A 24-year old woman who spent several years as a sex slave discussed the seedy underworld of NYC sex trafficking. The woman—whom the Daily News identifies as Sofia—was smuggled into the U.S. from Mexico and forced to work as a “delivery girl” prostitute riding from john to john in a livery cab. “I feel like I went to thousands of homes. How many in a day, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. All I know is that there were too many,” she said. “In some of them there would be as many as eight, 10 men.”
Sofia’s boyfriend convinced her that they would move from Tenancingo to New York, but she would have to go ahead of him. When she got here, she was taken in by a relative of his in Queens who turned out to be a veteran pimp—he told her she had to have sex to pay back her smugglers. “I asked him, ‘Isn’t there some other way?’ and he told me, ‘No.’” she recalled. “He told us that we couldn’t talk to anyone, because really, in this country, Immigration was checking and looking—and if I talked they would put me in jail, for a long time.”
She spent most of the next year turning tricks. A cab driver was in charge of her schedule and her earnings most nights—he told her to charge Hispanic johns $35 and white guys $50 or $60. He pocketed half her money, and the pimp pocketed the rest; over the course of that year, Sofia was able to save up $40 hidden in a tennis shoe. Conditions at her pimp’s house were terrible: “There was never food in the house. They would go out to eat, and would say to us, don’t eat so much, you’ll get fat, and you won’t be able to work. They’d say the clients don’t like fat girls.”
After eight months, her boyfriend finally arrived: “It was even worse,” she said. “If I refused to go [to see johns], he would hit me. And if I did go, then he would hit me all the same, because he was jealous.” One night after a beating, she was able to get away; the boyfriend was able to get back to Mexico, but his older relative, the family ringleader, was caught, convicted of human trafficking last year and deported.
She wishes she could help other prostitutes, and help them understand that police will help them: “I always thought, ‘That’s impossible. If you were to go talk to police, they’d arrest you instead of paying attention and listening to you,’” she said. “But now I realize it’s the opposite. Yes, it is possible. It can happen in real life, not just on TV. It’s not like you might think if you’re afraid. And that’s what I want people to realize.”
In December, NJ authorities arrested a man who forced a woman into prostitution—they found out because the woman was able to send a Facebook message to her brother for help. And last year, eight members and associates of the Bloods were arrested and charged with running a series of sex trafficking rings, some involving girls recruited from junior high schools.
Two years ago, nonprofit organization Restore NYC opened the first safehouse in NYC dedicated to women who have escaped the global sex trade. But at the time, the opening underscored the difficulty of successfully identifying, arresting and prosecuting sex traffickers. Part of the problem was training officers to distinguish between sex trafficking and prostitution.