered, 20-year-old University of Washington student. Her remains were found in a grave in the city’s wooded outskirts, three days after Christmas.

Her wailing mother, Alevtina Soloyeva, threw an arm over the simple, donated wooden casket banked with flowers, and had one thing to say: “I wish it could have been me.”

Soloyeva King was the latest statistic in the growing numbers of reported abused–and sometimes worse–women known as Internet mail-order brides.

Moreover, abuse is under-reported because many frightened women who want to remain in the United States fear deportation and are economically dependent on their husbands. In addition, many have problems speaking English and come from cultures where spousal abuse is seldom reported or punished.

Reliable statistics on the number of foreign-born mail-order brides are not available. The Immigration and Naturalization Service estimated in 1999 that there were 4,000 to 5,000 such women in the United States. The numbers were increasing, as were reports of domestic violence, it said.

“The problems of mail-order immigrant brides are the same as those of other immigrant women and they deserve the same protections,” said Janice Kaguyutan, a staff attorney with NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund in Washington, D.C. (Women’s Enews is a project of NOW Legal Defense.)

Murdered Woman Did Not Know Her Immigration Rights

“In the Seattle case, the woman was unaware of her immigration rights as the spouse of a U.S. citizen,” said Kaguyutan, a national expert on the rights of battered immigrant women. “It’s important to alert immigrant women nationwide that there is relief, legal recourse and resources for immigrant women in abusive relationships. Eligible battered immigrant women can apply to remain in the U.S. without their spouse’s participation or cooperation during this process without the fear of deportation by the INS.”

The National Network on Behalf of Battered Immigrant Women has told the immigration service that international matchmaking organizations be required to provide applicants with information about the prospective match: whether he has been married before, filed for divorce, applied for an international fiancee visa or been convicted of a crime.

International matchmaking services say that providing such information–and advising women of their rights if they are abused–would have a chilling effect on the burgeoning Internet matchmaking business. Few, if any companies, promote such information; a few make it available.

Matchmakers Use Internet, Accept Credit Cards

Filipinas were the foreign brides of choice in matchmaking services; now women from the former Soviet Union have caused the industry to boom. Immigrants’ rights groups nationwide are alarmed at the increasing reports of abuse corresponding to the arrival of former Soviet women.

Hundreds of matchmaking Web sites from the former Soviet Union have sprung up, posting photos and mini-profiles in English. For a fee, these agencies supply men with everything from e-mail addresses to translation services.

Needing little more than Internet access and a credit card, the prospective bride is usually required to meet the prospective groom in person before she can apply for a fiancee visa. That allows her to stay in the states for 90 days. Then she must either marry her potential spouse or leave the country.

Typically, they meet in the woman’s home country. If they marry, the man must sponsor the woman for two years before she can apply for permanent immigration status that allows her to remain in the United States, married or divorced. If she is abused, she has an option of filing a waiver or in some cases petitioning to remain in the country–but most of the women in this situation are unaware of the new law that permits them to seek protection and stay in the United States.

Soloyeva’s marriage was part of a fast-growing matchmaking industry that connects impoverished foreign women desperate to flee apparently dead-end lives with marriage-minded American men. In 1995, about 160 Web sites were devoted to the business; today there are more than 400, according to a 1999 report by the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Her husband, Indle King Jr., 39, at first was charged with murder, but the charges were dropped when Daniel Kristopher Larson, 20, a convicted child molester who rented a room from the Kings, led police to the grave. He then was charged with first-degree murder and claimed that King, a 270-pound financially hard-pressed businessman, held Soloyeva down while Larson strangled her.

The husband is charged with perjury for lying about his wife’s whereabouts in his divorce petition filed after her disappearance–prompting indignation among women’s rights advocates. Separate trials are scheduled to begin March 23.

Police said King was in the process of finding another Russian bride. He was divorced by his first wife, a Russian mail-order bride, for “extreme cruelty” in 1997. Then he found Anastasia Soleyeva.

She Had Planned to Divorce Her Abusive Husband

“We knew she had a terrible relationship with her husband,” her mother said in an interview. “She visited us, then was returning to Seattle to divorce him and continue with her studies.” She was last seen at Seatac airport in late September after that visit.

What her family didn’t know at the time was that their daughter had a bank safe-deposit box where she kept her diary that revealed her fears that her husband would kill her if she left him. According to published reports, it refers to a suicide attempt and her fear and anger toward her husband who, she claimed, made a list of 48 things he detested about his wife.

Court papers describe instances of domestic violence and sexual assault by her husband.

In 1996 the Senate Judicary Committee requested the Immigration and Naturalization Service to study the unregulated mail-order bride industry and advise how to inform women entering on fiancees’ visas of their rights. Women have not been informed or warned and experts say the government is concerned about releasing personal information on prospective spouses, like their criminal records, and violating their privacy rights.

In another far less tragic case, a 36-year-old Ukrainian lawyer arrived as a mail-order bride in a small New York state town in 1999. “There was no phone, the place was a pig sty and pipes were broken,” said Julia, who asked that her real name not be used. She declined to give the name of the town and spoke in a telephone interview from her family home in Odessa on the Black Sea.

Julia was desperate for a husband and an escape from Ukraine. Surrounded by poverty, unemployment and alcoholism in the former Soviet republic, she thought an American husband would mean a happy family. Soon after posting her photo on the Internet, she found an eager suitor: an auto shop manager who wooed her for a year with e-mails, phone calls and finally visited her in Odessa for a month.

“He was well-dressed, caring and everything seemed great,” Julia said.

But when she and her 15-year-old daughter arrived at his house in a rundown section of town, instead of a picket fence and candlelight dinners, she said they became enslaved in a “golden corral”–referring to a well-known Russian proverb.

Her fiance, who had purchased one-way tickets, refused to give her any money or to pay the filing fees so that she could get a work permit and earn her own money. He bought all the food himself. He abused her verbally–and frequently.

Still, she married him, hoping the situation would get better. It never did. His barrage of verbal abuse prompted Julia on numerous occasions to call the police who would take her to a local shelter for abused women.

Police Urge Husband to Buy Return Tickets–She Leaves

It wasn’t until she landed in the local hospital, diagnosed with clinical depression, that police finally convinced her husband to purchase return tickets for her and her daughter. She and her daughter then departed.

“American men who want a woman from the former Soviet Union are looking for slaves,” she said in a telephone interview from Odessa, Ukraine. “A normal American man doesn’t have to look for a wife in Russia.”

What Julia didn’t know was that technically she could have filed a waiver with the immigration service that would allow her to obtain her lawful permanent residence without the cooperation of her abusive husband. Additionally, the 1994 Violence Against Women Act provides access to lawful permanent residence if they can prove they are victims of domestic violence. More than 11,000 women applied for that status, known as a self-petition, between 1997 and 2000, according to the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The government granted 6,576 petitions. The law was improved and expanded this year as well.

But mail-order brides, like other immigrant women, are not quick to run to authorities with reports of abuse because their husbands frequently threaten to have them deported, said Gail Pendleton, associate director of the Immigration Project for the National Lawyers Guild.

“They believe their entire immigration status depends on their husband,” said Pendleton. “All the information they get, they get from their husbands. They don’t know they have the right to an immigration lawyer. They don’t know they have the right to appear before an immigration judge.”

Pendleton and other domestic violence victims’ advocates say part of the problem is that many local Immigration and Naturalization Service offices don’t know how to deal with domestic violence and fail to inform women that they have other options than returning home.

“We were at a complete loss as to where to get information,” an immigration service official confided, asking that she not be quoted by name. “We don’t keep track of where women meet their fiances, whether it’s in a bar or through an agency. We have no Richter scale for measuring how happy they are once they get here.”

Julia considers herself lucky: At least she got away and filed for divorce. But that doesn’t mean she plans to stay home for long. Like other such brides whose U.S. marriages don’t work out, she plans to try again for an American man.

Anything is better than staying in Odessa, she said. “But this time I know how to do it,” she said. “And next time, I’ll demand round-trip tickets up front.”

Understandably, mourners at Soloyeva King’s memorial and funeral expressed a very different attitude.

“Most of these mail-order brides are so naive,” said Vladimir Pashkin, a friend who first reported Soloyeva missing. “They’re just teen-agers with big dreams.”

Kim Palchikoff is a free-lance writer based in Seattle, focusing on women’s issues, health and multi-cultural issues. She was a free-lance writer in Moscow for 10 years.

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Women’s Enews article on violence against women and protections for battered immigrant women:
http://www.womensenews.org/article.cfm?aid=376&context=archive


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