Trafficked: Domestic Violence, Exploitation in Marriage, and the Foreign-Bride Industry

65 Pages Posted: 18 Dec 2010 Last revised: 26 Dec 2010

See all articles by Jane Kim

Jane Kim

Columbia University - Law School; Harvard University

Date Written: December 16, 2010


At any given time, upwards of 12.3 million people are exploited as modern day slaves through the second largest and fastest growing criminal industry in the world: human trafficking. Veiled behind the widely celebrated and sanctified institution of marriage and behind protections of liberty and privacy, one segment of the human trafficking industry continues to be overlooked, tolerated, and often excluded from criminalization: the trafficking of foreign brides. By analyzing two seemingly disparate foreign bride markets – the Chinese market for North Korean brides and the United States market for foreign brides – this Note argues that the foreign bride industry constitutes human trafficking under international law and calls for both immediate legal reforms and the ultimate criminalization and prosecution of foreign bride trafficking.

Beginning with an examination of the two leading definitions of human trafficking as advanced by the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children and the United States’ Trafficking Victims Protection Act, this Note argues that the U.S. definition of trafficking, unlike the international definition, is incomplete because it focuses on “severe forms of trafficking,” requiring a level of physical force, fraud, or coercion that fails to recognize the power dynamics and realities of human trafficking. The Note then examines two case studies of foreign bride markets: the North Korean refugee bride market in China and the foreign bride market in the United States, as facilitated by “international marriage broker-traffickers.” These seemingly disparate markets highlight the striking commonalities across the foreign bride industry, namely, similarities in the abuse of vulnerability and power as the means of trafficking and similarities in violence and exploitation in marriage as the purposes of foreign bride trafficking. In highlighting these similarities, this Note reveals that U.S. law’s longstanding prioritization of physical force as the keystone to crimes of violence against women, coupled with the guise of marriage, create a spectrum of force and fictional consent that protect the virility of bride trafficking by ignoring the power differentials and by obscuring the exploitative purposes that drive the foreign bride industry.

In conclusion, this Note advances interim measures and supplementary measures that may be taken in addition to the ultimate prohibition and criminalization of bride-trafficking as trafficking under U.S. and international law.

Keywords: Human Rights, International Law, Violence Against Women, Foreign-Bride Industry, International Marriage Brokers, North Korean Refugee Women, Palermo Protocol, Trafficking Victim’s Protection Act, Violence Against Women, Foreign-Bride Industry, Bride Trafficking, Exploitation in Marriage

Suggested Citation

Kim, Jane, Trafficked: Domestic Violence, Exploitation in Marriage, and the Foreign-Bride Industry (December 16, 2010). Virginia Journal of International Law, Vol. 51, No. 2, p. 443, 2011, Available at SSRN:

Jane Kim (Contact Author)

Columbia University - Law School ( email )


Harvard University

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