The Mexican town where nearly all boys grow up to be pimps
by Gaye Clark
Posted 6/07/16, 01:22 pm
A Mexican sex trafficker on the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s 10 most wanted list pleaded guilty Monday to federal charges of sex trafficking a woman for more than eight years. Paulino Ramirez-Granados was one of 12 members of the Granados family arrested in the small Mexican town of Tenancingo, extradited to the U.S., and then indicted in New York on sex trafficking charges.
While 12 members of one family involved in sex trafficking might seem like a lot anywhere else, in Tenancingo, that’s just business as usual.
In the small town 80 miles from Mexico City, 8-year-old boys playing in the streets aren’t shy about their future aspirations: “I want to be a pimp,” one proudly told a reporter, echoing the plans shared by his peers.
“Many kids aspire to be traffickers,” Emilio Munoz Berruecos, told the New York Daily News. Berruecos grew up in the next village and runs a local human rights center. “This is a phenomenon that goes back half a century.”
Tenancingo is home to about 11,000 people, and an estimated 3,000 or more men have made human trafficking their vocation. A study from the Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México claims 10,000 women are trafficked from Mexico to the U.S. each year for sex, making Tenancingo the leading provider of female sex slaves to the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Five of the 10 “most wanted” U.S. sex traffickers are from Tenancingo.
According to several documentaries produced by different media outlets, the town’s entire political structure and police force have been implicated in human trafficking. The area has an estimated annual worth of $1 billion, and most of the income has direct ties to the international sex trade.
The town also is home to organized crime operations that thrive with little police intervention. While many Mexican states have passed laws making human trafficking a crime, punishment in Mexico is rare. Before 2014, victims’ families didn’t have an official way to report trafficking in Tenancingo. Since then, there have been 120 complaints and 24 arrests without a single conviction. Between 2010 and 2013, only 17 pimps throughout Mexico were convicted of human trafficking.
National advocacy groups have known about Tenancingo for years.
“Boys are groomed to become pimps from a young age,” Bradley Myles, CEO of anti-trafficking organization Polaris, told CNN. He went on to say the sex trafficking cases from Tenancingo are “some of the most heartbreaking and shocking cases we’ve learned about.”
In February, traffickers return from the U.S. to Tenancingo to celebrate their wealth. The streets fill with carousers while men costumed as pimps, with hooded garb and whips, parade their prostitutes in the streets.
“It’s multi-generational,” Lori Cohen, a lawyer for Sanctuary for Families told the New York Daily News. “You have families where the grandfather, father, and son are all engaged in trafficking. They pass down the tricks of the trade.”
Girls as young as 12 and 13 often are tricked into coming to Tenancingo by young men pretending to be suitors. Through a family network such as the Granados’, women are forced into prostitution. Large homes painted pink, tangerine, or bright green stand several stories in the air, adorned with massive finials shaped like angels. Plaster swans decorate balconies. Windows are covered in mirrored glass, making it impossible to see inside. Women are held inside these “security houses” where some say they were repeatedly raped. If they have children, the kids are kept in the town for leverage after they are dispatched to red-light districts across Mexico and the United States.
A female victim in the New York case testified Ramirez-Granados threatened to harm her children if she did not comply. During the course of this recent investigation, police rescued more than 20 additional victims—all Mexican nationals. Other survivors from Tenancingo recounted being forced to see up to 60 men a day—charging $35 each in 15 minute increments. Fusion reported pimps trafficking just three women in Queens, N.Y., can make up to $1 million a year. The money made from the sale of these children gets wired back to Tenancingo, where mansions with lavish courtyards line the streets.
In Mexico, a stricter anti-trafficking bill has been passed but not signed into law. Mexican lawmaker Rosi Orozco hopes the tougher standards will deter trafficking.
Despite the uphill battle, Myles remains optimistic.
“This is a fight we can win,” he said. “We are witnessing more attention being paid to human trafficking by the public than ever before. This level of momentum from concerned citizens can truly have an impact in dismantling the human trafficking networks present in our communities.”
Ramirez-Granados will serve a minimum mandatory sentence of 15 years but could face life in prison.
Gaye is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute mid-career course.