Forced prostitution victim “Claudia” wants people to know that sex trafficking from other countries into the United States is a substantial problem, and that the effects of its horrors last years. Speaking anonymously in a recent conversation with CNN, Claudia shared her experience to let authorities and others know that girls like her have fallen – and are still falling – through the cracks and into a living nightmare. Though Claudia herself was fortunate to escape her situation awhile ago, it wasn’t easy, and she’s still afraid of vengeance by the pimp who lured her to America from Mexico. Prior to her enslavement, Claudia simply wanted a better life, and a guy she met at a party promised her as much with a good job at a clothing factory in the U.S. Sounds pretty innocuous, if not ideal, right? It does, especially when the promises are made to your 15-year-old self, by your soon-to-be boyfriend, and you want (or need) to believe their truth.
Once Claudia made it New York City, she soon discovered there was no clothing factory, no great job, no better life. Her boyfriend, the maker of hopeful promises, was a pimp, and she would be his newest prostitute. Young, naïve and in the country illegally, Claudia did not exactly have the upper hand in this scenario. And to make certain she wouldn’t go anywhere, her not-at-all-a-boyfriend brought her physically and emotionally under his control with cigarette burns, beatings and a new and terrible promise to kill her parents at home, should she put up a fight.
So Claudia endured. She endured sleeping with 20 men consecutively on her first day forced into prostitution. And she endured every day of rape and abuse after that, forming, in spite of all odds, a plan to escape. She sneakily, patiently, squirreled away a few tip dollars at a time in the refrigerator. She asked questions of the older girls, on the down-low, getting a feel for neighborhood streets and how to get to the bus station when it was time. Then, finally, she ran.
Considering the circumstances – how her life might have progressed, had she not escaped – Claudia was relatively lucky. To this day, she still has nightmares about her time as a victim of forced prostitution. But she’s come forward with her story to not only share her experience, but to convey just how well-established and organized the underworld of sex trafficking really is. The prostitution ring in which Claudia found herself didn’t troll the streets, soliciting johns. Her pimp had a client list, and those men were very familiar with payment and procedures for “services” – or rape, as the case may be.
And though it’s been a few years since Claudia’s experience, things haven’t changed for the better. Keeping tabs on human trafficking for the U.S. State Department, Luis CdeBaca notes that sex trafficking of victims from Mexico and Central America into the U.S. not only remains a big problem, but the girls are getting younger. It’s especially easy, too, for pimps to maintain control over their victims with the simple threat of reporting their illegal status to immigration officials, when, in reality, they are entitled to rights under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
Ultimately, awareness is critical for all involved: awareness by women in other countries, vulnerable to being trafficked into the U.S.; awareness by women who are trafficked, in knowing their rights; and awareness by both law enforcement and us, in understanding and recognizing this crime.