The rescue of three Venezuelans forced into sex trafficking in Mexico City has once again shone a spotlight on the ongoing violent treatment and deaths of Venezuelan migrants in the country.
In May, the three women were found in the neighborhood of San Pedro de los Pinos, after a friend reported the case to the police. According to Mexican newspaper Milenio, the women arrived in Mexico in January. They had their passports and visas retained by the traffickers until they had paid off the cost of their journey through sexual exploitation. Their services were then offered online.
In 2019, a report by Venezuelan news portal Armando Info presented an alarming statistic. Since 2012, 60 percent of all Venezuelan sexual workers killed abroad were in Mexico. And these murders are continuing to increase, having risen by 200 percent since 2017.
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While human trafficking linked to sexual exploitation has long been a major concern in Mexico, the prevalence of Venezuelan women has soared since their country entered a crippling economic crisis, causing millions to flee overseas.
Most of these women are recruited in Venezuela, then travel to Colombia and on to Mexico, usually lured under false promises of work. Corruption facilitates their entry, with El Universal reporting in 2018 that migration officials at Mexico City's international airport received between 14,000 and 19,000 pesos (between around $712 and $967) to let women enter the country.
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While there are no reliable estimates about the number of women forced into sexual exploitation in Mexico, the country's track record for protecting its own citizens is woeful, let alone foreign nationals.
The most infamous case involving Venezuelan women illustrates just how vulnerable they are. Zona Divas was reportedly Mexico's most successful "escorts" website for close to 20 years before being shut down in 2018. Much of its success was built on the sexual exploitation of Venezuelan women but it did nothing to protect them. In 2017 and 2018, eight Venezuelan women featured on Zona Divas were killed in Mexico, a joint investigation by Mexican and Venezuelan media revealed.
And their exploitation may involve some of Mexico's principal criminal actors. A report by Nexos found alleged links between the Sinaloa Cartel and Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación - CJNG) and the trafficking of Venezuelan women. Smaller groups such as the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel and the Unión de Tepito have also been linked to sexual trafficking.
In Mexico City alone, reports of sexual trafficking increased by 87 percent from 2018 to 2019, according to the Ministry of Public Security. But this rise in reported cases has made no difference to actual prosecutions and convictions.
"The problem is that the data from reported cases does not tell us much, as this is a crime with multiple causes. This doesn't tell us if [Mexico City] is the place of origin, of transit or the destination [for the women]. This is not reflected in the statistics from the ministry," said Teresa Ulloa, director of the Coalition Against the Trafficking of Women and Girls in Latin America and the Caribbean (Coalición contra el Tráfico de Mujeres y Niñas en América Latina y el Caribe -- CATWLAC), in an interview with online portal Cuestione.
And impunity remains sky-high. "Most of the victims of human trafficking do not speak up. We calculate that 90 percent [remain silent] while 99 percent of these crimes ... are never punished," explained Ulloa.
Venezuelan women, having entered the country on false papers and with little to no support networks, are even less likely to do so.