Karla Jacinto is sitting in a serene garden. She looks at the ordinary sights of flowers and can hear people beyond the garden walls, walking and talking in Mexico City.
She looks straight into my eyes, her voice cracking slightly, as she tells me the number she wants me to remember — 43,200.
By her own estimate, 43,200 is the number of times she was ra ped after falling into the hands of human traffickers.
She says up to 30 johns a day, seven days a week, for the best part of four years — 43,200.
Her story highlights the brutal realities of human trafficking in Mexico and the United States, an underworld that has destroyed the lives of tens of thousands of Mexican girls like Karla.
Human trafficking has become a trade so lucrative and prevalent, that it knows no borders and links towns in central Mexico with cities like Atlanta and New York.
U.S. and Mexican officials both point to a town in central Mexico that for years has been a major source of human trafficking rings and a place where victims are taken before being eventually forced into prostitution. The town is called Tenancingo.
Karla says she was abused for as long as she can remember and felt rejected by her mother. “I came from a dysfunctional family. I was se xually abused and mistreated from the age of 5 by a relative,’ she says.
When she was 12 she was targeted by a trafficker who lured her away using kind words and a fast car.
She says she was waiting for some friends near a subway station in Mexico City, when a little boy selling sweets came up to her, telling her somebody was sending her a piece of candy as a gift.
Five minutes later, Karla says, an older man was talking to her, telling her that he was a used car salesman.
The initial awkwardness disappeared as soon as the man started telling her that he was also abused as a boy. He was also very affectionate and quite a gentleman, she says.
They exchanged phone numbers and when he called a week later, Karla says she got excited. He asked her to go on a trip to nearby Puebla with him and dazzled her by showing up driving a bright red Firebird Trans Am.
“When I saw the car I couldn’t believe it. I was very impressed by such a big car. It was exciting for me. He asked me to get in the car to go places,” she says.
‘RED FLAGS’ WERE EVERYWHERE
It didn’t take long for the man, who at 22 was 10 years older than Karla, to convince her to leave with him, especially after Karla’s mother didn’t open the door one night when she came home a little too late.
“The following day I left with him. I lived with him for three months during which he treated me very well. He loved on me, he bought me clothes, gave me attention, bought me shoes, flowers, chocolates, everything was beautiful,” Karla says.
But there were red flags everywhere also.
Karla says her boyfriend would leave her by herself for a week in their apartment. His cousins would show up with new girls every week. When she finally mustered the courage to ask what business they were in, he told her the truth. “They’re pimps,” he said.
“A few days later he started telling me everything I had to do; the positions, how much I need to charge, the things I had to do with the client and for how long, how I was to treat them and how I had to talk to them so that they would give me more money,” Karla says.
One day, when she was working at a hotel known for prostitution, police showed up. They kicked out of all of the customers, Karla says, and shut down the hotel. She thought it was her lucky day — a police operation to rescue her and the other girls.
Her relief turned quickly to horror when the officers, about 30 she says, took the girls to several rooms and started shooting video of them in compromising positions. The girls were told the videos would be sent to their families if they didn’t do everything they asked.
“I thought they were disgusting. They knew we were minors. We were not even developed. We had sad faces. There were girls who were only 10 years old. There were girls who were crying. They told the officers they were minors and nobody paid attention,” Karla says. She was 13 years old at the time.
In her nightmare world even a pregnancy was cause for horror not joy.
Karla gave birth at 15 to a girl — a baby fathered by the pimp who would use the daughter to tighten the noose around her neck: if she didn’t fulfill his every wish, he would either harm or kill the baby.
He took the baby away from her a month after the baby was born, and she was not allowed to see her again until the girl was more than a year old.
Karla Jacinto was finally rescued in 2006 during an anti-trafficking operation in Mexico City.
Her ordeal lasted four very long and tormenting years. She was still a minor, only 16, when it ended — but she has endured a lifetime of horror that will stay with her as long as she lives.