Two hours southeast of Mexico City lies a town where forced prostitution is not only the norm, but a booming business that employs most of the city’s 10,000 residents.
Tenancingo, Mexico, widely considered the sex trafficking capital of the world, is the single largest source of sex slaves sent to the US, according to the US State Department.
The city was highlighted in a recent Newsweek article describing new city-to-farm sex pipelines, in which prostitutes from Mexico working mostly in Queens, New York are delivered to farms by traffickers to have sex with migrant workers.
Before they are trafficked to the US, women and girls as young as 14 are routinely kidnapped from villages surrounding Tenancingo by men who trick, threaten, and even seduce them into working for the illicit sex trade.
“Many kids [in Tenancingo] aspire to be traffickers,” Emilio Munoz Berruecos, who grew up in the next village and runs a local human rights center, told the NY Daily News. “This is a phenomenon that goes back half a century.”
The phenomenon likely started when agricultural work became scarce, forcing men to find other ways to make money. “It is something that has become intergenerational in Tenancingo,” Alice Brennan, producer of Fusion’s documentary “Pimp City”, told Here & Now.
“When many of the factories closed down, some enterprising young men decided to try their hand at selling women and realised how profitable it was.”
The trade has proven extremely lucrative: A Tenancingo pimp with three women working for him can make up to half a million dollars per year sending them to the US,Fusionreported last year. Men pay around $US35 for 15 minutes of sex, and the girls are forced to see as many as 60 men a day.
Luxurious mansions belonging to trafficking clans — nicknamed “calcuilchil” or “houses of arse” by locals in their indigenous Nahuatl language — line Tenancingo’s side streets in what is an otherwise modest town in southern Mexico.
These grand homes actually aid pimps in recruiting prostitutes, who are usually from rural villages where such grandeur does not exist, according to the BBC.
“The entire community isn’t OK with it,” Rosario Adriana Mendieta Herrera, who runs a state women’s collective, told the NY Daily News. “However, to say something against the traffickers is seen as dangerous.”
What many of the town’s residents fail to realise, however, is that the prostitutes are not willing participants. Tenancingo pimps are masters of manipulation — trafficking clans (which are really just informal organisations led by families) send their most handsome men, often called “romeos,” to pick up young women at bus stops or in parks. They pretend to be wealthy salesmen and seduce the women into following them.
One woman told the NY Daily News that she was held captive for two months by her “boyfriend” in Tenancingo after going there to “meet his family.”
“[These are the men] who said that they loved them, that they were going to have children together, and it’s really tragic because the pimps are so smart,” Lori Cohen, an attorney at Sanctuary for Families who has worked with dozens of victims of the Tenancingo rings, told Fusion. “They figured out how to get to the core of these very traditional values that these victims have.”
While some women are coerced, others are kidnapped and have no choice at all. One Mexican woman, Miranda, tells Fusion that she was forced into prostitution at 14 after accepting a ride home from a “friendly” man named “Rudolfo” who she met in the park. He took her to his home in Tenancingo where he beat and raped her.
“He told me that even if I was screaming, that no one would hear me and no one would help me,” Miranda told Fusion. A feeling of helplessness is instilled in victims to prevent them from trying to escape.
Even if they were to escape, there is little chance that the women would ever see their captors behind bars. Only 17 of the 3,000-5,000 pimps in Tenancingo were convicted in Mexico between 2010-2013, Fusion reported, and enforcement in the US does not fare much better.
American police departments spend 22 times more fighting drugs than fighting human trafficking despite that fact that 18,000 women are trafficked into the US every year, according to the State Department.
Miranda was one of the few victims who received justice. After being extradited to the US, her pimp was sentenced to nearly 20 years in prison for sex trafficking.
“For what he has done to all of us, [he] deserves so much worse than a lifetime in prison,” Miranda said in her testimony, according to Fusion. “But that is judgment that only God can pass.”
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