A new documentary by Fusion tells the story of Tenancingo, Mexico — just a few hours south of Mexico City. Tenancingo is in the Mexican state that is the single largest source of sex slaves who are sent to the U.S., according to the U.S. State Department.
Fusion’s documentary, “Pimp City: A Journey to the Center of the Sex Slave Trade,” takes place on both sides of the border: in Tenancingo and in Queens, New York. Many of the women taken in Tenancingo wind up working in Queens.
Among those interviewed by the Fusion team are a woman named Miranda, who was taken as a 14-year-old in Tenancingo by a local man who forced her to become a sex slave, and a Tenancingo man now in prison for trafficking, who explains how he got into the business.
Alice Brennan, producer of “Pimp City,” discusses the documentary with Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson.
Interview Highlights: Alice Brennan
On the girls forced into the sex trade
“Miranda’s story is, unfortunately, brutally common. She was 14, sitting in a park in a small town in Mexico and a man who identified himself as ‘Rodolfo’ introduced himself to her and eventually kidnapped her. Through his family network, he forced her into prostitution, and trafficked her to Queens, where she was forced into a life of being a sex slave. As you just heard in that clip, she’d see up to 60 men a day — $35 each in 15 minute increments. It’s just– it’s incredible.”
On the clients and network
“Men hang around — especially in New York — men hang around subway stations handing out cards. They’re called ‘chica cards.’ Often, they’ll be advertising things like children’s birthday parties, flowers, balloons… When in fact on the back of the card there is a cell phone number. And you can call the cell phone number and you will have a girl either delivered to you or you can go to a specific place, as well. These girls are transported all around the country, as well. That was something that was really alarming to us — the broad network of drivers, of guards. The girls would be transported to farms, would be transported to factories, to industrial areas to service up to 60 men a day.”
On the nature of the sex trade before it reaches the United States
“It is something that has become intergenerational in Tenancingo. I mean, I grew up in a town where farming and carpentry was the thing to do. In Tenancingo, it just so happens that sex trafficking is the trade. So these young boys are taught that it’s not only okay, but this is how you make money. This is your path in life.”
- Alice Brennan, investigative producer for Fusion who produced “Pimp City: A Journey to the Center of the Sex Slave Trade.” She tweets @alicitabrennan.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
Today the White House is making its formal request for additional powers to fast track the deportation of tens of thousands of unaccompanied children who have crossed the border illegally. President Obama says the influx is a humanitarian crisis and has ordered an increase in the number of border agents, and wants emergency shelters opened at military bases. We'll continue to follow that story for you.
But right now we want to hear about another part of the immigration story that doesn't get much attention and that may not be suitable for some of our younger listeners. It's about prostitutes being brought to this country from a small city in Mexico, and it's the subject of a new Fusion documentary called, “Pimp City: A Journey to the Center of the Sex Slave Trade.” Alice Brennan is the program's producer. She's with us from NPR West in Culver City, California. Welcome.
ALICE BRENNAN: Thanks for having me, Jeremy.
HOBSON: Well, let's start with that title, "Pimp City." This is a city in Mexico called Tenancingo. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
BRENNAN: Sure, so Tenancingo sits in one of the smallest, safest states in Mexico. It's two hours south of Mexico City. The state is called Tlaxcala, and that state has been identified by the U.S. Department of Justice as the single largest source of sex slaves to the U.S. in the world.
HOBSON: The single largest source?
BRENNAN: Yeah. In other words, nowhere else - no single place anywhere else in the world - sends more sex slaves to the U.S. than Tlaxcala.
HOBSON: And what is it about Tenancingo that has created that situation?
BRENNAN: It's really interesting. We spoke to a lot of anthropologists and researchers in the course of this documentary, and no one really knows what it is about Tenancingo, except for that it used to be an industrial area. It used to be an agricultural area, and when many of the factories closed down, it said that some enterprising young men decided to try their hand at selling women and realized how profitable and lucrative it was. And the trade spread from there. And that's what's made Tenancingo what it is today.
HOBSON: Well, and it has spread all over the United States. These sex slaves are being found in city after city, including in Queens, New York. Let's take a listen to a clip from the documentary now. This is when you and the correspondent, Marianna van Zeller, sent a colleague onto the streets of Queens. It took him five minutes to connect with someone who could get him a girl and just as he is about to go into the house, you guys call him on the phone and Marianna pretends to be his wife. He picks up the phone. Let's listen as he manages to get out.
(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "PIMP CITY")
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Hi, honey. How are you? I'm OK, I'm OK. I should probably head back.
VAN ZELLER: Our cross street is 81st. So we're going to be on 37th and 81st. OK? See you there. Coming in.
UNIDENTIFIED CAMERA MAN: So, I'm still rolling.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: It's actually. It's more pervasive than I thought. It just felt really seedy. I mean it was just like a basement of a house. You could - the walls were very bare - and you could hear clearly people having sex.
HOBSON: And this in Queens is connected to what's happening in Tenancingo?
BRENNAN: It is connected to what's happening in Tenancingo. Queens has been identified by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice as one of the largest hubs for the Tenancingo sex trafficking ring and the area that this brothel - this particular brothel sits in - has been identified on international watch lists as a specific place where Tenancingo pimps bring their girls. Now, we don't know specifically - we can't confirm whether that brothel is populated by girls from Tenancingo, but that's our sneaking suspicion.
HOBSON: Well, one woman that we hear from who's working in the U.S. as a prostitute is Miranda, and here is a clip of her describing her pimp and their relationship.
(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "PIMP CITY")
MIRANDA: If there was missing condom and I have not made money with that condom he would beat me.
BRENNAN: Because he would think that you be keeping the money away from him?
MIRANDA: Yes. He made me to work over time, almost 24 hours. I saw 60 men..
BRENNAN: 60 men per week?
MIRANDA: No, per day.
BRENNAN: 60 men per day.
HOBSON: How did she wind up in that situation?
BRENNAN: Look, Miranda’s story is, unfortunately, brutally common. She was 14, sitting in a park in a small town in Mexico and a man who identified himself as ‘Rodolfo’ introduced himself to her and eventually kidnapped her. And through his family network, forced her into prostitution, trafficked her to Queens, where she was forced into a life of being a sex slave. As you just heard in that clip, she’d see up to 60 men a day - $35 each in 15 minute increments. It’s just - it’s incredible.
HOBSON: And what about the clients? How do people find these sex workers who have come over from Mexico illegally - had been smuggled into the country and put in these situations ?
BRENNAN: Look, you heard Rayna (ph) say when he got back in the car, it's incredibly pervasive. It took him less than 5 minutes. These - men hang around, especially in New York - men hang around at subway stations handing out cards. They’re called ‘chica cards. Often, they’d be advertising things like children’s birthday parties, flowers, balloons. When in fact on the back of the card there is a cell phone number. And you can call the cell phone number and you will have a girl either delivered to you or you can go to a specific place, as well.
These girls are transported all around the country, as well. That was something that was really alarming to us - was the broad network of drivers, of guards. People would be - the girls would be transported to farms, would be transported to factories, to industrial areas to service up to 60 men a day.
HOBSON: I want to take you back to Tenancingo, where you guys went as part of this documentary. And there was a religious festival underway and you were noticed. Let's listen here:
(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "PIMP CITY")
BRENNAN: The first thing he's telling us, he told us, like, it's OK for you to film, but only if you film - you talk about the carnival, nothing else. We don't want any other news coming out of this town. So it's pretty obvious here that everybody knows - there's sort of a hidden secret here which is sex traffickers. Oops, I said that too loud. I might have said that too loud. Because we have the big audience of people. You should film around us. Everybody's looking.
HOBSON: Is there any attempt to stop this at its core in Tenancingo?
BRENNAN: Look, we visited the Mexican equivalent of the Attorney General when we were in Mexico City, who has this incredible map. They map out the network of these families. It's thousands and thousands of people involved. And they've identified kingpins, they've identified drivers, they've identified, you know, people working doors, all that sort of stuff. And we're like, what's happening? And the people we spoke to, it's like, it's very difficult. The police, the authorities are often involved in the trafficking.
The pimp who we actually spoke to in a U.S. federal prison, who has been convicted, who has been sentenced said to us that the police officer who arrested him offered him his freedom for $30,000. And we were like, well, what happened? And he said, I didn't have $30,000 on me, so here I am. Often, the police are very, very caught up in this in Mexico. There have been, I think, 17 convictions in Mexico since 2002, which is a very low number.
HOBSON: He also told you, by the way, that there are little boys who are 10, 11 years old who decide they don't want to study anymore and they just want to be like their parents and in many cases their fathers are pimps.
BRENNAN: He first started when he was 12, he fully got into the trade when he was 15. And it's something that has become intergenerational in Tenancingo. I mean, I grew up in a town where farming and carpentry was the thing to do. In Tenancingo, it just so happens that sex trafficking is the trade. So these young boys are taught that it’s not only OK, but this is how you make money. This is your path in life and their not taught that anything wrong with it either.
HOBSON: Alice Brennan is producer on the new Fusion investigative report, "Pimp City: A Journey to the Center of the Sex Slave Trade." Alice, thank you for joining us.
BRENNAN: Thank you so much, Jeremy.
HOBSON: And we'll link you to the Fusion site where you can watch the documentary at our website hereandnow.org. HERE AND NOW is a production of NPR and WBUR Boston in association with the BBC World Service. I'm Jeremy Hobson.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
I'm Robin Young. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.