Victims of human trafficking speak of the dangers they face


The young woman, 15, left Tegucigalpa, Honduras, for the United States in early March. Her aunt, who lives in Florida, had paid a “coyote” $4,000 to cross her into US territory.

But after weeks of traveling, the smuggler abandoned them on a street in the Mexican state of Puebla.

What she thought was an offer from a man to work as a waitress at a restaurant turned out to be a ploy by a human trafficking network. “They used me as a sex worker. There were several people who controlled me a lot, the clients even hit me. It was horrible,” she said of her ordeal, which lasted several weeks. One day while being taken to a hotel room, she managed to run away.

Her story and that of other victims who spoke to Noticias Telemundo – their names are withheld for fear of reprisals – illustrate the experiences of the approximately 50,000 people who are trafficked each year in 148 countries, according to the United Nations latest semi-annual report.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), more than 60% of trafficking victims over the past 15 years have been women and girls, and most were trafficked for sexual exploitation.

In addition, “it is estimated that at least 25% of the cases will be migrants. This is very high and there are victims who go undetected,” said Mario Cordero Véjar, head of the UNODC Crime and Drugs programme.

2021, A21an independent anti-trafficking organization, stated that Mexico is the country with the third highest rate of trafficking in children, surpassed only by Thailand and Cambodia.

According to official figures, the Mexican government identified 744 victims of human trafficking in 2021, compared to 673 in 2020 and 658 in 2019, but experts point out that the official figures do not reflect reality as the vast majority of cases go unreported becomes.

Speaking about what happened to her from an animal shelter run by Anthus, a non-profit in Puebla that fights sex trafficking, the young woman said of her emigration from Honduras: “It’s very risky and dangerous because you don’t know whether one will arrive alive or without a leg or arm. Sometimes they kill you, kidnap you, rape you. There is everything on this street.”

“No woman should go through what I went through, no girl or teenager,” she said through sobs, saying she couldn’t sleep without reliving what happened to her.

In which Human Trafficking Report 2022 Released last week, the US State Department said the Mexican government is not fully meeting minimum standards to eliminate human trafficking, although it recognizes it is taking important steps to meet that goal.

Among other things, the State Department report finds that the prosecution and conviction of traffickers in Mexico has not increased in 2021.

NGOs reported that authorities at all levels lacked the necessary knowledge of human trafficking laws and were not effectively identifying and referring potential victims, contributing to the low officially registered numbers.

Various research suggests that the groups most likely to become victims of human trafficking in Mexico are indigenous peoples, people with disabilities, members of the LGBTQ+ community, informal sector workers, youth from gang-controlled areas, and asylum seekers and migrants.

In Mexico, anti-trafficking groups fear a recent tax reform under President Andrés Manuel López Obrador will limit the donations individuals can give to civil society organizations, which they say is threatening the survival of more than 5,000 civil society projects.

“On the issue of the state, we have received no support, and there is a general law that dictates that if the government does not have housing, it must support civil society, which it does,” said Mariana Wenzel, director and co- Employee of Anthus. Founder.

“Unfortunately, the issue is not on the public agenda of this government. We should have the national plan to prevent, punish and eradicate trafficking in human beings that dates back to 2019, but we don’t have it,” said Teresa Ulloa, director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women and Girls in Latin America and the Caribbean (CATW – LAC).

Dealing with historical migration

In recent years, Mexico has seen a record migratory flow towards the United States, with US authorities detecting more than 1.7 million undocumented immigrants at the border with Mexico in fiscal year 2021. In addition, more than 58,000 people sought refuge in Mexico in the first half of 2022, a situation unprecedented in the country.

A South American woman who was forced into prostitution in Mexico City for four years told Noticias Telemundo that she was recruited in her home country with a false job offer, which she accepted because her mother was very ill.

But when she arrived in Mexico, she found herself in a nightmare of sexual exploitation that left her with numerous physical and psychological consequences. Each day, she had to show most of the “tickets,” a euphemism traffickers use to refer to sex, for which they charged 200 pesos per customer – less than $10.

“On several occasions I got sick because I don’t smoke cigarettes and everyone smoked. Once my left lung was blocked. You are a foreigner and you are alone and you are being abused and discriminated against,” said the woman who has sought legal help from the CATW-LAC.

The Mexican authorities recently set up a working group dedicated to human trafficking and smuggling.

“Not only are we interested in getting into the diagnoses, but also in improving the registry and eventually having a nursing protocol,” said Miguel Aguilar, director of the Center for Migration Studies, which is part of Mexico’s Interior Ministry, noting that migrant trafficking victims could be exploited again.

Aguilar said one goal is to encourage reporting of human trafficking crimes. “We work a lot with that part of self-awareness because people don’t see themselves as victims, even if they are,” she says, referring to the low number of official reports of human trafficking among migrants.

Various organizations state that cartels such as Jalisco Nueva Generación, Sinaloa and Northeast operate in southeastern Mexico, where there is a large indigenous population.

The groups use ancestral customs and customs to kidnap young indigenous women through sums of money or coercion. “It happens to girls from 8 to 17 years old,” Ulloa said, explaining that they would then be taken to the northern border and sexually exploited.

Not just sex trafficking

The State Department report also warned against labor exploitation and found that the Mexican government had not provided the Department of Labor with sufficient resources or staff to enforce labor laws.

The country’s inspectors have a limited mandate to monitor working conditions in informal businesses and farms, which employ more than half of Mexico’s workforce.

Groups say labor exploitation and human trafficking affect many tribal peoples who are recruited from southern Mexico, particularly in states like Chiapas and Oaxaca, with the promise of attractive jobs. They are then taken north to do farm work.

“These are people who speak no or very little Spanish and are undocumented, but they live in extreme poverty and their only chance is to work in a field for more than 14 hours,” Cordero said. by UNODC.

On July 30th, the International Day against Trafficking in Human Beings, the UN launched a video campaign to identify and raise awareness of the problem. As many victims are transported by plane, an alliance was formed to include flight brochures so passengers have the information needed to identify and denounce such practices.

The UN advises various organizations to detect and prevent cases of labor trafficking. Women in Defense of Women is a group based in San Quintín, Baja California, a major agricultural center near the US border.

Margarita Cruz, director of that organization, said many people immigrated from Mexican states like Chiapas, Guerrero and Oaxaca hoping to work in agricultural fields and harvest berries managed by international companies that occasionally do paperwork for people to apply for an H2A visa and work in the United States

“They work more than 12 or 14 hours hoping they can get a visa and they don’t complain,” Cruz said. “But often there are big consequences because they get sick and don’t get benefits…Once they get sick, they don’t get hired.”

Project Polaris, an American organization that prevents and combats human trafficking, operates a free national hotline. Between 2018 and 2020 they received more than 15,000 calls of people reporting that they have been victims of human trafficking. Most were men and came from Mexico.

The issue of labor is a challenge for survivors of human trafficking, who in many cases lose several years of their lives to exploitation.

“They need to be reintegrated into the labor market beyond social programs… The problem is that they are free and independent,” said Mitzi Cuadra, director of prevention at Anthus.

A Mexican woman, 33, is trying to rebuild her life at Anthus Animal Shelter in Puebla. After eight years of living with her pimp and having his children, she plucked up the courage to tell what happened. She is proud that she recently graduated from elementary school and will be entering a high school program.

“He made me fall in love, but then the beatings started and he made me work on the streets, have sex with men to support him. It was hell,” she said. “But I’m not that scared anymore. Studying takes away your anger and you’re a better person.”

An earlier version of this story was originally published in Noticias Telemundo.

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