- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 9, 2003

Members of Congress, motivated by the murder of a mail-order bride, are drafting a bill that would enable foreign women seeking American husbands to learn the criminal backgrounds of men courting them through matchmaking agencies.

The legislation represents the most serious effort yet to impose federal oversight over a loosely regulated, Internet-based industry.

The measure’s prime sponsors are Sen. Maria Cantwell and Rep. Rick Larsen, Washington Democrats. It was in their state where Anastasia King, 20, a mail-order bride from Kyrgyzstan, was killed in September 2000.

Her husband, Indle King Jr., was convicted last year of first-degree murder. He had divorced another foreign woman and was seeking a third bride before the killing.

Mr. Larsen anticipates bipartisan support for the measure, though he is unsure how matchmaking services will respond.

“Cases like Anastasia King’s have given the mail-order bride industry a bad name,” he said. “I’d think they would support any steps to ensure they’re looked at more favorably.”

The legislation would require international marriage brokers to ask clients about any criminal record, including protective orders issued because of domestic violence accusations. King’s first wife had obtained a protective order against him in 1995.

The client’s information could be provided to any woman contemplating marriage with him. If the man applies for a U.S. visa for a prospective bride, he would undergo a criminal background check by federal officials.

No firm statistics exist on the extent of abuse to mail-order brides, or even the numbers of such women. In the most recent attempt to quantify the industry, immigration officials said in 1999 that more than 200 international matchmaking services operated in the United States, arranging 4,000 to 6,000 marriages annually between American men and foreign women, mostly from the Philippines and former Soviet Union.

Fees paid by male clients to the matchmaker services vary widely; costs can climb into five figures when the men go on organized trips to such destinations as Ukraine or Russia.

Encounters International, a Bethesda-based service, charges men $1,850 for access to addresses and phone numbers of several hundred women in the former Soviet Union whose photos are posted on the Internet.

The agency’s founder, Russian-born Natasha Spivack, said she had no objection to mandatory background checks, but predicted abusive men still would find ways to get foreign wives.

Mrs. Spivack said that male clients, not the women, are the most likely to be victimized in mail-order marriages. Some women, she said, enter such marriages solely to gain U.S. citizenship, then falsely complain of physical abuse as a ploy to divorce and remain in the United States.

“Some of these women are sharks,” she said.

Since 1993, Mrs. Spivack says, she has helped arrange 300 marriages, roughly 90 percent them still intact. Among the contented couples are Frank Hardy and his Ukrainian-born wife, Svetlana, who have been married since 1998 and now raise two sons in Bear, Del.

Mrs. Hardy said she knows of several women from the former Soviet Union whose brokered marriages have failed because of personal differences but none who has been physically abused. Her husband, a twice-divorced pilot, said he assumes some foreign brides are mistreated but doubts the problem is widespread.

“A guy is not going to grab a young woman in Russia to bring here just to beat up,” he said. “He’s got a lot of money tied up in it.”

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