Sex slavery and drugs

18-year-old former victim of sex trafficking from Tlaxcala, Mexico, photographed in New York City. TENANCINGO, Mexico — It began, like so many cases, while waiting for a ride home. She was 13 and sitting on a park bench in central Mexico when a handsome stranger approached and began to flirt. He was a few years older and seemed charming. For the sake of her protection, let’s call them Maria and José. They soon began dating and after a few months she moved in with his family in a tiny town called Tenancingo that is notorious for sex trafficking. All she knew was that she had problems with her parents and her boyfriend promised a happier future.

Vaguely offering marriage, he suggested they sneak across the border into Arizona and make money for their new life together. What he had in mind wasn’t a typical job, though. A van drove the couple across the country to a dingy apartment in the New York neighborhood of Corona, Queens, where José promptly locked her up. For the next three and a half years he forced Maria to service men, sometimes as many as 30 a day, in commercial gang bangs in suburban homes. When she protested, he beat her so severely that she later needed reconstructive surgery. He forced her to swallow multiple forms of contraception so that menstruation would never cause her to lose a day of work.

Her private parts grew so torn and infected that she had to apply anesthetics. Meanwhile, Maria’s pimp threatened to kill her sister back in Mexico if Maria went to the police. This is the most terrible thing. I was angry but what could I do? He had my papers so I couldn’t leave. I didn’t know how to get home.

Eventually, the pain became so unbearable that Maria could no longer take it. During a rare moment alone she fled the apartment and hobbled to the police station. Officers rushed her to a hospital and to a lawyer who handles sex trafficking cases. Lori Cohen of Sanctuary for Families, a center for battered and trafficked women, arranged a safe house, therapy and English lessons for Maria. Lori Cohen, a lawyer who assists battered and trafficked young women.

Maria was forced to work as a prostitute in Queens for several years. Cohen, sitting by Maria’s side in an unmarked office in Midtown Manhattan. Other young Mexican women filled the waiting room, a sign reminding them to keep the address confidential. That town of 10,000 has a disturbing cottage industry — sex trafficking. The extended families of young and uneducated women, from sons to grandmothers, kidnap and smuggle them to Corona, a bustling immigrant neighborhood of taco trucks and restaurants.

Outside bars along the main drag, Roosevelt Avenue, pimps hand out business cards to potential clients advertising “florists” or “kids’ birthday parties. While human trafficking has recently exploded as big business for drug cartels, Tenancingo’s family-run prostitution goes back to the 1950s, when the local economy collapsed. The state it is in, Tlaxcala, is the country’s smallest, with little notable economic production and a long tradition of robo de novia, whereby men abduct women they want to marry. Over the years this practice mutated into a commercial venture that spans generations. Fathers train sons to bring in women.