BOGOTA (TrustLaw) - Mexican journalist, Lydia Cacho, is used to receiving death threats but it was the latest one two months ago that prompted her to flee her home in the resort city of Cancun in southern Mexico.
Cacho got a call from a man on what she thought was her secure satellite radio at home.
“We have already warned you, bitch, don’t mess with us … we are going to send you home in pieces,” the caller said.
Since then Cacho has been in Colombia, with a bodyguard and police escort in tow, and in Europe to promote her new book Slavery Inc: The Untold Story of International Sex Trafficking.
Cacho says this latest threat could be related to the revelations made in the book.
Based on interviews with drug smugglers, human traffickers, mobsters, and the testimonies of scores of children and women trafficked for sex work across the world, the book delves into a criminal underworld.
It reveals a global network of corrupt police and army officers, immigration officials, judges, bankers, businessmen, organised crime networks and politicians involved in a multi-billion dollar industry.
IT BOILS DOWN TO MATHS
Just how big the problem of human trafficking is and how many billions of dollars it is worth across the world, no-one really knows.
According to a 2008 U.N. report, it’s estimated that 2.5 million people, including children, are at any given time the victims of trafficking. Of that figure nearly 80 percent are forced to work in the sex trade and the rest in other forms of forced labour including farm work and sweatshops.
However the U.S. government says 27 million people are trafficked at any one time, and the ILO puts the figure at 9 million.
In Slavery Inc, Cacho makes links between the tourism industry, internet pornography, fake modelling agencies, drugs and arms smuggling, and money laundering, which all play a part in the global human trafficking trade.
One of the key questions Cacho wanted to answer is to what extent - and why - are some drug cartels, including those in Mexico, involved in the sale of human beings.
One criminal Cacho interviewed in jail gave her an answer. It boils down to maths.
“He told me: ‘One kilo of cocaine I can sell only once. One girl I can sell a hundred times’,” Cacho told TrustLaw in Bogota.
As part of her research for Slavery Inc, Cacho spent five years travelling to the world’s sex tourism and human trafficking hotspots in Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East.
Sometimes Cacho walked through dangerous neighbourhoods in Mexico City dressed as a nun. Other times she went undercover disguised as a prostitute, a look she describes as “Lady Gaga-like”, sporting long false eyelashes, a wig and high heels.
When she first put the disguise to the test in Cancun, it was a close call.
“At the entrance of a brothel the bouncer stopped me and said: ‘You don’t work here’. My male friend, who’d agreed to come with me, quickly said: ‘We’re looking for a girl to do a trio with’. And with that we were let in,” Cacho told an audience at her recent book launch in Bogota.
Cacho’s disguises helped her to meet girls and women sold into the sex trade, from dingy strip bars in Myanmar, luxury hotels in Thailand, casinos selling girls under 10 years old in Cambodia, to brothels in Tokyo where girls were dressed as Manga characters.
What most of the girls and women who Cacho meets across the world have in common, is the violence they experience at the hands of clients and pimps.
There is Rodha, a teenager from a religious family in the United States, who was tricked into thinking she would be a singer in a fancy nightclub in Japan.
Cacho describes how Rodha was drugged and kept prisoner in a hotel room. There she was raped for 24 hours “in all the ways possible” by some 40 men belonging to Japan’s biggest organised crime syndicate – yakuza – before escaping.
“Every one of them had their own perversions,” Rodha is quoted as saying in Slavery Inc. “Some put objects inside me, in such a way that I suffered serious haemorrhaging. Up until now, the scars left on my genitals means I can’t have children,” Rodha said.
Another common theme among many of the girls and women Cacho interviews, is that they come from poor and abusive homes.
“Human trafficking, slavery, is about poverty and the lack of opportunities, jobs, education. It’s about public policies against malnutrition, poverty and inequality. It’s about asking did this girl really have the opportunities to survive otherwise?” Cacho said at her book launch.
As such for Cacho, prostitution is not a choice. She is adamant that no woman or girl wants to become a prostitute and be forced to sleep with dozens of clients a night.
Cacho, like many other investigative journalists in Mexico, risks her life on the job.
In 2005, Cacho was abducted by police officers and bundled into a van. While she was driven for 20 hours across Mexico, police rammed a gun in her face and taunted her with threats that she would be drowned, raped or murdered, Cacho said.
She believes the ordeal was in retaliation for a book she wrote, Demons of Eden, accusing one of Mexico's richest businessmen and local politicians of conspiring with human traffickers in child pornography and sex trafficking rings in Cancun.
The naming and shaming of Mexico’s elite landed Cacho in jail for a year on defamation and libel charges.
Despite this, Cacho remains undeterred.
Cacho says she will return to Mexico and continue to tell the stories of survivors of human trafficking, rights abuses and gender-based violence.
“I will return to my country,” Cacho said. “They’re not going to scare me away from my country. They are the criminals, not me.”
(Editing by Alex Whiting)
See also: Interview with Lydia Cacho