Escape from teenage brothel sparks crackdown in Mexico – The CNN Freedom Project: Ending Modern-Day Slavery

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Through Rafael Romo, CNN – They were only 14 years old, cousins ​​of a small town in central Mexico, when a fun trip to the local fair turned into a nightmare of drugs and forced prostitution.

As Maria and Lupe – CNN changed their name to protect their identities – waited by the side of the freeway for their return bus in the early evening, they say a semi-trailer pulled up right in front of them and two men came out.

There was no conversation. Everything happened very quickly, say the cousins. “They were two men who were wearing black masks like hoodies. We couldn’t see their faces,” Maria said.

Lupe says she didn’t even have time to react. “I only felt that they put something on my nose and that’s all I remember. The last thing I remember is screaming for help,” said Lupe.

Drugged and unconscious, they lost track of time. They only know that they woke up in a dark room where they were kept for several days. There was no food or water and the cousins ​​were cold. But that was only the start of their ordeal.

Several days later, Maria said, a woman showed up. She let them both know that they were now going to “work for her,” the cousins ​​said. At the time, they had no idea what the stranger was talking about.

Lupe was taken out of the room and Maria was left alone with the woman. A man then entered the room and started beating her savagely. She says he raped her; then the man and woman threatened her with death and told her to cooperate.

That night, Maria says she was forced to have sex with 23 men. “When they left, I just stood there, lying on the floor, bleeding. My whole body was aching. The woman told me to get up, that it hadn’t been that bad,” Maria said.

It was the start of several months that cousins ​​call torture. They were sold to a pimp who forced them to have sex with several men every night. Their hair was dyed. They were forced to wear light clothes. They would get beaten up if they weren’t “friendly” to customers.

Meanwhile, in their hometown, their families were desperately looking for them. At first, they thought the girls had got lost and were looking around the city. Then they began to search the wooded areas around the city, fearing they had been killed or had fallen off a cliff.

Lupe’s father, a worker, remembers how desperate his family was to find the girls. The family organized research groups. They posted flyers wherever they could and reached out to hospitals, prisons and other places. At one point, someone suggested looking in bars along the freeways.

Francisco – CNN also changed his name – and a brother went to many different bars in the state of Morelos, neighboring Mexico City.

Francisco says he was disgusted by what he saw: underage girls who should go to school and prostitute themselves. “We would see young girls. There are a lot of them in Morelos state. Some of them were wearing masks. Others had dyed hair and were wearing suggestive clothes,” Francisco said.

In one of the bars where Maria was taken, she says she was forced to work from 3 p.m. to 6 a.m. to get up at noon to prepare for another 6 p.m. shift. “I felt so dirty that every time I took a shower and every time they put on my makeup I felt like an old lady. I felt like I didn’t have a family,” Maria said. .

Forced to use drugs and drink alcohol, Maria says she thought her life was going to end soon. She was horrified when she saw a very young girl brought into the house where she and others were being held. She asked the girl how old she was. The answer: eight years.

Maria says she tried to escape once. She ran away and called for help from the police on the street. What she did not know was that the police were in the pay of the pimp and brought her straight back to the brothel where she received another savage beating.

Maria and Lupe were kidnapped on January 27, 2010. Almost three months later, when Maria says she had lost all hope, she finally saw the light – literally.

Maria says she will never forget the date: April 14. She woke up to see a ray of light in the room coming from behind a cabinet. When she pushed the cupboard away, she found an unlocked door.

Maria says she ran as fast as she could. Several hours later, she met a young man who seemed genuinely concerned about her. A group of young Christians fed her, gave her a room for the night, and bought her a bus ticket home.

After Maria returned home, the girls’ families surrendered to the police who raided the brothel. Ten people were arrested and six minors rescued, including Lupe. The eight-year-old was not among them.

Senior Prosecutor Victor Carranca, the Puebla State Prosecutor, said the case allowed authorities to learn about the underworld of human trafficking and the vast networks that kidnap underage girls for forced prostitution .

“The state attorney’s office focused on targeting the sources of funding for these criminal groups. We eventually closed 600 establishments,” Carranca said. “Many of these places were not just illegal brothels, but meeting points where criminal gangs planned their crimes and illegal activities.”

The cousins ​​are now receiving financial, legal and psychological assistance from Camino a Casa, an anti-trafficking organization that focuses on assisting victims. The foundation was established in 2005 by Rosi Orozco, a Mexican lawmaker who launched a crusade against human trafficking.

“There are people who think they can buy another human being,” Orozco says. The Mexican congressman drafted an anti-trafficking bill that was enacted in June.

The new law makes human trafficking a federal crime, punishable by up to 40 years in prison. And it targets not only those involved in sex trafficking, but also other forms of modern slavery, including forced labor and child pornography.

Orozco also targets those who pay to have sex with underage girls. “We can all change if we stop saying ‘the customers’ – they’re not customers! Customers are criminals,” Orozco said. She estimates that tens of thousands of underage girls are sexually exploited each year in Mexico.

With the help of the Camino a Casa Foundation, Maria and Lupe learn new skills that will help them have a better future. They are back with their families. Maria says her mother still cries when she thinks about what her daughter went through.

As part of her therapy, she talks to small groups of people about her ordeal. “I want people to know what they did to me. I’m not angry or wanting revenge anymore. That’s what I mean. Revenge is not good. I have it. already forgiven these people and I’m happy again. ” said Maria.

A long and painful road to recovery is ahead, but finally being home, Maria and Lupe say, allows them to dream of a better future again.

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