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Human trafficking for underground sex a booming business

Human trafficking for underground sex a booming business

Picture of Lane Anderson

Marisol was sixteen years old when she met twenty-two year old Pedro. He said that he was visiting her village outside Veracruz, Mexico, to do sales for his family’s garment business. He dated and wooed her for months, eventually taking her to live with his family. It was a Prince Charming story for someone like Marisol, who had slim chances of escaping poverty in her hard-luck village.

But instead of taking her to Puebla, where he said he was from, he took her to Tenancingo—a dusty town an hour outside Mexico City that is at the center of Mexico’s fast-growing sex trafficking industry. Soon she was trapped in a sex hotel in La Merced,  Mexico City’s notorious red light district.

Human trafficking for the underground sex trade has boomed in the last decade, according to State Department reports, and it happens in every country. UNESCO estimates that sex trafficking now generates $32 billion a year, $15 billion of which is made in industrialized countries. It’s the fastest-growing criminal industry, and the third biggest behind drug trafficking and arms trafficking.

While Americans tend to think of sex trafficking as a problem that happens overseas, the United States is a major sex trafficking hub for obvious reasons—the United States is a rich country. Sex trafficking preys on women and children who can bring in thousands of dollars for their captors, and girls like Marisol are often trafficked to the U.S.

In a Homeland Security Investigation bust in New York City, authorities arrested thirteen sex traffickers with connections to Tenancingo in 2008. The inequality between the borders creates a situation that is “ripe” for trafficking, says Blanche Cooke, a former federal prosecutor and professor at Wayne State University's Law School. “It’s like a gold mine for sex traffickers,” she says.

As drugs and guns become more risky, gangs are moving into the sex trade. Twenty percent of prostitutes recruited by gangs are underage, according to study from the Urban Institute. San Diego and Los Angeles trafficking rings have ties to Tijuana, and many trafficked to the U.S. will come in from this pipeline, according to the California Attorney General’s Office.

Mexico’s sex trafficking trade has trails to U.S. hubs in places like California and Queens, New York. But American kids get trapped into sex trafficking, too: The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children says that there are approximately 100,000 children in the U.S. forced into sex trafficking every year.

For my National Health Journalism Fellowship project, I will follow sex trafficking of minors in three U.S. cities, Los Angeles, Houston, and Queens, New York, and look at who is victimized, how they become ensnared, and how the industry propagates in each hub. I will also examine how these communities are impacted by, and trying to control, the sex trade in terms of law enforcement, prosecution, and health and recovery for victims.

[Photo by Qhairizad SayHello via Flickr]

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Where is the scientific evidence to support the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children statement that there are approximately 100,000 children in the U.S. forced into sex trafficking every year?

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