May 17th, 2013
03:04 PM ET

Mexican sex traffickers moving into U.S.

By Krupskaia Alis and Rafael Romo, CNN
Joanna moves her hands nervously as she speaks.  Her oversized, golden earrings rattle as she shakes her head to make a point.  Joanna is not her real name.  She's speaking on the condition that CNN will protect her privacy and not disclose her real name.  She's only 16 years old, but has already experienced a lifetime of horror, abuse and torture.  She's a former sex slave.

It all started when she met a charming man.  "I was in a normal relationship with him for three months," she says.  At the time she was only 14 years old.  She was treated like royalty and fell in love.  A few months later he asked her to elope and she agreed.

"He promised that we would get a house and that we would raise children.  I was naïve and believed everything he said.  We started living together in July and by September he was already forcing me to work as a prostitute," Joanna said.

By then it had become painfully clear that Joanna's boyfriend was in reality her captor, a pimp who preyed on young, vulnerable teenagers whom he recruited in central Mexico with the purpose of forcing them into prostitution.

Joanna says she was forced to have sex with dozens of men for as many as 18 hours a day.  There were days, she says, she would only sleep a couple of hours before starting another long and painful shift, sleeping with strangers who paid only a few dollars to be with her 15 minutes.  The worst part was that if she failed to make at least $600 a day, she faced severe punishment.

"He hit me many times with a phone cable.  He would hit me in the legs and hands.  One time he started beating me with a broomstick.  He beat me so hard that I couldn't even get up afterwards," Joanna said.

According to the Mexico City Human Rights Commission, as many as 70,000 minors in Mexico are victims of human trafficking.  Most of them are subjected to forced labor, but a significant number are forced into prostitution, as in the case of Joanna.

Over the last decade, the problem has crossed the U.S. border.  The arrests of 13 people in New York state in late April suggests pimps are also fond of getting cash, not only in Mexican pesos, but also in U.S. dollars.

According to authorities, the suspects worked a "sex trafficking corridor," transporting women from the small town of Tenancingo, in the central Mexican state of Tlaxcala, to the New York area.

Over a period of seven years, federal officials say, dozens of women were exploited; some of them were illegally transported from Mexico.  Once in the United States, they were forced to have sex with as many as 30 customers per day, according to the federal complaint charging all 13 suspects.  Victims were paid $30 to $35, the complaint says.  Their driver would keep half.  The other half went to the pimp, and the victims were left with nothing.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said the defendants blatantly lied to their victims in order to recruit them.

"With promises of a better life, the members of this alleged sex trafficking and prostitution ring lured their unsuspecting victims to the United States and then consigned them to a living hell - forcing them to become sex slaves living in abhorrent conditions, and using threats, verbal abuse, and violence – sexual and otherwise – when they resisted and even sometimes when they didn't," Bharara said.

The complaint describes how one victim was smuggled into the United States with her young child.  Once in New York, she was made to sleep on the floor with the child.  But that was just the beginning of her ordeal.  On one occasion, when the woman refused to work as a prostitute, she and her child were forced to stay outside on a cold winter night.

Federal agents conducted raids at six locations, including four brothels in Yonkers, Poughkeepsie, Newburgh, and Queens.  If convicted, the suspects face anywhere from two years in prison to life.

Humberto Padgett is a Mexican journalist who wrote a book titled "Intimate Portrait of a Pimp." Based on years of research and interviews with victims and pimps, the book describes how Mexican pimps operate and how they exploit their victims.

Padgett says trafficking young women in Mexico has increased faster than drug trafficking in recent years.

"You can only sell a kilo of marijuana once.  But you can sell a woman multiple times, even as many as 60 times per day.  In five years, a woman can make as much as a million dollars for her pimp," Padgett says.

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

Padgett says pimps force women to stay with them by threatening to kill family members if they escape.

Maria, another former sex slave who asked that her real name not be used, lost her father six months after escaping her pimp.  The now-17-year-old believes the prostitution ring that held her is responsible for his murder.

"More than anything, I feel guilty about my father's death.  Sometimes I think that I should've stayed with the pimp so that he would kill me and not my father," Maria says.

She's back with her family, but still suffers from depression and nightmares associated with the verbal and physical abuse to which she was subjected.

"There's no way I'm ever going to feel better," she says.  "They destroyed my life."

soundoff (80 Responses)
  1. bribarian

    Well done liberals, keep the border open.

    May 17, 2013 at 3:59 pm | Reply
    • ha

      The borders and liberals have nothing to do with the atrocities which are being committed by the people. The law enforcement should work better to save this girls. Quit blaming everything on the government

      May 17, 2013 at 7:36 pm | Reply
      • scott a.wolf

        One of the few things Government is responsible for is the defense of our border. They have refused to do so, especially under the current administration.

        May 17, 2013 at 8:51 pm |
      • bribarian

        Are you joking? The government is wholeheartedly responsible for the broken border. They imprison people who try to defend the border, and do nothing but encourage illegal immigration. Are you retarded or something?

        May 17, 2013 at 9:58 pm |
      • Harry

        "My building has every convenience; it's going to make life easy for me.."
        (The Talking Heads; DONT' BLAME THE GOVERNMENT).

        May 17, 2013 at 11:44 pm |
      • alf564

        Has everything to do with it. The Border Patrol catches, arrests, and jails them and along comes Janet N and John Morton and the bad guys all go free....They should both be tried for treason and then ......

        May 19, 2013 at 4:51 pm |
    • Pentabyte

      That's right. Conservatives did so many right things and had no hand in this. It obviously is because of Obama. After all he is the cause since the dawn of time.

      May 17, 2013 at 10:30 pm | Reply
      • Cadiz

        No, the Republicans have a lot to do with this as well. It should be noted, however, that Obama has been President for over 5 years so he needs to step up and take responsibility rather than blaming everything on his opponents.

        May 18, 2013 at 2:55 am |
      • alf564

        Take your pills and sit in a corner

        May 19, 2013 at 4:53 pm |
    • Doh

      Except for the fact that a market for this business must first exist for the business to even operate. Think about that one.

      May 18, 2013 at 1:49 am | Reply
      • Allan

        That's very true. And that market, in this case, exists with all those illegal men who have not been stopped at the border.

        May 18, 2013 at 2:21 am |
      • Cadiz

        Unfortunately due to human nature there will always be a market. That market increases with availability. The only way to stop this is to cut the source. Whining about the market is like saying bank robbers would not rob banks if people would stop letting them buy things with the money.

        May 18, 2013 at 2:59 am |
      • Doh

        However, if they can't find international victims, they'll simply find domestic ones. And by then, it will be too late for many of them.

        May 18, 2013 at 3:05 pm |
      • marvin the martian

        billions and billions of dollars have been spent to try to reduce the demand for drugs through rehabilitation, education and diversion, to littl or no effect. i agree with cadiz, neutralizing the source dimishes or eliminates the demand.
        after all. look at DDT. after manufacture of it was prevented, there are now no buyers for DDT pesticides.
        hence, if we successfully stop the traffickers, there is no product, then there cant be any customers. when was the last time you bought something that was not available?

        May 18, 2013 at 3:18 pm |
    • Justice

      It doesn't matter what the subject is, this clown blames Obama and the Democrats for everything including his welfare check. Just look at his screen name.

      May 18, 2013 at 2:45 am | Reply
    • KB Peters

      Actually, under the Obama Administration there have been more illegals sent BACK, 18% more agents on the Mexican border and has spent more money on securing the border than W Bush ever did. So, you Republicans are so wrong. Although not perfect, the border is stronger now than ever.

      May 18, 2013 at 4:04 am | Reply
    • Mila

      It's not a liberal vs conservative thing, but yeah the supporters of illegal immigration and open borders support what happens to these poor women. Those supporters are closed minded and don't think about the consequences of having people unaccounted for in this country.

      May 18, 2013 at 4:13 am | Reply
    • Ummnope

      Eww, you are a sad human. This is not a border issue, it is a human rights issue.

      May 18, 2013 at 4:22 am | Reply
    • Devon

      Unfortunately it's not just the liberals, it's both sides. How comes you think it's been open for so long and there's been virtually zero progress? Sure the liberals want it open for votes from anchor babies and relatives of illegals who are citizens that'll vote for the open border, but it's not just the liberals who want them. The conservatives want them for the cheap, albeit illegal, labor they bring for their business based agenda.

      So the liberals want them for votes, and the conservatives want them for cheap labor, and there will be total gridlock until somebody has the balls to do put the pedal to the metal and actually do something about it.

      So don't just go blaming liberals when the conservatives are just as much at fault for the border still being the way it is. And your precious George Dubya didn't do anything about it either, so don't go acting like this is all on Obama.

      May 18, 2013 at 4:37 am | Reply
      • dude

        Everything you said is true.

        July 6, 2015 at 12:10 am |
    • Coriolana

      Speak for yourself, troll

      May 18, 2013 at 3:48 pm | Reply
      • marvin the martian

        actually, i don't need to speak for myself, i'm just fine sitting behind my computer. i was speaking and being a voice on behalf of those who cannot.
        if you don;t like that, go sit with the rest of the self centered people who demand everything of others and society, and give nothing back.

        May 18, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
    • Mary

      And welcomed by bo with promises of rewards

      May 19, 2013 at 6:19 pm | Reply
    • superbole

      Take the meds, child. It'll do you some good.

      May 20, 2013 at 1:16 am | Reply
    • Andrea Laffranchi

      I didin t

      May 28, 2013 at 1:37 am | Reply
    • Paulie Cop

      Oh shut the F up moron...

      June 7, 2013 at 7:30 pm | Reply
  2. Evan

    We need conservatives to close the borders so, like the good Christian nation they represent, the rest of the world can rot. All that matters is our wealthy and stratified Camelot.

    May 17, 2013 at 6:00 pm | Reply
    • bribarian

      Indeed, America is worth defending, since now we see what the rest of garbage offers.

      May 17, 2013 at 10:01 pm | Reply
    • Shelia

      IF they rot it is their own doing not Americas. If America is a civilized country that has nothing to do with the uncivilized. Instead you rather have the whole world rot come to America and make it rotten.?

      May 17, 2013 at 10:39 pm | Reply
  3. Frank

    Well done, conservatives, keep being Johns.

    May 17, 2013 at 7:22 pm | Reply
    • scott a.wolf

      So says the pimp.

      May 17, 2013 at 8:51 pm | Reply
  4. chanruss

    You can blame the elite and very rich along with the politicians.

    May 17, 2013 at 9:38 pm | Reply
  5. bt

    who's your daddy now? Between Montana & Washington, now, You-da-ho.

    May 17, 2013 at 10:14 pm | Reply
  6. M.O.

    CNN, please close caption these videos. I'm deaf.

    May 17, 2013 at 10:15 pm | Reply
    • sparky

      And that way I can watch them without sound... have to do same with commercials

      May 18, 2013 at 2:47 am | Reply
  7. John

    Mexico is getting so bad and worse ,so why don't we make Mexico apart of the US. ! Our Laws are more Human and more enforce than they are in Mexico !! It's not safe and a lot of health Issues there and there are no reason i will be going there for any vacation as a American ! Canada.. yes !!

    May 17, 2013 at 11:12 pm | Reply
    • Kris

      English isn't your primary language. It couldn't be. Please study it more. I can't even decipher where you're going on vacation - or why.

      May 17, 2013 at 11:41 pm | Reply
      • Kyle

        He is clearly saying that he will not be vacationing in Mexico as an American, Canada would be preferred. Don't take typing errors too seriously, it happens especially in passionate, fast paced public commentary on a public news item.

        And I love how any negative news reports just turns into people trying to validate their political position, racism, or religious stance by attacking others even when its irrelevant to the issue. And people seem to never know the correct facts about their side's role in the big pictures. Comments on news reports are like a war by proxy, let's use a separate issue to further my own viewpoints and agenda lol stupid

        May 18, 2013 at 11:54 am |
  8. Harry

    Uh, why would CNN leave out the part where it is the fault of middle aged white males? Weird.

    May 17, 2013 at 11:41 pm | Reply
  9. Sigh

    Until Mexicans clean up their own lot, send them ALL back. No Mexican should be allowed any leniency until they clean up and dispose of their criminals.

    May 18, 2013 at 12:56 am | Reply
  10. Jon

    Human Trafficking is evil! Be in it to end it!

    May 18, 2013 at 1:25 am | Reply
  11. cyndi

    I'm not a US citizen but i can say that i believe that this has little to do with your government or mexicans. This is about abuse of women and modern day slavery. There are thousands of american women being held in slavery by american men. It's time for society to stop tolerating this.

    May 18, 2013 at 1:39 am | Reply
  12. Doh

    May 18, 2013 at 2:00 am | Reply
  13. Brad

    There are lots of easy pickings white females to enslave for this. They are a dime a dozen and easy to force into submission.

    May 18, 2013 at 2:23 am | Reply
  14. Clive

    Arrest the customers also. The guys who buy the services are contributing to this evil greatly. Why is the law and reporters quite about them.

    May 18, 2013 at 2:49 am | Reply
  15. Cadiz

    This is a tragic story. I wonder where were the parents in all of this? 'Joanna' says "I was in a normal relationship with him for three months,". No, a 14 year old girl moving in with what was probably a much older man is not a 'normal' relationship. That was where this sad incident should have stopped. It didn't an now society needs to pick up the pieces.

    May 18, 2013 at 3:05 am | Reply
  16. commentator gator

    Closing borders, any border, is a solution? People are so dumb. The answer is, get rid of the need for money!

    May 18, 2013 at 3:33 am | Reply
  17. Jerry

    After five years in office, you can certainly (safely?) say it's all Obama's fault! In the last five years América has been going morally and otherwise down hill under Obama and His cadre of liars.

    God Bless América!

    May 18, 2013 at 5:37 am | Reply
    • skippersam

      And yet you hate the vast majority of Americans who voted for the current President

      May 18, 2013 at 6:10 am | Reply
  18. JK

    Human trafficking is a world wide problem...You begin by making the people responsible for trafficking pay with the death penalty and then eliminate the customer pool also.

    May 18, 2013 at 6:05 am | Reply
  19. don smith

    It is time the government had a data base for illegals so they can find kidnappers. US needs protection and ignoring the problem is not the answer. I am sure Mexico can share their criminal data base unless Mexican Mafia has access but that can be monitored

    May 18, 2013 at 6:25 am | Reply
  20. michael

    Gee. I love all the compassion shown here by you folks. Instead of offering insight into fighting trafficking on both sides of the border you want to fight about a secure border. There are awful people on both sides of the border who exploit children. Let's at least do our part on our side. We can also do our part on the Mexican side by writing embassies. I wonder if we really care about the children or just espousing our political left and right views?

    May 18, 2013 at 8:39 am | Reply
    • Mila

      It says in the article Mexico approved a law making trafficking a federal crime punishable by up to 40 years, they secure their border, they can ask questions to find out what's going on. In the US if authorities asks for the status or identification of an illegal they are called "racists"and aren't allowed to do it. So the conditions for slavery are perfect in the US. No amount of writing embassies will help. People can walk around doing whatever they want to others people because no one can investigate or ask questions because it might hurt someone's feelings. Domestic servants and workers are also part of this nightmare and they have to work off being brought here. This is the new America we live in.

      May 18, 2013 at 9:40 am | Reply
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    May 18, 2013 at 9:19 am | Reply
  22. CharlieSeattle

    Deport all Illegal Aliens and seal the Mexican border NOW!

    May 18, 2013 at 10:13 am | Reply
  23. jammie

    come to america get free medical food stamps free housing heck and a car. go to another country and get hard time in their jail and starved to the ones working here in america get higher taxed and do with out from the labor of their own!!! why shouldn't we be happy to have nothing from our earnings to just hand it over in taxes... isn't that right?

    May 18, 2013 at 1:13 pm | Reply
    • marvin the martian

      this is not about illegal immigration, and its not just a USA- Mexico problem. human trafficking and exploitation, is a global problem, and USA has its own, American on American trafficking and exploitation problem. these people are refugees from horrible human rights violations, and we, as pat of the intentional community need to do our part to put an end to this global atrocity. take your immigration issues off the trail of tears these victims walk. nobody gives it any credibility in this perspective.

      May 18, 2013 at 1:34 pm | Reply
  24. Michael A Ruzicho

    People who do this should be prosecuted harshly without remorse. To do these acts to a living being is disgusting, inhumane, and goes against the principles of America.

    May 18, 2013 at 5:40 pm | Reply
  25. nomi

    No se puede escapar de la mano de Dios, tarde o temprano esos montruos van a pagar por
    destruirles la vida a tantas niñas y mujeres inocentes, si no se arrepienten van a ir derechito
    al infierno de fuego donde pagarán su condena eternamente.

    May 18, 2013 at 9:47 pm | Reply
    • marvin the martian

      Amigo, un una sociedad tienen un tiempo difícil convencer estos depravados personas consecuencia de la tierra, no creo que se preocupan de la vida de ultratumba, pero estoy de acuerdo con usted

      May 18, 2013 at 10:01 pm | Reply
  26. chasden

    Moving to the US, huh? So, are the girls still for sale? Do they deliver?

    May 18, 2013 at 11:42 pm | Reply
  27. grace

    No one has mentioned the johns. If a young woman is having relations 30 times a day it's going to be obvious to anyone with a brain. She's hurting. She's looking scared and tired and needs help. The men who use and I mean use these women are every bit as guilty as the pimps. In fact every one of them needs to be locked up as a conspirator. This wouldn't be a problem if these men had an ounce of self control or compassion....

    May 19, 2013 at 12:36 am | Reply
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    May 19, 2013 at 3:33 am | Reply
  29. Mary Jane

    They heard about the amnesty program Barry is running and they want in. It's as simple as that!!!

    May 19, 2013 at 7:31 am | Reply
  30. Steve

    They heard about the amnesty program Barry is running and they want in. It's as simple as that!!!

    May 19, 2013 at 7:31 am | Reply
  31. retrostar1000

    I blame our first president, George Washington, because he was a president.

    May 19, 2013 at 1:24 pm | Reply
  32. Chen Fei See

    And we want to give them amnesty.

    May 19, 2013 at 5:47 pm | Reply
  33. hacker

    hack the heads off it will stop it by 85%

    May 19, 2013 at 11:13 pm | Reply
  34. KP

    Reblogged this on News on Modern Day Slavery.

    May 20, 2013 at 3:03 am | Reply
  35. Mark Nolan (Mechanicville)

    It would be only fair and just if one of Chuck Schumer's grand-daughters drew a high price. (She's an American!)

    May 20, 2013 at 3:52 am | Reply
  36. chungbx

    like like like

    May 21, 2013 at 3:03 am | Reply
  37. chungbx

    They destroyed my life ^^

    May 21, 2013 at 3:04 am | Reply
  38. chungbx

    we want to give them

    May 21, 2013 at 3:07 am | Reply
  39. justiceforlifecdp

    Reblogged this on Justice For Life.

    May 21, 2013 at 3:45 pm | Reply
  40. ruby

    Hey Everyone. Blame isn't going to solve this. Trafficking isn't only across the Mexico-US border – it's global and no one person, country or organisation is going to stamp it out. This relies on everyone doing a little something. I guess I am sitting thinking about what we can do instead of pointing a finger at no-one in the hopes it will stop. And of course it's easier to think that someone else ought to sort things out. Imagine if this was your sister/mother/daughter/girlfriend! Ideas on how we (real people in the real world) can do something? We are billions, think of the power!

    May 21, 2013 at 10:50 pm | Reply
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