Marcela, a human trafficking victim, was tricked into the sex trade by a man she thought she could trust.
She met him in her small hometown in Veracruz state when she was 16.
Posing as a wealthy businessman, he asked for her hand in marriage, promising a comfortable lifestyle.
Instead he took her to the Merced neighbourhood of Mexico City, a hotbed for prostitution. She was kept under duress in a hotel room and forced to have sex with up to 40 men a day, who paid $15 each to her so-called boyfriend and his accomplices.
Girls suffering from human trafficking are often kept under such conditions for years. However, after a week, police raided the hotel, and Marcela defied the threats from the traffickers to testify in court, sending them to prison.
“When it was happening, I just blocked it out, as it was so painful,” says Marcela, who asked that her name be changed. “It took me a long time to regain any confidence in myself, to rebuild my life.”
The fight against this traffic is complicated by the deep involvement of the country’s notorious drug cartels in the business.
Narco gangs like the Zetas — a criminal army founded by defectors from the Mexican military — have diversified their portfolio to include kidnapping, extortion, theft of crude oil, gun running and lucrative human-trafficking networks.
It’s impossible to know the exact value of Mexico’s human-trafficking trade, though the U.N. estimates the global industry to be worth $32 billion a year.
“As the drug war has become more intense, the networks that traffic women have made their pacts with cartels,” says Jaime Montejo, a spokesman for Brigada Callejera, a sex-worker support group in Mexico City. “Those that don’t cannot survive.”
Gangs like the Zetas are involved in human traffic at many links on the chain. Cartels control most of Mexico’s smuggling networks through which victims are moved, while they also take money from pimps and brothels operating in their territories.
Prosecution documents show numerous cases in which cartel members have confessed to murdering pimps who crossed them or burning down establishments that refused to pay their “quota.”
The anti-trafficking drive is gaining momentum:
The anti-trafficking drive has gained momentum in Mexico City, where a special prosecutor took power in May and has since overseen 86 raids on hotels, bars and massage parlours, rescuing 118 women and charging 62 alleged traffickers.