MEXICO: The Drug Cartels’ Other Business—Sex Trafficking

By on July 31, 2013—
“Like many victims of human trafficking, Marcela was tricked into the sex trade by a man she thought she could trust. She met him in her small hometown in Veracruz state when she was 16. Posing as a wealthy businessman, he asked for her hand in marriage, promising a comfortable lifestyle. Instead he took her to the Merced neighborhood of Mexico City, a hotbed for prostitution. She was kept under duress in a hotel room and forced to have sex with up to 40 men a day, who paid $15 each to her so-called boyfriend and his accomplices. Girls suffering from human trafficking are often kept under such conditions for years. However, after a week, police raided the hotel, and Marcela defied the threats from the traffickers to testify in court, sending them to prison. “When it was happening, I just blocked it out, as it was so painful,” says Marcela, who asked that her name be changed. “It took me a long time to regain any confidence in myself, to rebuild my life.”

Now 21, Marcela works with activists in support of a new drive by prosecutors to make sure other girls don’t suffer what she did. Their efforts have been aided by Mexico’s first federal law on human trafficking passed in 2012. (Before this, the issue was governed by varying state laws.) The new act dictates custodial sentences for perpetrators at all links in the trafficking chain with sentences up to 40 years. Activists estimate that hundreds of thousands of women in Mexico, including many underage girls, are coerced into sex work or other forced labor, though the clandestine nature of the trade makes it impossible to know exact figures. Under the new law, any sex work involving girls under the age of 18 qualifies as human trafficking. Laws governing prostitution vary across Mexico’s states, and it is often tolerated in red-light zones, such as those on the U.S. border.”

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