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article imageTenancingo, the sex slavery capital of Mexico

By Jennifer GONZALEZ COVARRUBIAS (AFP)     Feb 2, 2018 in Crime

"Tenancingo" means "the walled city" in the Nahuatl language, and it lives up to its name: Mexico's sex slavery capital is not a place that welcomes scrutiny from outsiders.

Take for example the city's radio frequency jammer, which ensures that prying eyes -- police or journalists, for example -- cannot fly drones over certain neighborhoods to take aerial images.

Trying to get information on the ground is even more hazardous.

Plainclothes police who escorted AFP journalists on a recent trip to the central city's red-light district recommended staying in the car and driving without stopping, fearful that local lookouts would ring the church bells -- the signal to lynch intruders.

Last year, Interpol deployed 50 agents backed by 250 Mexican soldiers to arrest just three pimps in the city.

Police say traffickers in Tenancingo use mansions like this one under construction to flaunt their p...
Police say traffickers in Tenancingo use mansions like this one under construction to flaunt their power and lure vulnerable young women into their clutches
PEDRO PARDO, AFP

The cinderblock houses that line the main street stand in contrast with the luxurious and colorful four-story homes that are the symbols of the city's booming sex trafficking industry.

Police say traffickers use the mansions to flaunt their power and lure vulnerable young women into their clutches.

The pimps beat and torture the women to force them into prostitution, sometimes in Tenancingo or the surrounding area, sometimes as far away as the United States or even New Zealand.

"They take them north and sneak them across the border," said Juana Camila Bautista, a Mexico City prosecutor who specializes in sex trafficking cases.

- 'Like a princess' -

Karla Jacinto  25  was treated "like a princess" for months before her "boyfriend&quo...
Karla Jacinto, 25, was treated "like a princess" for months before her "boyfriend" forced her into prostitution at the age of 12, beating her and threatening to kill her
PEDRO PARDO, AFP

Karla Jacinto, a 25-year-old Mexican woman, was forced into prostitution at the age of 12.

Her nightmare began when a young man approached her in the subway in Mexico City, which sits about two hours' drive northeast of Tenancingo.

She was an emotionally fragile adolescent who liked skating and hip-hop and was anxious to escape an abusive mother who sometimes kicked her out of the house.

The young man claimed to share a similar story, gave her a candy, and paid her compliments she says felt like "the most sincere and honest" she had ever heard.

After asking her to marry him, he took her to Tlaxcala, another sex-trafficking hotspot near Tenancingo.

For three months he treated her "like a princess," she says: driving her around in a luxury car, inviting her to palatial homes, celebrating the fact that they would be "family" once they married.

Then one day it came crashing down.

Her "boyfriend" forced her into prostitution, beating her and threatening to kill her.

The first day, she had sex with more than 30 clients, she says.

"I screamed at them to stop, I closed my eyes," she told AFP.

That was her life for the next four years. If she failed to meet her daily quota, her boyfriend-turned-pimp beat her or burned her with an iron, nearly killing her three different times, she says.

After managing to escape, she now tours the country speaking to groups of schoolgirls on the danger of sex slavery.

- 'Worthless' -

Former pimp Mario Hidalgo  now a born-again Christian  says he used to prey on young  vulnerable wom...
Former pimp Mario Hidalgo, now a born-again Christian, says he used to prey on young, vulnerable women hungry for affection
PEDRO PARDO, AFP

"Young, vulnerable women hungry for affection" make the easiest prey for traffickers, says Mario Hidalgo, 39, who targeted just such victims for a decade as a pimp.

Hidalgo started in the trade as a 17 year-old cleaning used condoms from the rooms where his bosses forced their prostitutes to have sex with clients.

Two years later he was promoted to luring in victims himself.

Now a born-again Christian, he says he came to believe that "women are worthless" by seeing his mother beaten and exploited as a boy.

Hidalgo became inured to the violence of his trade.

"I was careful never to beat them on the face or legs. I beat them really hard, but on the back, the butt. I even gave them electric shocks sometimes," he says, struggling to get his words out at the small house outside Mexico City where he now lives.

Mario Hidalgo  who worked for a decade as a pimp  says he wants to remove his tatoos of naked and bo...
Mario Hidalgo, who worked for a decade as a pimp, says he wants to remove his tatoos of naked and bound women because they remind him of his past
PEDRO PARDO, AFP

He and his brother Jesus ran a network of up to 20 prostitutes, each of whom could bring in nearly $400 a day -- until they were arrested in 2003.

Now he wants to remove the tattoos of bound and naked women on his arms that remind him of his past.

Sex trafficking is Mexico's second-most-lucrative form of organized crime after drug trafficking, according to Bautista, the prosecutor.

"We manage to eradicate some gangs, but the same number or more immediately sprout up to take their place," she says.

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