For potentially 1,300 Latina women, living the American dream is a true nightmare.
Imagine you’re a sixteen-year-old girl living in a small town in Latin America. You meet a man and allow yourself to be swept away in a whirlwind romance. He seduces you and promises to take you to the United States where you can get married and start a life together. But after you’ve packed your bags and left your life behind, he changes. He overcomes you physically, mentally and emotionally. Through imposed isolation and prostitution, he slowly strips you down until you’re no longer sure who you are or what your relationship with him has become. Maybe he even has the power to kill your loved ones back home. Maybe you don’t see yourself as a victim. Maybe you think you deserve this.
For potentially 1,300 women hailing from across Latin America, this exercise would not require any imagination at all — this is simply their reality. According to Polaris, an organization that works to fight all forms of human trafficking and sexual slavery, the United States is dealing with a sex trade problem of epidemic proportions. A report published last week by Polaris states:
“Thousands of Latina or Hispanic women are prisoners of the sex trafficking industry in bars and cantina-type establishments across the United States. They are recruited and controlled by criminal networks, business owners or individual traffickers. They are deceived and enticed with the promise of romantic relationships, good jobs and safe passage to the U.S. Other women and girls are forced to sell sex by their parents, family members or intimate partners.”
Sexual trafficking is a very tricky business — literally. Traffickers trick young girls into working for them, preying on their romantic inexperience, lack of opportunities or poor family situations. Underage girls are often groomed by traffickers for years, allowing their recruiters time to brainwash the women before putting them to work in the United States.
And sadly, the number published by Polaris in their report does not represent the full scope of the problem. That total only signifies the number of Latina women who reached out for help over the last nine years through the National Human Trafficking Hotline or the BeFree Textline. That number does not include women entering the U.S. from outside Latin America, or those working in establishments outside of bars and cantinas. According to DoSomething.org, between 14,500 and 17,500 people are trafficked into the United States each year. The average age of a person entering the sex trade is between 12 and 14-years-old.
Inside the Polaris report is a heat map, detailing reported sexual trafficking cases from all over the country. While it’s easy to look at the map and become overwhelmed by the hot spots, experts are more concerned with the blank spaces that span the middle and Western portions of the U.S. According to them, blank spots don’t mean that those areas are free of sex trafficking — rather, they imply that so far, the traffickers just haven’t been caught.