Every year thousands of women are forced into prostitution and traded from Mexico to the United States. The BBC investigated the sex trafficking business, which makes some men very wealthy at the expense of vulnerable young women.
Tenancingo is a Mexican town built on sex trafficking – with little alternative employment, it’s become the only way to make money. Young women from across Mexico are duped into becoming sex slaves by wealthy men living in grand homes, offering them work or even marriage. Needing money for their families, the women discover too late they’re being sold into prostitution, often in the US. One Mexican charity estimates there are 1,000 traffickers in Tenancingo, out of a total population of 10,000.
Sold for Sex
“Maria” was 17-years-old when she was lured to Mexico with promises of a new life. Instead she was forced into prostitution and sold from one bar to another. For those women trafficked in Mexico, the capital, Mexico City, is a central hub. From there, many are smuggled to the US, or exploited in border towns and tourist resorts. The Mexican Congress has plans to crack down on trafficking; those accused will be jailed during trial and victims guaranteed anonymity. Corruption among Mexican officials at state level has hampered prosecutions in the past.
Brothels on Wheels
Many trafficking victims are taken to New York, where they often work grueling shifts of 10 hours or more. Some women live and work in a brothel, only leaving the building when their pimp moves them to a new location. Other women are advertised on “chica cards”, distributed in the street. Customers call the number on the card and women are delivered by car to a customer’s house or hotel room. The women live in fear, frequently assaulted by their pimps and customers.
The US has a federal anti-trafficking law and New York state has its own tough penalties. Though strong laws are in place, the problem is enforcing them. Women who co-operate in trafficking investigations can receive special visas allowing them to work legally. But convicting pimps is still difficult as many of their victims are too terrified to give evidence against them.
Reducing the demand for prostitution is seen as one key to ending sex trafficking. In Brooklyn, New York, the district attorney’s office runs a controversial program to treat men convicted of using prostitutes. Called “John School” the men are taught that the women they are soliciting may be the victims of a sex trafficking operation.