As organized crime and globalization have increased, Mexico has become a major destination for sex traffic, as well as a transit point and supplier of victims to the United States. Drug cartels are moving into the trade, preying on immigrant women, sometimes with the complicity of corrupt regional officials, according to diplomats and activists.
“If narcotics traffickers are caught, they go to high-security prisons, but with the trafficking of women, they have found absolute impunity,” said Rosi Orozco, a congresswoman in Mexico and sponsor of a proposed law against human trafficking.
In Mexico, thousands of women and children are forced into sex traffic every year, Orozco said, most of it involving lucrative prostitution rings.
“It is growing because of poverty, because the cartels have gotten involved and because no one tells them no,” said Teresa Ulloa, the regional director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women and Girls in Latin America and the Caribbean. “We are fighting so that their lives and their bodies are not merchandise.”
“This is an inferno of sexual exploitation for thousands and thousands of women,” President Felipe Calderon told officials in mid-July after they heard the testimony of a young survivor. “With this new law, we will all be obliged to act, and no authority can say it’s not my responsibility or turn a blind eye to the terrible crime of human trafficking.”
Mexico passed a law against human trafficking in 2007.
Hopes for enforcement have been raised by the appointment of Mexico’s first female attorney general, Marisela Morales, who was praised for her efforts against human trafficking this year when Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton honored her as an International Woman of Courage.
Authorities said federal police mounted a massive raid against human trafficking in bars and hotels in Ciudad Juarez last weekend, arresting hundreds of suspects and recovering a missing 15-year-old girl and four other minors who were being used for sexual exploitation.
But convictions are still rare, making the attention seem like empty political rhetoric or a response to international pressure, said Saul Arellano, an analyst at the CEIDAS think tank. He viewed the proposed law as a much-needed step in the right direction, but he said it would have to be matched by a stronger effort to arrest and convict traffickers.
A ‘godfather’ sentenced
U.S. prosecutors have won stiff sentences for Mexican traffickers in recent years, often in cooperation with Mexican authorities. In Georgia, a Mexican “padrote,” or “godfather,” from a trafficking stronghold in Tlaxcala state, was sentenced to 40 years in March for luring 10 victims, one of them 14, to the Atlanta area and then forcing them into prostitution. If they refused to work, he beat them.