CAP Mexico - Proteja

CAP Mexico Rallies NGOs and Government to Combat Human Trafficking

Paola and Laura, natives of Cali, Columbia's Salsa capital, loved to dance. When a stranger promised them well-paying jobs dancing in a nightclub in Mexico City, the two women, ages 19 and 25 respectively, leapt at the chance to leave home, fulfill a dream and earn enough to send money back to their families.

All too soon, their dream became a nightmare. They were arrested at the Mexican border. Then, another stranger bailed them out and transported them to the capitol city where they were forced to dance long hours in a seamy strip bar and serve as escorts for men twice their age. Stealing most of what they earned, the owner of the club persistently abused them, calling them whores, withholding food and threatening to kill their family members in Columbia if they tried to escape.

Lured by hope for a better life, Paola and Laura became two of the estimated 600,000 to 800,000 victims worldwide who are preyed upon and sold for sex and labor each year. Although a global problem, organized crime networks have found Mexico a particularly attractive place to do business. Uniquely situated between Central America and the United States, Mexico is considered a source, transit and destination country for trafficking in persons (TIP). Adding to its appeal has been the lack of comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation, making it easy for people, like the man who recruited Paola and Laura, to act with impunity.

Standing up against the traffickers

With funding from USAID under the President's Initiative to Combat Trafficking in Persons, the Capable Partners Program (CAP) Mexico TIP Shelter Project— PROTEJA, "to protect" in Spanish—enlisted 127 civil society organizations and 95 government departments and agencies to work on improving legal protection and access to quality services available to victims.

In 2007, a major milestone was reached: national legislation that recognizes human trafficking as a serious crime worthy of prosecution was enacted. Seven Mexican states have followed with similar legislation, and many others are considering anti-trafficking reforms of their own.  

Beyond legislation, PROTEJA spearheaded a holistic effort to address the emotional, physical, medical and legal needs of trafficking victims. In the past, victims had few places to go for help or security. Today PROTEJA supports and funds numerous shelters that house and address the specific needs of men, women and children who have been sexually exploited and forced into subservient labor. Through workshops and trainings, shelter workers, law enforcement officers and other service providers throughout Mexico are now better able to identify victims and connect to the resources they need. PROTEJA also has reached out to vulnerable populations, educating them on how to detect predators and prevent themselves from being trafficked all together.

While much remains to be done, with the support of PROTEJA, Mexico is on the frontline of a new anti-slavery movement. As more and more citizens align against the traffickers, women like Paola and Laura will no longer be robbed of their dreams.