Authorities in Colombia have dismantled three child prostitution rings -- including one allegedly involving a beauty queen -- highlighting a widespread problem with child sex tourism and the links between the networks involved.
In simultaneous operations on October 12, US and Colombian authorities dismantled child prostitution networks in the cities of Cartagena, Medellin, and Armenia, reported El Tiempo.
According to Semana, five alleged members of the Cartagena ring -- including local beauty queen and model Kelly Johana Suarez Moya -- were captured while they hosted a party for sex tourists on an island near the city. The victims included 25 minors between the ages of 13 and 17, who told authorities they had been tricked into attending the party. Suarez is accused of recruiting the minors through social media under the guise of a modeling agency.
In Medellin, four individuals were arrested when they attempted to offer child prostitutes to undercover US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents posing as sex tourists. According to El Tiempo, many of the victims of the ring were reportedly drugged with the synthetic drug 2CB.
Investigations revealed ties between prostitution networks in Cartagena and other parts of the country, reported El Heraldo. According to El Tiempo, the prostitution ring dismantled in Armenia was linked to networks that trafficked children from the coffee region (where Armenia is located) to cities on the Atlantic Coast.
InSight Crime Analysis
In addition to illustrating the tactics employed by child prostitution rings, the recent captures indicate how networks in different regions of Colombia can be interconnected. As illustrated by the case in Medellin, in which a taxi driver helped recruit girls, these rings are often shielded and facilitated by legitimate businesses linked to tourism. Hotels are another major culprit in this regard.
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Child prostitution is a major problem in Colombia, where, according to 2011 estimates, some 35,000 minors are victims of sexual exploitation. The problem is fueled by sex tourism, especially in tourist hubs like Cartagena where a large number of impoverished children are coerced or forced into prostitution.
Medellin is another child prostitution hub, with young girls in some cases exploited by gangs and sold into the sex trade. Some of these girls are even auctioned off to sex tourists who bid on their virginity.