Sex trafficking of women has nexus in Queens borough of New York City
Every year, thousands of women between the ages of 14 and 19, are smuggled through the small town of Tenancingo, Mexico, into the United States and forced into sex work. Many of these women end up in Queens, the new epicenter of prostitution in New York City.
The unassuming town of Tenancingo, in rural Mexico, has become a hub for sex traffickers.
It is estimated that in the town of 10,000, close to 10 percent of the population is involved in recruiting, exploiting and selling prostitutes.
BBC reporter Laura Trevelyan went to Tenancingo to see the town built on the wealth of sex trafficking.
"This small, dusty town of 10,000 people has shacks in it, it's pretty poor, but then you see these enormous, ostentatious mansions which are green and purple, where the families of sex traffickers live," Trevelyan said. "Tenaz Dubash, the victim support specialist for Homeland Security in New York told me that 85 percent of the women she sees here in the city have been trafficked by men from Tenancingo."
Trevelyan said the women brought through Tenancingo are generally poor, naive, and oftentimes from indigenous backgrounds. They come from all over Mexico and other parts of South America.
Emilio Muñoz, an advocate for victims of trafficking based in Mexico, said the women are tricked by pimps who promise them wealth and opportunities abroad.
"They show them houses that most people here can't afford, so the women not only fall in love with them, but also see an opportunity for having a better life, Muñoz said. "But obviously they can't imagine they will end up suffering sexual exploitation."
Trevelyan interviewed a young woman named Alicia who was lured to Tenancingo by a pimp. In Tenancingo she was abducted and then brought to Queens, in New York City.
"At first it was a lot, maybe 30 clients a night. My pimp was very violent towards me, almost to the point of killing me," Alicia said.
Trevelyan met Alicia through Sanctuary for Families, a non-profit group in New York dedicated to serving the victims of sex trafficking and domestic abuse. Alicia estimated she was forced to have sex with approximately 5,000 men over an 18-month period before she was able to escape.
Sanctuary for Families reported a 150 percent increase in the number of cases of sex trafficking between 2010 and 2011.
Across New York, new efforts to stem the demand for prostitution are being considered. Trevelyan said in Sweden a popular approach has been to focus arrests on men who pay for sex, rather than on prostitutes. The Brooklyn District Attorney's office has mimicked this model by establishing a "john school" where men are educated on the consequences of hiring women for sex.
Trevelyan said she is unsure how successful this program is.
"There is a debate about the effectiveness of john school. The Brooklyn District Attorney's office says only one percent of the men who have gone through this program over the years have been re-arrested for patronizing prostitutes," Trevelyan said. "But then women's groups in the city will say it's women who get arrested for prostitution, hardly any johns are ever arrested."
Last fall, State Senator José Peralta pushed the "chica card" law, an alternate plan for discouraging prostitution in Queens.
Chica cards, small cards with images of half-naked women and phone numbers advertising "free delivery" were once distributed openly along Roosevelt Avenue in Queens. Peralta's "chica card" law, criminalized the distribution of flyers and cards marketing prostitutes, and now they're much harder to find.
Peralta also introduced a bill that would require taxi drivers, who are oftentimes complicit in bringing prostitutes around the city, take a course on sex trafficking before receiving or renewing a license.
"We have to dispel the dangerous notion that prostitution is a victimless crime," Peralta said. "Someone aware of this brutal reality is less likely to participate in the continued exploitation of these women."
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