“They took a gallon of gasoline and started pouring it over her. One of the men told me, ‘If you don’t do as I say I will do the same to you’. I wanted to look away – but they didn’t let me. Even though the girl was on fire they kept hitting her. They were laughing as if they were enjoying what they were doing.
They burnt her alive.”
This morning one of our supporters telephoned our office to tell me about a report he had watched on Channel 4 News last night. He said it was the most horrible thing he had ever seen. Reading the testimony of Maria, a teenager who escaped from a Mexican trafficking gang, you may be tempted to agree.
In a remarkable interview to Channel 4, Maria has given an account of the ordeal she suffered after being seduced, kidnapped, raped, and held captive for four months. She was taken from Ciudad Juarez in northern Mexico, and her story has put this troubled town back under the spotlight.
To the citizens of Juarez, cases such as Maria’s have lost the power to shock. But although the city has long had a reputation as the most violent and dangerous in the world, Maria’s abduction speaks of a new tragedy. Ten years ago, the bodies of young women who had disappeared would turn up, raped and mutilated, in fields and ditches outside the town. Now, they aren’t turning up at all. In the last year almost 50 girls have gone missing, and with the exception of Maria, none has come back.
Their families suspected that many had been taken by trafficking rings, and it now seems that their fears may have been have been confirmed. Maria tells of girls held captive and forced into prostitution, as she was. She tells of teenagers raped and killed for daring to disobey their traffickers. Most shockingly, she tells of children and babies kidnapped and sold to Americans. Among others, the gang dealt with a contact in New York: “She called and was very angry. She said she needed a seven-year-old girl and a nine-year-old boy – and she needed them in three days.”
The extent of the crimes implicated in Maria’s account has prompted interest from the US State Department, which is launching an investigation. Yet whatever comes of this it is difficult to imagine that justice will ever be done for all the other girls that have gone missing, or that the disappearances will end. Maria accuses the Mexican government of indifference, corruption, and even complicity in these crimes. Whether or not this is true, it is clear that the authorities are failing in their responsibilities. The girls that have gone missing are mostly from middle-class homes: they are neither poor nor desperate. Yet the combination of demand in America, lawlessness in Juarez, and apathy in Mexico City is fuelling this horror.
STOP THE TRAFFIK knows the importance of education in preventing trafficking. Our START FREEDOM campaign is informing children around the world of the dangers of human trafficking, and we have recently been contacted by someone in Mexico who wants to introduce the campaign into 18 rural communities. It will inevitably take more than just awareness-raising to stop the traffic in Ciudad Juarez – it needs a radical and concerted effort, one that addresses the destruction caused by the Mexican drug wars, and the market created by the sex industry in America, as well as the disappearances themselves. But educating communities about the dangers is one way to start.
Go to the START FREEDOM website, and start spreading the word: www.startfreedom.org