Every couple of weeks, a van would take her and other women and girls—some as young as 12—to Charlotte, where she would spend a week or more, forced to have sex with strangers at a brothel by night and at farm labor camps by day.
Keep up with this story and more by subscribing now Sex trafficking flourishes in areas of male-dominated industries, such as fracking and oil boomtowns, military bases and, as a slew of recent court cases and victim accounts show, farm labor camps.
Department of State estimates that traffickers bring some 14, to 17, people into the United States each year. Traffickers set up shop in metropolitan areas—they often choose Queens for its central location along the Eastern corridor to cities north and south, plus its big clientele base in New York City—and send women to farms near and far, ranging from Vermont to Florida.
Bletzer, an adjunct faculty member at Arizona State University who has studied prostitution in agricultural areas, says that until recent years, women went to farm labor camps on their own to sell sex out of financial necessity. In some cases, pimps posing as boyfriends lure victims and shuttle them from brothel to brothel.
In other instances, coyotes smuggle women across the border and then force or coerce them into selling sex to pay off smuggling fees. The United Nations says criminals who once trafficked weapons and drugs have made women their latest commodity. For Janet, who requested that Newsweek refer to her by the name she used most when she was a prostitute, that breakdown took more than a decade.
From there, many pimps take their victims to work in Mexico City; some later go to the U. Janet grew up with her grandmother in Puebla, a half-hour drive from Tenancingo. One day in , when Janet was 23, she was walking home from her factory job when a car pulled up beside her. But the man from the car kept showing up. In Puebla, when a woman gets into a car with a man, the first thing the man does is he starts grabbing her.
Shaminder Dulai for Newsweek In July , after knowing Ricardo for a little more than year, Janet agreed to move in with his family in Tenancingo, leaving her daughter in the care of her grandmother. But when she arrived, she learned that his name was Antonio, not Ricardo, and that he was a pimp. His family lived in squalor, even worse than where Janet had grown up. Water poured in through the ceiling when it rained, and children ran around barefoot and played with soiled diapers.
After six months, Janet decided to leave Antonio, but discovered she was pregnant and stayed. First, Antonio forced Janet to take pills so she would have a miscarriage.
Weeks later, he told her she had to become a prostitute. At first she protested, saying she had worked a good job in a factory and could find work like that again. But he insisted, and eventually she gave in. Her first time selling sex was on the streets of Mexico City. Reluctantly, Janet agreed, and in June they made their way across the border and to Queens. In Tenancingo, Tlaxcala, a little town of 10, that has become world famous as the center of the country's international sex trafficking trade, families of pimps are known for their large, gaudy homes.
Like Janet, most of them came to America in search of opportunity and, also like Janet, are being steadily ground down by a system working against them.
Few suburban supermarket shoppers know that federal labor laws exclude farmworkers from certain rights most Americans take for granted, such as overtime pay, days off and collective bargaining. State by state, advocates have tried to change that, but Big Agriculture usually manages to thwart the efforts. Seasonal crop farm laborers typically live in barracks for a few months at a time. At year-round livestock farms, workers live in cheap houses or trailers.
The scene is a volatile mix, ripe for violence. What happens on the farms, says Cohen, is rape. Most people in the town of approximately 10, people will either deny or ignore any knowledge of the sequestering young girls from other towns in Tenancingo's giant mansions.
Janet still had to sell sex, and a routine developed: Antonio would spend his days playing soccer and billiards, while Janet had to work at brothels in Queens and Boston. Once Antonio learned about the opportunity to sell sex to farmworkers, he began sending Janet to Charlotte.
There, a white, one-story, three-bedroom house near the end of a winding road served as a brothel, offering johns a constant rotation of out-of-state women. Janet and the other victims would see men there from 7 at night to 3 in the morning, sleep until 11 a. They would grab me. They were pushing me. They would grab me by the neck. They would penetrate me really hard. So when they finished, it was like my salvation. She tried to make them wear condoms, but sometimes the condoms would break or the men would take them off.
Janet says she had so many abortions—always done with Cytotec pills, widely used in the trafficking world—that she lost track of how many. She lived in constant fear. Antonio still promised they would get married, and he told Janet he was sending the money she earned back to Mexico, where someone was building them a house.
For one ring that serviced farmworkers, prosecutors learned the pimps went so far as to impregnate their victims just so they could hold the children hostage. Sadly, some victims go to great lengths to protect their traffickers or return to their pimps, despite the help of law enforcement and advocates. However, he stayed in contact with Janet by phone and expected her to continue working and wiring him money. Meanwhile, Janet was in touch with her daughter, who was still in Mexico and had medical expenses stemming from an accident.
To cover those expenses, Janet asked Antonio if she could use some of the money she made, but he refused. So she went to the Mexican Consulate in New York City for advice, and after she described her predicament, consulate staff contacted Sanctuary for Families. That visit to the consulate set in motion an investigation by U.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement, beginning in Investigators conducted surveillance and pored over phone, travel and financial records, in order to identify and locate key members of the ring. In , officials extradited him, and he was sentenced in June He and three cousins all pleaded guilty and are now serving sentences ranging from 15 to 22 years. The path that led Antonio to trafficking became clear in court materials. He was an orphan at the age of 6, after his mother abandoned him and his father died of alcoholism; an uncle in Tenancingo took him in but routinely beat him with a whip and starved him; he grew up without schooling, friends or affection.
On the day of the sentencing, appearing in a Brooklyn courtroom as Jane Doe No. I am here today so Antonio and his family will no longer be able to force another woman into prostitution. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. A victim who asked that Newsweek refer to her as Katarin, the name she used as a prostitute, says she endured years of forced prostitution at farm labor camps. She was only 13 in when her future pimp approached the park bench where she was sitting in a village near Puebla after finishing her work shift at an ice cream shop.
The boy, 16, introduced himself. She thought he was handsome, and after a week they were romantically involved. Three weeks after they met, she went to live with his family in Tenancingo. Five months later, they crossed the border by foot with smugglers into Arizona.
Then they took a van to Queens, and three days later, he forced her into prostitution. She would see 30 to 40 men a day in bunks ridden with bedbugs; many of the men were violently drunk, and some would use knives or scissors to break open their condoms.
By , she had developed a vaginal infection that left her in unbearable pain, and when her pimp said she had to continue working, she decided to escape. She went to the police, who helped get her to a hospital and a safe house. Her pimp ran away and remains at large. A State Department report identifies identifies the town of Tenancingo, Tlaxcala, as the area of high sex trafficking between Mexico and the United States.
Customs and Border Protection. In the mids, interested in a career in law enforcement, Hayes, now 41 and a Brooklyn native, chose border patrol over the New York Police Department. From there, he moved to Los Angeles to take down gangs, and he entered his current role in Since then, he says, his office has rescued more than trafficking victims and made at least trafficking-related arrests.
In May , following another bust by Hayes, a judge found two Mexican brothers guilty of running a ring that operated four brothels and trafficked women to farms in New Jersey. Fifteen other members of the ring faced charges, including one man whose job was to sweep cars for tracking devices. At least two of the dozen victims Nicholson rescued had been forced to have sex with migrant laborers in sweet potato fields in Georgia and the Carolinas.
The problem exists in the Midwest too. In October, Michigan officials in Lenawee County, a rural area outside of Toledo, Ohio, accused a local man of trafficking two American women in their 20s to farmworkers there.
Two separate cases, prosecuted between and , involved transporting women from Queens to farms in Vermont for sex. In one, which involved at least five women, the liaison between the pimp and farmworkers was a caseworker at the Vermont Department for Children and Families.
He had taken advantage of the fact that workers depended on him for goods and services, and supplied them with not only clothing, for which he marked up the prices, but also women.
Hayes says his office is pursuing dozens of human trafficking cases. She sits in a conference room on the 28th floor of a building in midtown Manhattan wearing a black jacket and purple shirt, her hair pushed back with a headband.
There are panoramic views, but she focuses on the table in front of her, using a pencil to sketch her childhood home in Puebla. That was where she was happiest and felt safest, a time of blue quinceanera dresses and Christmas turkey dinners. Growing up there, she learned from her grandmother the importance of loving relationships. Living in the U.