The US Department of Justice estimates that of the 14,500 and 17,500 foreign-born individuals trafficked into the US annually, some 80 percent are female, and 70 percent of these women end up as sex slaves. Feeder countries include Albania, the Philippines, Thailand, Mexico (many from the central region of Tlaxcala, a haven for modern-day slave traders), Nigeria, and Ukraine. Often the women are forced to work to pay off the debts imposed by their smugglers—debts ranging from $40,000 to $60,000 per person. They might perform 4000 acts of sexual intercourse each year to meet their quota, at $10 to $25 per act.
In 1997, at the age of 18, Inez was trafficked from Mexico into sex slavery in the US. She was transported into Texas, then to a trailer in Florida. Up to four young women worked in the same trailer, each of them having sex with up to 35 men a day, for 12 hours a day. They were constantly guarded, and beaten and raped by their bosses. After she had been enslaved for several months, FBI agents, along with agents from the Immigration and Naturalization Service and local law offices, raided the brothel. Some of her captors were tried, others escaped and returned to Mexico. Inez now observes that she cannot “seem to get past the ordeal” of slavery. The turning-point from slavery to freedom has not occurred: Inez’s narrative is filled with phrases like “I will never forget,” “I try to act like a normal girl, but it is not always easy,” “I lack confidence and never feel secure.”
Before I came to the United States, I lived in a small town near Veracruz, Mexico. I helped support my family by working in the fields, harvesting lemons. Although I did not mind the work, I wished I could earn more money to help my family.
Sometime in 1997, a woman named Maria Elena approached me and told me about opportunities for work in the United States. She told me she had worked there at a restaurant and had made good money. When I told my mother about the offer, she was skeptical. Since I was interested in helping my family out, I decided to learn more about this opportunity. Maria Elena set up a meeting with two men named Abel Cadena-Sosa and Patricio Sosa. At the meeting, the men confirmed that they had job openings for women like myself in American restaurants. They told me that they would take care of my immigration papers, and that I would be free to change jobs if I did not like working at the restaurants.
I decided to accept the offer. In 1997, I was brought into the United States through Brownsville, Texas. Maria Elena traveled with me. We were both transported to Houston, Texas, where a man named Rogerio Cadena picked us up and took us to a trailer in Avon Park, Florida. In Avon Park, I met a girl named Sue who lived in the trailer. She asked me if I knew why I had come to Avon Park. I said I was going to work in a restaurant. She told me that I was actually going to be selling my body to men. I looked at Maria Elena in utter horror, but she did not appear surprised. Maria Elena admitted that she had already worked in trailer brothels in the past. She said it would not do anybody any good to complain. I was going to have to do the work anyway, since I had a smuggling debt to pay off. Maria Elena also warned me, “If you escape, Abel Cadena will go after your family because you owe him money.” Some of the other girls in the house also warned me that if I tried to escape, the men would find me and beat me up or abuse me. Rogerio Cadena said I had no place to run anyway, because my family was very far away and each trailer was located in a very isolated area.
Rogerio then bought some tight clothes for me to wear when I worked and I was subsequently transported to a trailer in Ft. Pierce, Florida. A man named Jose Cuevas-Ataxca (known as “Lupito”) told me he was in charge of selling “tickets” to customers so they could go into the sitting room and pick a girl to have sexual relations with. I learned that the tickets were condoms. I was told that each customer would pay around $22, and that, in turn, each girl would be paid about $3 per customer. The rest of the money would go to pay our smuggling fee, our rent, and water. I also learned that every 15 days, I would be transported to a different trailer to keep working.
I did not understand what happened to me. There was no way out. I began “working” in the trailers. The work was demeaning and frightening. I never had a moment’s rest. On the weekends, I would often have to see around 32 or 34 men, for $15 each. I would get myself drunk before the men arrived, so that I could stand the work. At the end of the shift, I would fill a bathtub with hot water and lay in it, drinking and crying. I would smoke one cigarette after another, and then go to bed drunk because it was the only way I could fall asleep.
The bosses had no mercy. I felt terrible pain in my vagina and I asked repeatedly to be taken to the doctor. No one ever took me. But they did take the girls who became pregnant to a doctor where they performed forced abortions. Several of the young women and girls in the brothel had had these abortions.
Many of the men were violent. I will never forget a night in Avon Park. Rogerio Cadena had thrown a party in the trailer. I went outside for air. He thought I was trying to escape and he ran out after me and told me, “You don’t know what I’m capable of.” He hit me on the mouth, broke my lip, and began to beat me on the chest. I stumbled back to the trailer. I knew I could not take this anymore. I went to my room, put some clothes in a bag, and jumped out of the window. One of the other girls came with me and we ran to a house nearby where she said she knew someone. We spent the night there. The next morning, the bosses arrived at the house. Somehow, they knew we were there. They took us back to the trailer, and we began another day of work.
Although it has been more than a year since all of this occurred, I cannot seem to get past the ordeal. I am dating a young man now, and I try to act like a normal girl, but it is not always easy. I also have a steady job and will soon be promoted, but I lack confidence and never feel secure. Once in awhile, I still have anxiety attacks. I still remember the horrible beatings, the constant threats, and the drunk and pushy customers.
I am trying hard to be the person I was before I came to the United States.
Narrative as told to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, session on Trafficking of Women and Children, February 29, 2000.