25 July, 2009

The mail-order bride industry exploits women

Cash on Delivery

The mail-order bride industry exploits women.

By Mae Bunagan

“"Get ready for some serious fun,"” begins one advertisement. “"Choose from hundreds of beautiful, fascinating women. Go to nightclubs with ten women for every man. Meet women worldwide-from the Philippines to Brazil. Learn why mail order bride marriages are usually successful."

"Mail orderbrides and international introduction services: The real story, with objective reviews and descriptions, of ‘mail order bride' services-what to pay for and what not to pay for. How to get the most out of your dollar."” Sound appealing?

What do these two advertisements have in common? They attest to the increasing popularity of the mail-order bride industry, one of the most sexist and degrading businesses operating legally today. The term “mail-order bride” refers to a woman whom a man marries after paying to obtain her contact information from a company. Although the United Nations in 1950 passed the Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others, denouncing international trafficking of women for sexual services, the international law-enforcement community has paid little attention to the open trafficking of mail-order brides. While estimates on the number of companies in the mail-order bride business vary, in 2000, Kathryn A. Lloyd reported in the Northwestern Journal of International Law and Business that there were approximately 500 mail-order bride companies in the United States in 1995. A watchdog group for mail-order bride companies, called the World Association of Introduction Agencies, currently monitors 2,700 mail-order bride agencies located across the globe, from the United Kingdom to the Philippines. Still operating virtually unregulated, the modern mail-order bride industry has successfully grown into a multimillion-dollar business by exploiting the power disparities between men and women and between the rich and the poor.


Starting a mail-order bride company is not hard. All it takes is a few foreign women, a computer, and basic knowledge of the Internet to begin this business of sexual exploitation. According to GABRIELA Network-a U.S.-based group that fights against the global trafficking of women and the sex industry through protests, speakers, and newsletters-mail-order bride companies are generally owned by men who have obtained wives through this industry. Some companies sell catalogues, which contain the women's photographs, measurements, and addresses. Men simply browse through these catalogs, pick the women they want to meet, and order their contact information. Other companies charge a set rate per contact, with averages ranging from five to ten dollars per address. Large orders may be entitled to a bulk-rate discount. While the sale of a woman's contact information is a significant source of revenue for the company, companies receive the most revenue from selling trips to the women's home countries. For an extra fee, mail-order bride companies also help their customers with the immigration process. In 1997, Business World estimated that clients pay approximately $6,000 to $10,000 for this assistance. Some agencies claim to serve as many as 15,000 clients per year.

An INS study by Robert J. Shocles of Indiana University on the mail-order bride industry estimates that it currently exploits between 100,000 and 150,000 women from various countries, particularly Southeast Asia and the former Soviet Union. More than 50 percent of these women are under the age of 25, and many are as young as 16. The women in the industry generally come from countries where educational and employment opportunities are hard to obtain. Lloyd reported that “poverty and gender roles in the Philippines are the typical forces that turn Filipinas to the mail-order bride industry.” Filipinas already have to deal with gender discrimination in the job market, and growing unemployment rates don't make conditions any better. Furthermore, gender roles in the Philippines place the burden of supporting a family on the shoulders of women. When women are forced to seek alternative means of making money, they often become overseas contract workers, prostitutes, or in a growing number of cases, mail-order brides.

Proponents of the industry claim that the women are not at a disadvantage in these transactions because they have willingly given their information to be placed in the catalogues: “There is no such thing as a ‘mail order bride' or ‘mail-order bride company!' In reality, it is the ladies who do the choosing by selecting which men they wish to respond back to.” However, even if women “voluntarily” enter these situations, they make the decision as a last resort out of the need for money and a better life-not only for themselves, but often for their family as well.


In his study, Shocles also found that the mail-order bride industry attracts a homogenous clientele: customers are generally white and much older than the women they seek. They are well educated, ideologically conservative, and economically successful. They say that they look for foreign wives because American women today are too career-oriented and lack “traditional values.” They want women who will stay home and care for their husband and children. In other words, men looking for women through this industry essentially want wives they can control. Lloyd affirms that these men feed on the “stereotypes of Asian women as subservient and docile.” The easiest way for these men to guarantee a marriage in which they have total control is to obtain a mail-order bride. The very fact that they pick their women through purchasing their contact information indicates that they are hungry for a sense of ownership.

In the United States, supporters of this industry argue that the government has no right to regulate how American citizens meet or select their spouses, denying that any significant differences exist between an international introduction service and national dating service. However, a difference does exist: dating services attempt to create relationships of equals, while the power dynamic in the mail-order bride industry strongly favors the men. Since the man is the paying customer, he can demand the information he wants about the women. Because of industry competition, companies readily provide the information the men demand. The female participants in this bargain, on the other hand, as impoverished women anxious to escape from desperate conditions, have essentially no power. In order to be chosen, women must provide the information that the men want. The companies verify all information provided by the women, going so far as to measure them carefully. They take no such care with would-be buyers. Men with criminal or abusive backgrounds elude any scrutiny, since the companies conveniently neglect to conduct background checks on the potential husbands. As Sumiko Hennessy, executive director of the Asian Pacific Development Center, argued, What you have are older men, people with three divorces, alcohol problems…some who have a his tory of domestic abuse or problems with the law.”

Although national figures on abuse in mail-order bride marriages do not exist, there is reason to believe that the incidence of abuse is high. American law enforcement officials agree that abuse in these marriages can be expected based on these men's need for control in their relationships. Many individual stories reinforce this claim. Sometimes the abuse ends in murder. One such tragedy occurred in March 1995. Timothy Blackwell originally met Susana Remerata after seeing her picture in a catalog called “Asian Encounters.” The two wrote to each other for a year, then met in the Philippines and got married. Soon after their wedding, Tim became abusive and tried to choke Susana on more than one occasion. Ultimately, Tim shot and killed his pregnant wife and two of her friends in the King County Courthouse in Seattle, Washington, as their divorce proceedings were about to begin. Another tragedy occurred in Seattle, this one in September 2000. A thirty-eight year old man named Ingle King, Jr. strangled his 20-year-old wife, Anastasia, to death. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported that in her diaries, Anastasia wrote that King withheld her college tuition, restricted her time with friends, sexually assaulted her, and threatened her with deportation or death if she tried to leave.

Despite incidents like these, mail-order bride companies proudly claim that marriages arranged through their services have a lower-than-average divorce rate. Perhaps so, but it is doubtful that all these marriages are happy. Indeed, it is likely that many of these marriages are unhappy, but the women are unable or afraid to escape because they do not have the resources to leave their husbands. American immigration law only complicates matter for mail-order brides. Under the Immigration Marriage Fraud Amendments (IMFA) of 1986, a US citizen must petition for “conditional resident status” for his or her foreign spouse. After two years, the couple may jointly petition the INS to adjust their status to that of permanent resident. These laws put mail-order brides at the mercy of their husbands by giving the men control over their wives' immigration status. Mail order brides often lack the language skills or knowledge about their new home to negotiate the immigration system or even to support themselves without their husband.


Although the mail-order bride industry desperately needs regulation, the international community has, for the most part, turned a blind eye to the problem. For example, increasing concern over for the trafficking of Filipinas has led to restrictions on the recruitment of women from the Philippines. In 1989, the Philippine government passed a ban on advertising for “recruits.” In 1990, it banned the operation of sex tour and mail order bride agencies in the Philippines. In 1996, the Anti Mail-Order Bride Law further limited the agencies' recruitment methods. However, the state of the Philippine economy has allowed the industry to prosper. Informal recruiting practices have been able to circumvent the regulations. In some cases, women are fooled into thinking that they are being recruited as domestic workers. Once an agreement between the women and recruiters are made, it is difficult to turn back. On the other hand, nations such as the United States have concentrated on the immigration consequences of the mail-order bride traffic. American authorities focus primarily on identifying fraudulent marriages and threatening brides with deportation.

Ideally, countries around the world would outlaw this industry and make participation in it a crime. In reality, however, such laws might only create a black market for mail-order brides. Alternative solutions might not eliminate the mail-order bride industry but can perhaps address its most pressing problems. In an attempt to protect women from serial abusers, companies should be required to conduct background checks of potential husbands. Mail-order brides should be informed of their rights to report domestic abuse and provided with names and contact information of advocacy groups-such as the Legal Aid for Abused Women and Children and the National Coalitions Against the Trafficking of Women-that can help women in abusive marriages. Finally, governments should hold mail-order bride companies accountable for the marriages that they engineer. Currently, mail-order bride companies stop communication with the customer and the bride once they are married. Instead, these companies should be required to provide support services to help women adjust to their new countries or protection if they are abused. The companies can pay for language classes, help women develop marketable skills, and provide a shelter to which they can turn to if they are abused.

Even the strictest regulations, however, fail to address the fundamental problem of the mail-order bride industry. It is a form of sexual exploitation that is no different from prostitution. In fact, it may even be worse than prostitution because the marriage contract and immigration laws give it a more permanent nature. Impoverished women surrender their lives and sexuality because they hope to obtain economic security-but their dreams for a better life often turn into the cruelest nightmares.



Questions? Comments? Please contact perspy@hcs.harvard.edu


  1. That is a very good idea, Abuse among mail order brides is much higher in the U.S. than other countries, because a man pays for a women to marry him does not make her his slave. I work for a background check company named Intgerascan, we offer criminal background checks in the U.S. and have 2 clients that run mail order agencies. They have denied many clients on the facts of a criminal background check provided by our company.

    Terry Sweet.

  2. I am kinda thinking of starting up a Mail Order Bride Rescue. See I live in Colorado and we have a little thing called the "Make my Day Law"! It pretty much gives you the right to shoot someone on your property and ask questions later. Just last July I shot someone dead for trying to break into my house and I'm very happy to know that sick rapist thief is burning in hell!!! These fat, decrepid, gelgelatinous pigs that can't get women any other way need to be shot too!!!! Just because they are sooooo emasculated no woman (in her right mind) would want them, doesn't mean they should have a right to force one that just wants to escape poverty. I mean YUCK. Anyway if some sweet foreigner ever needed somewhere to get away from her captor, I would be proud to protect them. Hell I would wait in the bushes for these sick fucks and give them exactly what they deserve when they come calling for there wifes. Anyway these women need help and no one really cares. Yes, they kinda put it on themselves, BUT NOT ALWAYS!!!!

    If you want to comment back please email as I will never check this forum again, queeninga@yahoo.com

  3. Ah yes because all females know that only men can exploit women. Women couldn't possibly exploit men could they? Whatever.

  4. What B S this article is. Men marrying foreign women to exploit them! Did it ever occur to the author that maybe many men are tired of the attitude of American women with their obscene behinds and not to mention they think their private parts are gold plated!

  5. Anonymous, I am proud to be an American and would not trade my freedom and rights for any amount of money in the world! I love my country, the men, women, and children who fought and lost their lives for me to have the life I am able to live! We as Americans do not feel our "private parts" as you stated are lined with gold we just know we do not have to use it to get what we want. We are able to have the same job as a man, have rights against abuse, and treated as humans. I think all women in all countries should have the same rights and walk beside their man not behind him. When a man marries a mail order bride he is most likely using her as a slave and I do not care what color you are, what country you came from, if you are man or woman, you should not be treated any less! So if you are an American you are a worthless American and if you are not an American you most likely are not aware of how these women are being treated! They may be looking to escape poverty, care for their parents and families, or just looking for something better but they should not marry mail order because they will most likely end up dead. I wish there were more rights for these women and they were taken care of!

  6. Very few mail order brides 'end up dead', in fact such marriages are far more successful than 'conventional' ones. Essentially, American women are terrified of men deserting them for these foreign women. What I find baffling is that American women hate men anyway, so why are you bothered what American men do?

    1. as a foregner latin women,i feel my self insulted with this.What you american men look for in my country are passive sexual objects,you come here looking for slaves not partners.I took a look in some sites and it´s disgusting how you see/discribe latin women.I am not surprise why american women hate men that much,you are unable to consider any women in this world as a human being!The real hatred comes from the men who wish submusive wives,not from women who fight for freedom.

  7. I've met a few women from the Philippines myself, though I have yet to marry one of them.

    I agree that these women are at a disadvantage if they fail to understand why American men are looking for them. In many cases, American women won't have anything to do with them, because they treat women like crap.

    Having said that, I do think it is unfair to assume that every man who goes this route has ulterior motives.

    I am 51 years old, and would like to get married and have some kids. A woman my age would be too old for that, which is why I am looking in other countries. However, I would actually prefer that she be educated, and I would consider it unethical to marry a woman without ensuring that she knows what her legal rights are.

    Some people might object to what I am doing, but I am absolutely not looking to take advantage of anyone.

    Oh, and I do have a criminal record, but not for domestic abuse or anything alcohol related. I nearly killed a child molester a few years ago, and I'm proud of it.

  8. This is comical! Do any of you realize why some of the men on these MOB sites have a hard time keeping a wonderful woman from the US? Some of these men think that they do no wrong, that we woman should put up with some of the shit they dish out. Trust me, I was with a man for 4 years after a 17 yr relationship. From the beginning he stated that no one would be as important to him as his son, always walked in front of my son and I. Would not get off his lazy butt to go outside and play with my son. Would invite us to go to Hershey park etc and then we would find out we had to pay once we got there. He even asked if I had the money for my son and I to go on vacation with he and his son. How is that for someone that supposedly loves you so much they want to marry you. However, you say, American men are tired of women from the US. No, I think a lot of these men want someone they can control, that they can behave anyway they want and this person really has no say in it. The only difference between american women and foreign women is that we will stand up for ourselves and won't let someone treat us as if we are insignificant people. I find it hilarious that these MOB sites claim that these women love nothing more than staying home, taking care of the husband and kids and that is the only thing that makes them happy. That is BS and most people know it. These women should be allowed to have a life outside of the family, have friends and interests. Maybe more men need to look at themselves instead of trying to blame a lot of the problems on their Ex wife or Ex girlfriend. Get Real!

  9. Men who look at MOB sites usually are desperate. I know someone who did this and he only talked to this person for about a month or 2 before she came over here and stayed with him, not knowing him at all other than the internet, for 2 months. She went back home and came back in a month and 1/2 and they married. Just like that. Had known each other for all of 4-6 months from the time they started talking on the internet. He even so much as told me this in Jan.and Feb. January it was, it's just a mutual thing and in Feb.it was, I just might make the biggest mistake of my life and marry her in a month. He did just that. I think when he went on this site, they had decided that she would cover over for a couple months to stay with him as she had to prove a relationship existed before they got married. She went home to collect all her things, came back and married in a month. Now what is wrong with that picture? You come from your country, not knowing this person other than a few conversations on the internet. In addition, this man allows a woman he does not know to live in his house with he and his son! I mean c'mon, how desperate is that? Nobody wants to be alone but how low to you go to avoid being alone? I find these sites (check out most of the pictures, they are sexual in nature) degrading. Why do you need a sexual picture to attract someone, what your looks, interests and profile are not enough? You say that these are no different than a regular dating site, I beg to differ. A regular dating site does not exploit the women on them with sexual pictures. People are looking for someone with like interests and values. On an MOB site, the women is coming from an entirely different culture than yours which you know little about since you didn't travel to her country, she came here. How much can you have in common without knowing each other well when you married? I just don't get how people can do this. If you really are serious, why not talk at length with the person, go to their country and they to yours many times over a course of a year then make your decision. Why does it have to be rushed? And please don't tell me these women love older men, how is a 20 something attracted to a balding, fat, overweight middle aged man?

  10. There is a lot of suppositions made against these guys. I don't know any MOBs myself but know a couple of guys pursuing this here in Anchorage. These are not gross ogres as caricatured above. There just aren't that many options up here.

  11. They are desperate old,fat,ugly MEN i know one and he cheated on his last three wives that left him YES they all left him because he is TRASH and doesnt respect women this man chatted to a woman online for a month went and spent a week with her using is 401k money this man is broke.... he got back from wining and dining her and started the visa journey and that took seven months to get her here and married her a week later he is a verbally abusive man,he also is a CONTROL FREAK and he doenst love her he just needed someone he control completely how sad is this story and he will abuse and contol her but she will take it she doesnt know any better and she wants out of her poverty she is 42 and ugly also lol never married and she would not believe anyone if they told her the truth about this man it is sad how these women do this everyday with out a thought of what kind of men they going to be .......

  12. It looks like there must be an awful lot of foreign women willing to "risk" this if they are coming here by the thousands, every year. Can ALL of these American husbands be the old, fat losers that you make them out to be? Just wondering.

  13. I belive this issue needs more voice from foregerner women,i belive you should work togheter with the countries where the mail bride agencies operate,like in mine Brazil.To be honest.i am tired of this crap: american men are wonders that make the best husband in the world.Sorry,that´s not the reality for many of us,who usually see american men as explotative and european men as sexual tourists.Yeah,wmany latin women are not the "docile idiot" those men suppouse and considering the male comments here,they do think it´s their right to travle down here and try something with the ones who are in difficulties.I wonder what make those men who create demand for sexual trafficking in my country think they have the right of having a good wife...they treat us like shit and then,wish to be loved by us? is that a joke?You never consider the view of the woken from the said countries indeed!

    I just wish America go ahead with this issue.help us to keep those fereaks far away from our vulnarable population.

    Mariana from Rio

  14. Do you read the papers? Do you see how many American wives and girlfriends
    end up beaten or dead at the hands of their American husbands and boyfriends? Oh, you forgot that part?

  15. The fact of the matter is that this industry exploits MEN. These women have an ulterior motive, they are CHOOSING to use themselves to get ahead and get what they want, they're lying and deceiving left right and centre. Are men stupid for doing this? Yes. But the industry is exploiting men the same way history and women have exploited men for centuries. Men = financial resources.