Friday, September 17, 2010

Promise of a better life leads to the nightmare of sexual slavery

Girl tricked into sexual slavery

Across Mexico, young girls dream of escaping their small towns for the big cities. They dream of a good job and a better life in the United States. That was the case of "Claudia," a name given to protect her identity. Her dream of a better life quickly evolved into a nightmare. When she was 15, she met a charming man at a party who would later become her boyfriend. "This individual would tell me a lot about the United States and would ask me to join him to go work at a clothes factory," she said. Claudia was eventually smuggled into the United States and taken to New York City. Once there, she soon realized her boyfriend was part of a prostitution ring. He forced her into prostitution. She says he would beat her up, burn her with lit cigarettes and tell her he would have her parents in Mexico killed if she tried to resist or escape. This is the first time Claudia is speaking about her experience. She's nervous, but says she wants to share her secret; a painful secret, she says, that the world needs to know about. Hers is a story of false promises, illegal immigration, verbal and physical abuse, drugs, forced prostitution and a risky escape. After being forced to work as a prostitute, Claudia says she started thinking about ways of escaping. 

"It was a very traumatic experience," she said. "The first day I started working was very hard because I had to sleep with 20 men in rapid sequence." For several months she saved up tips, just a few dollars at a time, that she would hide in a refrigerator. She discreetly would ask older women, who were also forced into prostitution, about directions to the nearest bus station and streets around the area. When she felt she had enough for a bus trip, she ran away to the bus station and bought a ticket to a city she didn't know. She has been a free woman for several years now, but she says she still suffers from nightmares and says her life has been scarred. Many people associate prostitution with women walking the streets in shady areas and being picked up by johns. But Claudia says the prostitution ring for which she was forced to work had a long list of clients who knew the price they had to pay, who to call and where to go. It's a well-organized and lucrative underground industry. Luis CdeBaca monitors human trafficking at the U.S. State Department. He says there are no reliable figures on the scale of the problem, but forced prostitution from Mexico and Central America is a big part of it. 

"They know that their victims are not going to go to law enforcement," said CdeBaca. "They know that their victims are afraid. In fact, sometimes one of their threats is to turn people over to the immigration service." Claudia was 15 when she was forced to become a prostitute, but there are younger victims, as CdeBaca found out when he worked as a federal prosecutor at the U.S. Justice Department. "I ended up seeing cases with girls as young as 13 and women in their 40s and everything in between," he said.


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