Trafficked: Sex slaves seduced and sold


Every year thousands of women are forced into prostitution and traded from Mexico to the United States. The BBC investigates the sex trafficking business, which makes some men very wealthy at the expense of vulnerable young women.

Warning: Viewers may find some of the video content disturbing.

  • Rural traffickers' town
  • Sold for sex
  • Brothels on wheels
  • 'John School' for clients
  • Traffickers' town

    Tenancingo is a Mexican town built on sex trafficking - with little alternative employment, it's become the only way to make money. Young women from across Mexico are duped into becoming sex slaves by wealthy men living in grand homes, offering them work or even marriage. Needing money for their families, the women discover too late they're being sold into prostitution, often in the US. One Mexican charity estimates there are 1,000 traffickers in Tenancingo, out of a total population of 10,000.

    Global trafficking figures
    • $32bn Annual human trafficking industry (almost £20bn)
    • 9.8m Total involved in unpaid work or prostitution
    • 800,000 People trafficked across borders every year
    • 79% Of people trafficked are women/girls
    Source: Congressional Research Service/UN global report on trafficking/ILO
  • Sold for sex

    "Maria" was 17-years-old when she was lured to Mexico with promises of a new life. Instead she was forced into prostitution and sold from one bar to another. For those women trafficked in Mexico, the capital, Mexico City, is a central hub. From there, many are smuggled to the US, or exploited in border towns and tourist resorts. The Mexican Congress has plans to crack down on trafficking; those accused will be jailed during trial and victims guaranteed anonymity. Corruption among Mexican officials at state level has hampered prosecutions in the past.

    Trafficking figures in Mexico
    • 100,000 Latin Americans trafficked across borders per year
    • 47 New prosecutions in Mexico City in 2010
    • 4 Trafficking offenders convicted
    • 4-17 years Length of sentences
    Source: Congressional Research Service/Mexico Attorney General's Office
  • 'Brothels on wheels'

    Many trafficking victims are taken to New York, where they often work gruelling shifts of 10 hours or more. Some women live and work in a brothel, only leaving the building when their pimp moves them to a new location. Other women are advertised on "chica cards", distributed in the street. Customers call the number on the card and women are delivered by car to a customer's house or hotel room. The women live in fear, frequently assaulted by their pimps and customers.

    Trafficking figures in New York
    • 14-19 Average age of victims
    • 25-30 Average number of male clients per shift
    • $30 Average amount paid for 15 minutes
    • $5,250 Average a brothel makes a week per woman
    Source: National Human Trafficking Resource Center
  • 'John School'

    The US has a federal anti-trafficking law and New York state has its own tough penalties. Though strong laws are in place, the problem is enforcing them. Women who co-operate in trafficking investigations can receive special visas allowing them to work legally. But convicting pimps is still difficult as many of their victims are too terrified to give evidence against them.

    Reducing the demand for prostitution is seen as one key to ending sex trafficking. In Brooklyn, New York, the district attorney's office runs a controversial programme to treat men convicted of using prostitutes. Called "John School" the men are taught that the women they are soliciting may be the victims of a sex trafficking operation.

    Trafficking figures in the US
    • 103 Human trafficking cases prosecuted in 2009/10
    • 181 Individuals charged
    • 141 Convictions
    • 11.8 years Average prison sentence
    Source: Trafficking in persons report 2011, US Dept of State

Produced by Laura Trevelyan, David Botti, Ignacio de los Reyes, Chuck Tayman, Nada Tawfik, Mark Bryson, Claire Shannon, Luke Ward.



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  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    The fact that human trafficking exists in this day and age is truly sickening. Maybe if our government would pay more attention to this problem instead of building up it's military for more expansion into the Middle East and Central Asia, this would go along way toward curbing it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    There will always be a demand for sex, drugs, etc. These demands are not going to end because they are made illegal; that will only push it underground. The better way may be to accept that they are a part of life, and to legalise and regulate them. Then people may not have to turn to those who provide these services illegally. The experience of the Netherlands and Portugal is worth studying.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    How much of this problem would go away if prostitution were legalised?
    Denmark saw a huge drop in violent crimes against women when it decriminalised prostitution.
    As long as there is demand, there will be providers.
    These 'crackdowns', whether well intentioned, or politically motivated, will prove to be just as "successful" as the US' "War on Drugs". Money talks, especially to US politicians.


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